[DISCLAIMER: I have never read the manga nor watched the anime of Ghost in the Shell, so this review comes from someone who knows jack about this universe]
Ghost in the Shell is an American live-action adaptation of the popular 1995 anime, directed by Rupert Sanders, starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche and Michael Pitt.
The story follows Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), cyborg policewoman of Section 9, anti-terrorist bureau led by Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). Her past before having her soul (or her ghost) put into the cyborg’s body is unknown, and she starts having some glitches that make her see things that are not real. Now, she and her colleague Batou (Pilou Asbæk) must stop the cyber-terrorist Kuze (Michael Pitt), while also uncovering the true identity of Major.
For being a franchise famous for its deep philosophical themes and for having inspired a large number of other properties (The Matrix and I, Robot just to name a few), this live-action version was most definitely streamlined in the story department. The themes of humanity, man vs machine, the existence of souls and the ambiguity of evil are barely tackled for the majority of the movie. Instead of diving head-deep into themes that are more and more relevant, screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger decide to focus more on a by-the-numbers amnesiac storyline that leaves a lot to be desired.
The biggest accomplishment of this movie is its world: the production design creates a high sci-fi city that closely resembles Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, with dirty streets filled with puddles of water, criminal organizations, prostitutes and stray dogs. What makes the world feel believable and alive is the masterful blending of CGI and real sets and costumes, with particular care put into fully creating certain characters such as the mechanical Geishas featured strongly in the promotional material. The effects are also top-notch, with a mixture of CG action and practical explosions and dirt that gives many action scenes a sense of weight and danger. You certainly cannot say that the $110 million budget was wasted.
Jess Hall’s cinematography heavily homages the 1995 anime, with some shots lifted straight from the animated feature. The whole film is a beauty to look at, from the use of colors and lighting to gorgeous panoramic shots of the city. The action scenes are filmed with a lot of care, with long shots that make everything clear, while also using slow-downs and speed-ups to make them more stylish without being excessive. Still, there are not enough action scenes to call this an action sci-fi, and when action happens it usually lasts less than 2 minutes. That would not be a problem, if the story was not as mundane.
Scarlett Johansson acts very similar to what she did in 2014’s Lucy, but here it works far better, as her emotionless and cold expression through most of the movie makes the moment when she finds a bit of humanity and love more believable and caring. However, you never feel like she goes through an arc: she starts stoic, finds the truth, and smiles a little at the ending. It does not feel very organic. The same goes for the rest of the cast: while everyone does a commendable job (especially Pilou Asbæk and Takeshi Kitano, who is also the only actor to speak Japanese), you barely care about any of the characters. Even the villains are one-dimensional, with a lame twist on the identity of the true evil that is not smart nor surprising.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is one of the best-looking sci-fi movies of the past decade thanks to its attention to detail and lavish production design, but it never reaches greatness due to an excessively simple story and lack of character depth. Worth watching for the action and world-building.
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 8
Sex & Nudity: 5
Drugs & Profanity: 4
Intensity & Horror: 6