In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.
For his follow-up to Snow White and the Huntsman, director Rupert Sanders brings a live action adaptation of the Japanese manga Ghost in the Shell to the big screen. The franchise is well established with various anime films, television series, as well as video games, with this film being the first big budget live action production seeking to propel it into more mainstream audience awareness.
With a screenplay by Jamie Moss (Street Kings) and William Wheeler the film centres on the cyborg counter-terrorism agent Major (Johansson), working in the Government unit Section 9, in this science-fiction cyber punk setting where society has grown increasingly technology centric, with the embrace of extreme human cybernetic enhancement. Corporations have developed into mega-organisations as powerful as governments, and cyber terrorism hounds authorities. The film aspires to explore themes around the human condition and the concept of the soul, as it follows Major on her journey of self-discovery, while dealing with terrorist threats and nefarious corporations.
With a modest running time the film manages to address all of these elements to a moderate degree, without having the time to delve deeply into any one sub-plot. It encourages the audience to reflect on big ideas, but at the same time streamlines the though provoking material in order to balance it against its investigative/action plot. It’s an ambitious film but includes too many missed opportunities, and with some more patience and story tweaks, it might have been able to elaborate on some of its themes bringing them to a more satisfying conclusion, or at least a deeper discussion of ideas.
Whether you are familiar with the previous versions of this story or not, events simply become too predictable by the final act, the source material has been filtered down into something too simplistic to do it justice, though the film is not without some memorable moments.
The production values on display here are gorgeous, its packed with excellent visuals and detailed landscapes. It’s saturated in slick production values and rarely looks less anything than impressive. It’s full of densely populated locations, across a Tokyo-like looking mega-city.
Visually this is an immersive and lively film, it uses its locations effectively when constructing various action set pieces and sequences throughout. Without allowing the action to become too much a distraction it manages its scale carefully while still being inventive and engaging in how it unfolds. Overall its action is more considered, and executed with more finesse than other large budget action blockbusters.
The cast are sound in their roles without any truly memorable performances, Johansson is perfectly capable but far from her best in this performance, and as we’ve seen before she can deliver the physicality of a role like this in a convincing manner.
Overall Ghost in the Shell is a solid film, it’s disappointing in that it raises big ideas without exploring them more deeply, however it’s balanced with slick production values, engaging world building and well managed action scenes and will likely find moderate success at the box office, without comparing overly favorably against its roots.
I’m giving Ghost in the Shell 7 out of 10, it’s in cinemas around Australia from Thursday 30th March 2017.