GHOST IN THE SHELL is a franchise that has a highly dedicated fanbase, spanning several iterations. So many themes from the original manga (and the later, highly-influential anime) have been echoed elsewhere. Without GHOST, there would surely be no MATRIX. Many directors have admitted the debt they owe to GHOST. So, the first bigscreen, live action adaptation of GHOST IN THE SHELL has a heavy burden to discharge. To say that expectations are high is something of an understatement…
GHOST is set in a near-future, unnamed city: a universe in which many humans are augmented, and advancements in cybernetics allow the human mind to be ported into a mechanical shell. Mira Killian – the sole survivor of a terrorist attack – is the prototype for a new type of cyborg: a counter-terrorist operative with Section 9. Known as “the Major”, Killian becomes embroiled in an investigation into a new sort of cyber-criminal, an entity capable of hacking the cyber-brains of man and machine. But as the Major pursues her investigation, she realises that she has been sold a lie – that she may have something in common with her target…
There is a lot to like about GHOST IN THE SHELL. SF fans will certainly enjoy elements of the movie. GHOST IN THE SHELL fans will similarly enjoy aspects that echo their beloved franchise. However, and this is the nub of it, GHOST IN THE SHELL is very far from faultless – and it certainly doesn’t reach the same pinnacle of perfection as STAND ALONE COMPLEX or Masamune Shirow’s anime.
GHOST IN THE SHELL is visually stunning – with locations and backdrops like BLADERUNNER in overdrive. Literally every scene drips with futurismo. I saw the film in 3D, and it was definitely worth paying the extra ticket price: unlike many films where 3D feels as though it’s an unnecessary bolt-on, the effect really complements GHOST. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is haunting and electronic – the perfect accompaniment.
The cast is basically capable, but none of them really fly. Although it’s far from her best role, Scarlett Johanssen is fine as the Major. She plays the part with a certain emptiness which is only partly successful. This is perhaps deliberately effected, and when it works this feels like an emulation of her anime counterpart. When it doesn’t, it just feels a bit flat. A consequence of playing the role in that way is that she’s very difficult to engage with or really feel for. Shirow’s Major questioned whether she had originally looked as she does; even asking whether she had ever been a real person. The Hollywood adaptation does consider some of these elements, but not in the same way, and not with the same efficacy.
GHOST also struggles with the weight of many of its ideas. Within the context of what is, predominantly, an action film, the philosophical asides struggle to break free. They feel like window-dressing – lip-service to the deep questions asked by the source material.
Overall, I really wanted to like GHOST. I loved elements of it: the visuals, the feel, the world. But when you take away those aspects, there’s not much left to the movie itself. Still, if you’re a fan of the original anime, I’d recommend going to see it just to compare it with the original.