Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han
Directed By: Rupert Sanders
Plot: In the future, we have advanced our tech so far that we have begun to replace parts of our bodies with robotic elements. More people are cybernetically enhanced than not. This has led to the eventual creation of the first fully cybernetic “shell”, with a human brain, named Major (Johansson), who is part of an elite task force that protects the city. When a hacker starts targeting scientists, Major must unravel the truth behind these attacks to stop the terrorist from destroying innocent lives. But as she learns, there’s much more to this story, and not everyone is so innocent.
What Works: I have to start by saying that I actually have never seen the original anime. I know, it’s blasphemy. I apologize. It’s not that I don’t watch anime, I just haven’t seen THIS anime. That being said, I can’t offer any feedback on whether or not it is a faithful adaptation. Instead, the perspective I offer is that of someone who has no idea what they’re about to see, and if you are that person, will you like it? Mostly, yes. If you’re someone who just flat out loves visually stunning movies, then this is a must-see for you. This is a rare film that actually begs to be seen on the big screen because the visuals in here are so incredibly breathtaking and well done. The production design on this film, even though its adapted, is still incredible. Some critics have had problems with the pacing of the film, I didn’t. I thought the film moved along well, topping off just under two hours. It has a clear three act setup that works well for the film, even if the three acts aren’t the same in length. Act one is the longest, with act two and three being about as long as the first act. You could say that there’s only two acts, but you’d be ignoring the beat changes between the second and third acts. Conceptually, this story holds up really well. I found myself more engrossed in the story than the characters. The whole team went to great lengths to create this fully realized world, and setting up the rules of the world these characters live in. This film could easily spawn a franchise as this is a world I would visit again. I did have a problem with the characters, but not with the acting. I thought Juliette Binoche was acting her face off with a very one-dimensional character. She actually manages to make a character with very little emotional backstory feel like a fully realized character. She almost tricked me into believing her character was developed, but that has more to do with Binoche being one of the finest actresses alive, and less to do with the script. I thought Johansson (while a controversial choice) was actually a great choice for this. She handled the role well, for the most part. I wish that toward the end of the movie, as she starts feeling more human, that we saw more of a range of emotions from her. It would be nice to see her smile more in the third act. I also loved Michael Pitt, who really was the perfect person to cast for his character.
What Doesn’t Work: The lack of characterization didn’t work for me. Normally, when I don’t care about the characters, I can’t care about the film. Somehow, I still found myself engrossed in the story, without caring about anyone in the film. I understand that part of Major’s story is her lack of backstory, but her emotional development over the course of the film was weak, and felt forced. It didn’t feel natural, like she actually wanted to discover herself, but rather that the film required her to discover herself. We’re told very little about the supporting cast and who they are, or what their motivations are. Everyone in the supporting cast is presented at face value, and that’s what you get. While this film is a visual masterpiece, it is emotionally void. Through that context, I found myself somewhat unable to fully enjoy this experience.
Final Word: This film is nowhere near as bad as some critics would have you believe. Is it a great film? No. Unfortunately, the writers could not figure out a way to bring humanity to a film that is all about humanity. I’m pleasantly surprised that this film is from Rupert Sanders, who directed the very average Snow White and the Huntsman. Here, he shows that he has the ability to really fully form a universe, and tell a compelling story. Unfortunately, he didn’t notice that his characters were lacking. Hopefully, for his third big screen venture, he’ll be able to mix strong characters with a strong story, and then Sanders can truly be recognized as a gifted director as opposed to a promising one. I would say that if you are at all interested in this film, don’t wait till it comes home, because the best thing about this film are the effects, and the best way to view them is on the largest screen possible. If you’re someone who doesn’t like anime, and you’re not sure you’ll like Ghost In The Shell, I’d say this is a pretty mainstream sci-fi film, and you wouldn’t know it was adapted from an anime unless someone had told you. I hope this film gets a sequel that allows the characters to grow more, because then we might finally get the Ghost In The Shell movie we all deserve.
Final Grade: B