Stefan Carlson, Photo Editor
The big screen adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell” is immediately arresting.
The film opens with sweeping shots of a futuristic Japanese cityscape. Sleek skyscrapers pierce the night sky while holographic advertisements dance overhead. The world the film creates can be described as nothing less than utterly gorgeous.
And that is exactly why “Ghost in the Shell” is so disappointing. Beneath that shimmering façade lies nothing; it is an artificial depth. In a word, “Ghost in the Shell” is just that: a shell.
Based on Masamune Shirow’s ‘90s era manga franchise, and a later animated film franchise, the live action version follows cybernetic super soldier Major (Scarlett Johansson), who lost her parents, body, memory and nearly her life in a terrorist attack. As an agent employed by mega corporation Hanka Robotics, she is determined to find and kill terrorists to act out her revenge.
When a newly emerged cyber terrorist, known only by the moniker of Kuze (Michael Pitt), begins taking out the higher ups of Hanka one by one, Major must track him down. However, doing so leads her the horrible truth surrounding her past as she begins to question everything and everyone around her.
The film, which serves as Major’s origin story, is interesting enough. The characters are unique and memorable. The performances are solid. “Game of Thrones” alum Pilou Asbaek plays Batou, an understated, but endearing sidekick. Veteran Japanese comedian Takeshi Kitano (“Battle Royale”) shows off his dramatic chops as one of Hanka’s executives.
But the clear highlight here is Johansson’s Major, who in a performance reminiscent of her award-winning turn as an alien in 2013’s experimental “Under the Skin,” is somehow cold and robotic, yet simultaneously compelling. Johansson effortlessly draws us in, and once again proves that she is one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood.
However, it is also a testament to Johansson’s abilities that she is able to do so much with such little material as the film’s self-indulgent script meanders about. Despite having enormous potential, and some brilliant source material to work with, the screenplay ultimately becomes nothing but a shallow reflection of said source material.
At first glance, the film appears to ponder some interesting questions. Issues of what it means to be human, whether the ideals and causes one believes in are truly just and how far a mother should go to protect her child.
But these questions are abandoned as quickly as they are brought up as the film pats itself on the back for bringing them up in the first place. Instead, “Ghost in the Shell” leaves these questions and resorts to by-the-numbers action sequences to fill the rest of its 107 minute runtime.
Despite having some of the most original and interesting CGI work in recent memory, and a standout performance from Johansson, the captivating world of “Ghost in the Shell” is ultimately dragged down by its hollow plot. And as a result, the only way to truly recommend “Ghost in the Shell” is to catch the vastly superior animated films that inspired it.