Ghost in the Shell Review
By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
For decades, films have attempted to show us a vision of what the future may bring. Whether it was Back to the Future 2, Aliens, Interstellar, or any number of other films, there are glimpses into how the world ends up. Some may be a little more realistic than others, while some take a deeper dive into the science fiction genre. Back in 1995, an anime took a look at the future of society with its classic film, Ghost in the Shell. Now, over 20 years later, young director Rupert Sanders takes the helm in bringing an animated film to life with his rendition of Ghost in the Shell.
In the near future, humanity has changed. Gone, for the most part, are those who are fully human, choosing to enhance aspects of themselves with the use of robotics. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a human who was saved from tragedy and completely refitted with a cybernetic body. She was trained as a warrior and is now one of the top operatives in Sector 9, a group designed to stop cyber criminals and hackers. When a hacker begins gaining access to the lives of people around the city and stealing that information with the objective to destroy the establishment, it is up to Major, her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek), and the rest of the Sector 9 team stop the mastermind, Kuze (Michael Pitt), before he completes his plan. But things are far more complicated than they appear, as Major soon finds out. Who really is telling the truth in this deadly game of cyber-crime, and what is Major really fighting for?
Ghost in the Shell was a heavy handed sci-fi anime, and it is just as heavy handed as a live action film. Sanders takes the audience into a world that is foreign, with little to tie us to the characters we see on screen; from the lives they live to the enhancements, the visual and sensory overload that surrounds them can be overwhelming. Maybe part of this is by design, allowing viewers to feel what it must have been like for Major when she first awoke in her shell. Visually, as I mentioned, it is complete sensory overload, with visuals and colors ever changing in the environment. He future is a place where the simple things no longer exist, and more and more stimulation are what is needed to make us feel alive, similar to how drug users need more and more to reach that same high. In the end, we become pale memories of who we once were.
One of the key parts of the film are the action sequences, often utilizing increased camera speeds to deliver the ultra-slow motion capture shots. From Major’s initial break-in on a meeting to a fight in a rained-out open space and one of the final sequences leading us to the resolution, slow-motion sequences – like that found in The Matrix – are bountiful. The action is a joy to watch, with attention clearly applied to the detail of even the most minute aspects of the environment.
Most of the action sequences involve Major in some way, and Johansson buys in to the character to its fullest. Many people were initially upset with her casting as Major, seeing as this was based on a Japanese animated film, and even going so far as to say Hollywood was, once again, white-washing a cultural film, much like they did with The Great Wall. And while a part of me understands the anger associated with the casting, this is a business, and the goal of business is to make money. Johansson is a great actress, and she plays the role wonderfully. Once the memories start coming back and she begins questioning the establishment and what is really going on, the character of Major takes on a whole new look and depth, to which Johansson delivers perfectly. The other notable character is that of Kuze, the main antagonist. While we tend to see an antagonist in one light, as their goals and motivation are usually straightforward, in Ghost in the Shell, the character is much more complicated than we initially see on the outside. Pitt opens the character up for us, showing layers upon layers like a ripe onion. Asbaek plays the sidekick/partner role of Batou well enough, with nothing deeply strenuous asked of him.
Ghost in the Shell is very similar to the anime, yet follows a different story arc than the original anime film. However, like with the anime, you may find yourself thoroughly confused at the halfway point and wondering what exactly you are watching. But the second half of the film pulls it all together and brings the story home. I must vehemently stress that this film is extremely high on the sci-fi, and will definitely not be for everyone. It is almost a turn-off with how deep and complicated it gets with the sci-fi elements. Yet, if you can push all of the intense sci-fi elements to the side, make it through the first half of the super confusing story line, and suspend some aspects of disbelief, the film isn’t bad overall. Plus Johansson is wonderful in her role as Major and the action sequences are delightful to watch (I know, who uses “action sequences” and “delightful” in the same sentence? Me!). It may not be a major hit in theaters, but fans of the anime will enjoy the film more likely than not.