In the next few years several anime and manga properties are being prepped for Hollywood film adaptations with most of them planned to be live-action presentations. Such properties have been the focus of films in the past, mostly through animation and sub-par live action efforts, but the latest film based on the Japanese animation sub-genre “Ghost In The Shell” hoped to usher in a new era of excitement and quality for such remakes. Sadly what we got is a film that truly lives up to its name and fails to find much life despite having a compelling tale to tell.
“The Ghost In The Shell” stars Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian who is the first of her kind, a surviving human brain inside a fully cybernetic body. Trained to be a counter-terrorism operative, Major helps her teams track down a hacker who is killing off employees of the company that designed her, Hanka Ronotics, and after rescuing her mother figure Dr. Ouelet Major discovers there may be more to this hacker than anyone would expect and learns about a connection she may have with her mysterious enemy. As Major tries to put the pieces together she learns about her past and her creation and that she may not be as unique as she always thought she was.
With a highly respected source material to draw from one would think that “The Ghost In The Shell” would translate well to the big screen. There’s mystery, suspense, excitement, and some great action scenes to draw from and a few of the manga’s most iconic moments are captured on the big screen to satisfying results. But, for the most part, “The Ghost In The Shell” fails to really bring anything interesting to the table.
The cast, composed of Michael Pitt as the films hacker antagonist, Pilou Asbeak as Major’s close ally Batou, Takeshi Kitano as the leader of Major’s squad Chief Aramaki, and Juliette Binoche as Major’s designer Dr. Ouelet, do what they can with the material they are given, but it’s hard for any of them to shine when the entire story revolves around Johansson’s Major who is portrayed a relatively lifeless and dry from the first moment she appears on screen. Ironically robotic, Johannson brings little to the character portraying Major as uninterested in almost anything until she starts to unravel the truth of her past and even then her emotionless delivery comes off as forced and out of place. That’s disappointing for a role that Johansson really needed to tackle considering the controversy around her being chosen for a leading role that, in the manga, was seen as Japanese. While Johansson looks the part and tries to balance her characters take-no-prisoners attitude with a bit of likeability, her whole performance is a bit of a mess. Considering the significance of every other character’s actions and personalities revolve around their relationship with Major, her performance not only drags the movie along, but prevents any other characters from being very interesting either.
What’s also sad is the movie really needed a strong lead to work on the big screen. While there are a few great action scenes to tide over fans of the original film and those looking for some popcorn thrills, they’re few and far between and even a compelling antagonist can’t bring enough out of this film to really give it any potential to rise above mediocrity. While there are stunning visual effects to view with nearly every frame, we didn’t go to see this movie for the backdrop. We went to see a compelling story about man and machine and what we got was a disappointingly drawn out action-mystery film that barely passes for entertaining, even in it’s less than stellar climactic showdown.
Overall “The Ghost In The Shell”, while not completely unwatchable by any standard, is actually very properly titled as this film fails to really come to life at any point. It’s clear there’s something compelling that the movie wants to present and it has a few glimpses of something better than what it really is, but this is all trapped within a mishmash of uninteresting characters, horrid dialogue, and a dry and forgettable conflict that all come together in a production certain to be overshadowed greatly by the far superior Japanese anime films that came before it.