By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
The original Ghost in the Shell manga series and the the 1995 anime film have strongly inspired science fiction storytellers and filmmakers and obviously form the basis of this American adaptation. Without the original Japanese comics and movie, The Wachowskis’ Matrix Trilogy probably wouldn’t exist, or at least exist in the way fans know and love. This new live-action/CGI movie probably will not have the impact that its sources had, but does actually offer solid entertainment for those unfamiliar with the original sources. Fans of the original story and previous versions will either love or loathe this version, as these individuals will probably have their own personal preferences and expectations.
Scarlett Johansson stars as The Major, a cybernetic soldier working for a counter-cyberterrorist unit known as Section 9. At one time completely human, The Major received her cyber enhancements after a catastrophic accident. With her amazing abilities and skills, The Major is now the ultimate soldier rivaled by none. Section 9’s latest assignment requires The Major and her unit to seek out and stop a dangerous hacker (Michael Pitt) who plans to take down Hanka Robotics, a powerful tech company responsible for The Major’s enhancements. After unsuccessfully stopping several of the hacker’s attacks, and investigating further into the matter, The Major comes to the realization that her work, current life, and past might all be lies and that the hacker might have the ability to help her uncover the truth.
Based on Masamune Shirow’s manga, the American adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is a visually impressive feast that appears ripped from a comic book’s colorful pages. Director Rupert Sanders and his production and effects teams have done exceptional work in creating colorful world with all of its advertising overkill and striking neon palette. The screenplay by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler remains true to the themes of its sources, but doesn’t particularly stand out for anything else. The movie overall does suffer from pacing issues, as it drags somewhat during the its first few acts. The action sequences range from impressive to merely decent, but the CGI and special effects impress the most.
For the most part, the entire supporting cast delivers solid performances. Pilou Asbæk gives a fun and entertaining turn as Batou, a gung-ho, badass soldier who seems to have a soft spot in heart for The Major. Juliette Binoche performs well as Dr. Ouélet, a highly intelligent Hanka Robotics scientist who helped design The Major’s cybernetics and is responsible for her repairs and maintenance. Michael Pitt does what he usually does best here, bringing a slightly creepy intensity to his role as the film’s hacker villain. The movie also has fine performances by Takeshi Kitano as Chief Daisuke Aramaki, Chin Han as Togusa, and Peter Ferdinando as Cutter. As for Scarlett Johannsson, she delivers a great performance as the mostly quiet, socially awkward, but badass soldier The Major. She has the right cool-headed intensity for the role, but also perfectly exudes a restrained pathos in the scenes dealing with her past and current state of desolation.
Now regarding the controversy over her casting in a role some people think should have been Asian, Sanders and his writers actually have a decent excuse for casting a white American actress in the role and this gets somewhat explained in the story. Now, whether or not that was the original intention, I don’t know. Either way, I feel that detractors overreacted a little and everything was blown way out of proportion.
Now some fans of the manga or original film might have other complaints regarding the movie’s faithfulness to certain details in the story and with its characters, but I cannot address or nitpick on these either. Based on my what I have read about the comic and 1995 film, it appears that the essential themes are intact which should please some fans. For those who are unfamiliar with this movie’s inspirations, and are enthusiasts of cyberpunk science fiction, I do highly recommend this movie. It is definitely worth watching and might inspire the previously uninitiated to seek out its sources which is actually what I plan to do.