Director: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbeak, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt, Chin Han.
Written by: James Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger and (based on the comic ‘The Ghost in the Shell’) Masamune Shirow
Running Time: 107 mins
Release date: 27th March 2017
Even before this film started filming, the controversy surrounded it was huge. Firstly, a live-action version, Hollywood reinvention of a Japanese Manga classic, which had already been made in a successful series of Anime, angered fans, who were calling for it not to be made. Then came the casting of star Scarlett Johansson in the lead, which triggered outrage, calling it a whitewash and that an Asian actress needed to play the part. Now that all the anger and upset are behind us, the film is finally here and, apart from a few flaws, it’s pretty good.
Major is the first of her kind: a human, saved from an accident, who has had her brain implanted into an android to create the perfect soldier and crime fighter. When a cyber-terrorist starts infiltrating the city and killing, Major has to investigate but as she digs deeper to find the criminal, she soon discovers the truth about herself and the memories that should have been wiped from her brain, start to return.
This is a film made by fans of the original comic books and who show a great deal of love for them. They have taken elements from all the stories and included them here. They have studied the look and tempo of the comics and placed them into this version. So what we have is a visual treat with a complex storyline played out in a fairly melancholy manner.
The overall look of the film is very impressive. Managing to evoke memories of Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, this brightly coloured visualisation of a city brimming with giant holographic adverts and skyscrapers interlaced with highways, alone is worth the admission price. Like Ridley Scott’s 1982 futuristic cop thriller, director Rupert Sander has taken a look at modern China and Japan and built on that to create this extraordinary world for the characters to be placed in.
The plot is intricate and interesting too. It throws up several questions about the future, particular humans and robots. Should technology advance so much that humans who we believe are dying, be placed inside a robot? It does try to answer this but what it also tries never to forgot is that first and foremost, this is a sci-fi action film and so the action is just as important as deep philosophical questions.
Speaking of the action scenes, these are handled well. There are some clever use of lighting to allow the audience to see everything, even if there are quick cuts and the editing is sharp and furious. One sequence, in which Major is attacked by electric “cattle prods” is particularly impressive.
Where the film is lacking is in its heart. It takes itself far too seriously and so has no humour, no light moments to alleviate the seriousness. Some people have said that it isn’t serious enough, compared to the original. Yet without a little lightness, it becomes too heavy under its own importance and so it lacks any real personality and spirit. It becomes just another sci-fi film borrowing from Blade Runner.
Having said that, Johansson, who seemed so problematic in her casting in the first place, proves that she was, in fact, perfect. She has become almost an expert at playing strong women who can take on any man. It does evoke thoughts of her back catalogue, The Avengers, Lucy and, in the credit sequence, Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. She has such a solid screen presence that she can make even the most mundane seem interesting and exciting. Good to see Japanese superstar ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano being given a large slice of the pie as the boss of Major. After tonnes of violent crime thrillers and martial arts movies, Kitano still has enough star power to make a supporting role his own.
Ghost In The Shell is an impressive looking piece of cinema that will keep the action fans happy while Manga followers may still struggle with the smaller things like casting. On the whole, if you are after an all-action visceral experience, then you are in for a treat. It’s just a shame that there is no real soul to this film to make us really care what happens.