Release: 24th July 2017
Format: DGTL (DVD & BR released on 7th August)
In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: a human who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that her life was stolen instead of saved. Now, she will stop at nothing to recover her past while punishing those who did this to her.
Ghost in the Shell is so quintessentially a Japanese narrative, that it is almost impossible to believe that it took an Englishman working with an Israeli producer in New Zealand and starring an American actress, to adapt it to a live action movie. Yet here it is. And for all its Blade Runner influenced visuals and Robocop tinted nostalgia troupes, Rupert Sanders eventually manages to discover a reasonably enjoyable movie amongst all that; albeit almost too late in the film to generate anything more than a tepid shrug.
Much like contemporary sexed up video game fodder, such as Resident Evil and Underworld, Ghost in the Shell is everything you’d expect from these types of movies, except that it tackles science fiction themes instead of horror ones. Johansson’s Major is a purpose built ass kicking fembot cyber punk, who becomes embroiled in your bog standard techno conspiracy thriller. The film has comparable developments and set pieces to the likes of Christian Bale’s Equilibrium and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Mnemonic. It is a severely 80s / 90s orientated joint that puts focus on technology as though it were some sort of futuristic gimmick rather the acknowledging that in some way, half this tech is already becoming a reality. The real shame is that Ghost in the Shell has an Asimov (Asimovian?) pre-occupation with robotic philosophies running through it, and in more mature hands could have elevated the film to Arrival with guns. It is wholly possible that Ghost in the Shell could have been the thinking person’s sci-fi action flick of 2017. Instead is walks a line between fan boy powder keg and manga tech-overload.
Ghost in the Shell is also not helped by a sleepy storyline, or indeed, an even sleepier central character. As cool as Johansson looks as Major, her ‘robotic’ nuances verge on Metropolis levels of perfunctory acting. Takeshi Kitano too is stoic to the point of being in a coma (although he does get one extremely bad ass scene). Then there is Michael Pitt, who is part Tin Man and part Macintosh voice software. The only lively soul seems to be Pilou Asbæk, who is enjoying himself and the physicality of his character more than is necessarily ordinary.
The film does find it’s footing in little moments throughout. The Geisha heist is worth the price of admission alone, and the world building that evolves is vintage. There are some great shots, and the panel lifts from the original manga are perfectly executed. The final scenes will be a joy for anyone who appreciates the source material or grew up playing Metal Gear Solid, and it would not be a terrible waste of time if Paramount invested in a sequel. But as an overall experience, Ghost in the Shell is not ballsy enough to generate much of a fan base, and the controversy over casting is not helped any by an inconvenient plot mechanism. Still, if it is cool with Mamoru Oshii (the original animation’s director) then it should be cool with the rest of us. Right?
Film Grade: C
(The following features will be available on the DVD release)
A look at the team of Section 9. Which, presumably, if for those who cannot watch the film and make those conclusions alone. And a look at the philosophy behind the film. Both are detailed yet oddly devoid of anything meaningful. Essentially, EPKs.
Special Features Grade: C-
A little bit sleazy, a little bit grungy, and ever-so empty inside. Both could be applied to Major and the film she inhabits.
Overall Grade: C