Anime is a tricky thing to convert to live-action. It also purposely gets watered-down when it’s being made for American audiences. Ghost in the Shell was first created in 1995 and became a cult hit in its genre. Since that time, it seems that both it and another anime hit, Akira, have been rumored for the big screen. With this, we have director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) leading the charge to make anime adaptations into the next type of blockbuster.
In the future, Major (Johansson) is a unique super-soldier. Everything but her brain is of cybernetic origin. Because she is nearly indestructible, she is very effective at hunting down enhanced criminals. However, she isn’t quite ready for the revelations that a cybernetic terrorist brings.
First off, the most prominent element of Ghost in the Shell is the the city and setting. I’m actually torn on this one, because it’s my favorite thing about the movie, but it’s essentially borrowed from Blade Runner. It is exactly what someone in the early ’90s would picture the year 2029 to be. It’s also strangely close in feel to the Keanu Reeves dud, Johnny Mnemonic (which came out the same year as Ghost in the Shell). I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see a cybernetic dolphin at some point in this movie.
All this said, it was impossible to not sink into the city. Above the city-scape, you’d see holographic advertisements encompass everything below. Neon lights and ghetto markets line the streets. The level of detail in Ghost in the Shell is engrossing. That, combined with the techno-synth score, put you square into the alternate future.
Ghost in the Shell wastes no time in getting the action ramped up. It was refreshing to see this super-soldier not have to deal with where she came from. There were promises of what originality this project could come up with. Yet, only 30 minutes in, and it becomes clear that the story revolves around a “Who Am I?” angle. Just imagine Jason Bourne in 20 years, only he’s Scarlett Johansson. Oh, and he wears a naked suit pretty much the entire time. This plot felt fresh back in 1995, but since then it’s become a tired trope.
My real complaint is that I felt detached to the experience. That may be attributed to Johansson’s robotic delivery. Yes, she is meant to be a cyborg and so it fits. However, I’ve seen her in too many roles with the same character type. She is quickly entering Keanu Reeves (two references in one review!) territory when it comes to acting like one character and making a career out of it. The only problem is, Ghost in the Shell is no John Wick.
If you’re a fan of the original anime and it’s sequels, go see Ghost in the Shell. It paints a beautiful picture of the future you’re familiar with. However, problems with miscasting and story emphasis will make this movie disappear quickly. C+