Visually stunning, violent and flawed. Ghost In The Shell is a confusion of a film.
Ghost in the Shell attracted heavy criticism and accusations of ‘whitewashing’ long before the film hit cinemas. The filmmakers opted to cast American A-list actress, Scarlett Johansson, in the lead role as Motoko Kusanagi aka The Major, rather than staying true to the Manga source material and having an Asian, or actor of Asian descent, portray the protagonist.
Often I try to check out the source material, at least in part, for adaptations of this kind. In this instance I went in blind, and for that reason I can’t compare the comics or the anime versions of Ghost in the Shell to director, Rupert Sanders’, live-action version of the story.
In a near future setting humankind becomes increasingly connected with technology through cybernetic enhancements and implants.
Motoko Kusanagi is unique. Following a terrorist attack that killed her parents, her body was lost. Through a groundbreaking procedure her life was saved by implanting her brain, soul – ghost, into a cyber-enhance body. With no memory of her past The Major becomes the ultimate soldier leading an anti-terrorism team. As levels of terrorism reach new heights and hacker begin to control minds Kusanagi begins to recall her past revealing the terrifying truth of a terrible betrayal.
Putting aside the whitewashing controversy, Johansson’s performance is thoroughly engaging as the actress balances the nuances of portraying a part-cybernetic killing machine who is haunted by visions of her previous life, and the emotional conflict that results.
In fact, Ghost in the Shell, with it’s mix of high-energy action and sinister back story, is probably the best advocate for a long overdue standalone ‘Black Widow’ movie. If only Marvel Studios would pull their collective finger from their collective arses and commission the damn thing! (Black Widow being the character Johansson plays in the Marvel cinematic universe – for the uninitiated).
Sadly, the emotional qualities surrounding the horrific backstory of The Major are somewhat overshadowed by proliferance of action. The filmmaker’s reliance on gun fights adds little to the progression of the plot and achieves little more than filling time. Close action battles are not particularly well choreographed and don’t fully utilise the fascinating landscape that forms the film’s backdrop.
Ghost in the Shell is visually an expansive and stunning piece of cinema. Borrowing heavily from the aesthetic found in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the futuristic setting is reminiscent of Hong Kong. Towering skyscrapers layered with neon-coloured, holographic billboards. It’s beautifully presented, and despite a lot happening on-screen at any given time, the overall effect is easy on the eye.
Combining excessive action scenes (reminiscent of an early nineties Schwarzenegger movie) with a beautiful Blade Runner esque world whilst never fully exploring the human element of the story, Ghost in the Shell is a confusion of a film.
Well paced and certainly never boring, Ghost in the Shell is recommended viewing for sci-fi fans who may not be familiar with the source material. On the whole though, the film feels like an opportunity missed and fails to leave this viewer satisfied at its conclusion.