Stunning visuals and pulse-pounding action aren’t enough for Rupert Sanders’s Ghost in the Shell to overcome lackluster writing and a poor performance from Scarlett Johansson.
The story centers around a cyborg operative named Major Mira Killian. She is one of the heads of an anti-terrorism task known as Section 9 based in a futuristic city in Asia. Major, Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Togusa (Chin Han), and section chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), are tasked with investigating cyber crimes in a world where terrorism is simply hacking into a person’s digitally enhanced brain to control them. A trail of dead bodies and collateral damage leads the team to a hacker named Kuze (Micheal Pitt). Kuze is a part cyborg and has a massive vendetta against Hanka Robotics. However, the only thing on his mind is Mira. Kuze is driven to get closer to Mira. Is he just setting her up to be brutally slaughtered or does he have critical information that will shatter her world?
Johansson’s performance can only be characterized as a disappointment. Major is a cyborg who is struggling with her humanity, none of which comes across on-screen. What we do witness is a mix between Lucy and Black Widow with an Asian flair. Pilou Asbaek plays her partner Batou, and he delivers more of a layered performance in the film than she does at any point during its two-hour run time. The biggest travesty wasn’t Sanders failure to cast an Asian woman as the lead, but believing Scarlett Johansson has the acting chops to pull of Mira’s complex transformation to a self-aware cyborg.
Writing and Direction
The problem from the onset is screenwriter Jamie Moss, and director Robert Sanders lacked any focus when developing this film. They certainly read the original manga, seen all the earlier films/television shows, but didn’t develop a rock solid narrative that allowed these characters to translate successfully on screen. Instead, Moss and Sanders cherry-picked some of the more well-known elements from all their research and pieced this film together. One minute we are dealing with Major realizing her mother is still alive. The next moment we are watching tanks try to blow her out of the sky and just when you think the movie is coming into focus, Major is talking about manifestos she’s written against technology. This helter-skelter approach to storytelling might appease fans of the series, but it will turn off everyone else.
Visual Effects and Action Sequences
Ghost in the Shell is the most visually stunning film to be released so far in 2017. Special effects companies MPC and Weta Workshop team up to create a bright and vibrant cityscape bursting with psychedelic colors and stunning architecture. They skillfully utilized shadows to separate what most would refer to as the “safe” and “rough” areas of town. These effects weren’t just limited to the exterior buildings. The interiors were bursting with eye-popping reds but had a more of a darker tone than the outside world.
The action sequences were reminiscent of The Matrix. There’s a sequence where Major jumps into action from the top of skyscraper shattering a window in slow motion, which had all the feel of Neo dodging hundreds of bullets on top of a building. Major then vaults of the side of the of the wall (as if she was flying) shooting most of the assailants. The intensity of each action sequence and the visual effects were certainly the best parts of Ghost in the Shell.
Ghost in the Shell has indeed been criticized by both critics and fans. Fans still are up in arms over the casting of Scarlet Johannson and critics are having real issues with how this narrative was constructed. However, it would be foolish of me to just join in the chorus of boos. The action sequences and visual effects alone warrant audiences paying to see Ghost in the Shell. Fans of the series should certainly see this film as well. Just remember that you aren’t paying for art. You are paying to see Major kick some ass.