Ghost in the Shell started as a Japanese Manga (comic), was adapted to a well-received animated film in 1995, then a successful animated series that ran from 2002-2005, and then another movie in 2004, another movie in 2006, and another in 2008, and a reboot of the story in 2013. All of these are based on the original manga, and have been received differently. When it was announced that there would be a live-action film based on it, expectations were higher than high.
Throughout these interpretations is the same basic story. It is the future. Robotics and cybernetic implants are commonplace. Many people are enhanced with implants and can do extraordinary things. That also leads to crime. Within the Japanese government, Public Security Section 9 is a force who deals with counterterrorism and all sorts of computer/cyber crime. There are variations to this in the various instances of the adaptations, but the rest of this review discusses the film in question.
The Major(Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind – her brain is placed in a completely cybernetic body. Her sense of self is called the Ghost, spirit, or soul, if you will, and her body, the Shell. As a human, she was rescued from downing, and as such, the Hanka Corporation chose her for this experiment. Deemed a success, she is assigned to Section 9. Fast forward to a year later, she is the point person on a suspected attack on a hack involving a high-level person in the Hanka Corporation. Someone is trying to steal information from him by sending a robot geisha to a dinner/reception he is holding. Something is amiss, and the Major is put on the case.
That all transpires within the first 10-15 minutes of the film, and I will not divulge any more. There is a lot of furor about the casting of Scarlett Johansson, because the Major has always been a Japanese woman. I personally was disappointed, originally, and I don’t know why it was done, but perhaps it could have been related to getting funding/approval for the movie to be made, at all. I will say that they “address” that in the story, but I won’t say more, as it’s part of the story.
There is plenty of action in this film. It’s all highly choreographed, as have been the various animations in the past. The kineticism and energy of these scenes have been one of the most appealing aspects of the previous incantations, and here they meet expectations. The computer and hacking scenes are a little less interesting, as the previous shows have made a strong effort to ratchet up the visual nature of them. Here, they are interesting, but not as visually stimulating.
Along with the visual, there is a lot of dialogue to pad the story with “history” and explanation of the concepts. Those moments can drag for people who are familiar, but they are necessary for people who aren’t.
This film is visually stunning. This is a very rich world, and they can only do so much in a movie that runs 1:47. There are a couple of characters who are well known within the series, but are relegated to them having a scene or two that seem perfunctory, like “I’m this guy, and I do this (and then they do it)”. Again, that’s them loading up the story so there can be a sequel, or they are providing these elements to make the faithful happy. I can’t say, though there’s a ton of material to cover for this movie so that people understand what’s going on.
One aspect of the previous versions of this show has been the music. The choices were always interesting and full, on their own. Many different styles were used. Here, Clint Mansell, an exceptional composer, has done a decent job, however none of his work was truly memorable. There’s nothing “wrong” with what he wrote, but it didn’t fully work, for me.
The background cityscape this movie exists in is full of Eye Candy – super-sized advertising via hologram, people with various implants walking in the background, crazy vehicles of all sorts and sizes, and so on. There’s a lot to see, and I suspect after several viewings there will still be more to discover.
All this being said, it is a good film. It’s an updated re-telling of the 1995 movie, with some things added on that came along from the series. The final confrontation is acceptable, but not mind-blowing. I did see it in 3D, but there wasn’t enough that used it well (besides the city scenes) that I recommend you see it in 2D. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, and I suspect people that aren’t too familiar with the story will like it more than those who are.