Disclaimer: I have never read the 1989 manga works or seen the 1995 anime adaptation so this will not be a comparison-based review of existing material. I went in blind. So, in summary, Scarlett Johansson took my ‘GITS’ virginity, and I’m very pleased she did.
Thankfully I find this a very simple film to review. In part its due to the short running time; a rare thing these days and so it never out-stays it’s welcome, feels drawn out or bloated. Also, due to the story; it’s very simple and familiar, but enjoyable and safe none-the-less. And the visual look of the film itself; gorgeous in many places and with a real sense of understanding what the context of the film is about and what we see.
From the off, Johansson pleased me in the role of the Major, a human brain implanted in a synthetic body. We are made aware of the title’s relevance in the opening minutes, with her soul and ghost being alive and well in her shell of a body. And white-washing? Casting a white American in a role associated with an Asian? I don’t know. I don’t see it as disregard to race at all - I’m not going to dwell on that because it’s not a racial attack. It makes sense in someways over the course of the film, having his faux body trapping someone alien inside who doesn’t belong in it - the shell is just that, a shell.
Johansson never breaks into a big stride in the role, but with her playing a subdued cyborg battling repressed memories while kicking ass in a gloriously distracting near-nude one piece, she does a damn good job hiding her emotions. She’s effective, cold and gives small glimmers of the ghost trying to break free. She proves she’s more than able to perform in heated drama with her co-stars and also the action sequences without breaking a sweat. It’s about time she got her ‘Black Widow’ solo movie.
Her co-stars in the likes of Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt and Pilou Asbæk all pretty much deliver their basic roles and offer nice conflicts of morality and what it means to be human, nor non-human. Kitano especially oozes his powerful acting presence when he actually does little until the later scenes. They are good supporting characters, and never pushed to the sidelines.
Action wise, there’s enough to keep you satisfied with a good 3 or 4 well choreographed shoot-outs and gravity defying acrobatics. If you blend ‘The Matrix’ with the ethics of ‘Max Payne’ then you get ‘Ghost In The Shell’. The form of slo-mo gun-running and jumping has been done before, granted, but thanks to it never being drawn out too long and with the stylish was it is presented, the crack of guns still excite and the editing style is flashy. It gets a bit run-of-the-mill towards the end, but again, it doesn’t drag on so you can easily enjoy it for what it is.
Story wise is where it may sag. If this had come about 20 years ago, it would be pretty decent in all aspects, but visually it would have been more ‘Judge Dredd’ than anything here. The story has been done to death; see ‘RoboCop’ for one. Cyborg is created to serve an ideal, but that ideal starts to crumble and the identity of said cyborg comes to light that may help them find their once forgotten humanity and take down corrupt/evil execs.
You know who the villains are from the start if you think about it, and you know who will turn out to be good and bad as the story goes. But based on material nearly 30 years old, it’s not trying to re-invent the wheel of sci-fi thrillers, but it’s the WAY it’s presented here that is the redeeming factor.
Add a healthy amount of ‘Blade Runner’ into the mix here and you clearly see what influence the 1982 sci-fi adventure had on ‘Ghost In The Shell’. From a gorgeous opening sequence charting the creation of a synthetic body that looks ripped from manga comics, we are treated to a gorgeous rendering of Hong Kong in the future with everything from streamline hover cars, skyscraper tall holograms, and illuminating neon lights. It’s all easy on the eye and the detail is super. Even the visual effects are pretty impressive, from the CGI enhanced costumes and set design, looking more real than anything George Lucas could create on his computer.
With the stylish visuals coupled with the slick action, the two go hand in hand offering something very familiar, but at times excitingly fresh in this era of super-hero comic-book adaptations and heavy drama. This steampunk-esque nod to all things sci-fi is entertaining enough for just over 1hr 35mins with gorgeous visuals, popcorn fuelled action and a perfect leading lady who does a stellar job. Don’t expect anything ground breaking and you’ll leave satisfied.