I’d like to start this review off by saying I am by no means a big fan of anime. I have watched it here and there and enjoyed the few shows and films that I have seen, but I never really go out of my way to watch it. “Ghost in the Shell” is no different.
When this film was announced it had been the first time that I have ever heard of the series, yet it looked like an intriguing enough film.
Despite all of the controversy of Hollywood yet again casting a white person in a typically Asian role, the trailers looked interesting, and the visual style certainly got my attention.
So from the perspective of someone who is leaping into the world that “Ghost in the Shell” created for the first time, was the film any good?
The film’s basic plot is that sometime in the distant future, humans have created the ability to enhance human bodies with robotic parts. The movie opens showing off the first successful attempt to transplant an entire human brain into the body of a humanoid robot with special abilities played by Johansson. The film tries to explore the clichéd idea of the “Frankenstein complex” by showing us the dangers of men trying to mess with nature and become gods themselves. Johansson becomes used as a military weapon against her will and … you see where this is going.
First of all, as previously mentioned, one of the better elements of “Ghost in the Shell” is some of the visuals that it presents. The computer-generated city that most of the story takes place in is bright, vibrant, and colorful yet falls under the same “Blade Runner-esque” design that most science-fiction cities tend to mimic. Not only this, but Johansson’s character, among other abilities, has the power to render herself completely invisible, and this ability, when mixed in with the action properly, is quite fun to watch. I saw this in 3D, and this film is certainly one that I would recommend seeing in 3D if you have any interest in seeing it at all, as it makes the over-use of CG a bit more stylized and easy to swallow.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film kind of falls short of the epic sci-fi expectations I had knowing what little I know about the source material. The biggest issue with “Ghost in the Shell” by far is in its writing. The themes and motifs of the film, while interesting, are nothing new, and this is made even worse by how ham-fisted the dialogue makes these messages. Every time a situation is presented, every character in the room has to weigh in on the real world, thematic interpretations of what is going on. In a more complex movie, this may have been helpful to casual viewers, but the amount of times this film made me think to myself “yeah, I get it,” was irritating. The concepts were laid out well enough that the audience should be able to figure out for themselves what they represent, but the writers of “Ghost in the Shell” felt as if it was too vague and needed to spell everything out for viewers.
This type of hand-holding made the whole film a bit of a chore to sit through. It seemed the filmmakers simply wanted to hurry up and get all of the story out in dialogue just so we could move on to the next action sequence which, for the most part, were actually a little bland. Yes, some of the effects used as Johansson is fighting are very cool, but each action scene tended to drag, and a lot of them felt very similar as the film progressed. This pacing of boring expository scenes that are rushing to get to the next action scene begins to force the audience to lose interest even as things begin to pick up with the villain.
It’s difficult to comment on this film as I have no connection to the source material. However, I can say purely from a filmmaking standpoint, “Ghost in the Shell” is standard at best and plain dull at its worst.