There hasn’t been an awful lot of good press surrounding the release of Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell – not only for treading over treasured ground in remaking such a popular anime endeavour, but also accused of Hollywood whitewashing, given the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the leading role. But when ignoring such aspects and enjoying this film for what it is, and viewing it on its own merits, there’s plenty to admire about this visually spectacular piece of cinema.
Set in the near future, Johansson plays Major; a victim of a life-altering car accident, offered a second chance in life when cyber-enhanced, taking her brain, and her soul, and transplanting it into a robotic shell. One of a kind, and with unnatural powers human beings do not possess, she is hired by the Hank Corporation, and consequently tasked with stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals, with the unique ability of combatting a new brand form of terrorism, whereby people’s very own minds are being hacked into and controlled. However as she digs deeper into this murky set of events she realises that everything in her life is a lie, and that she wasn’t saved, she was manipulated, leading her down a path of bloody vengeance, piecing together her own past, while hoping to ensure others aren’t put in the same situation.
The narrative seems somewhat convoluted, but is simplified effectively, and humanised along the way, for underneath the surface is an intimate character study of this one woman vying to determine her place in this world, while we study our very own relationship, and dependability on technology, and the value, and worth of humanity. Johansson, in spite of the initial apprehensions, is perfectly cast in this role, as she has an ethereal quality about her, easy to invest in and engage with, and yet there’s a distinct disconnect which makes her perfect for a role who is part human, part cyborg, displaying the same qualities that made her turn in Under the Skin so mesmerising. The supporting cast impress too, which comes as little surprise when dealing with the likes of Juliette Binoche, Pilou Asbaek, as well as the legendary Takeshi Kitano – who steals the show in every scene he appears in. Oh, and there’s Geisha robots, and they are just as cool as they sound.
On a more negative note, the film does lack emotional engagement, devoid of real heart – which, while in some ways feeling deliberate, given that’s one organ our protagonist happens to be without, it still inadvertently proves to be detrimental the viewer’s investment in this narrative. Nonetheless, this is nuanced, philosophical and evocative blockbuster, and while fans of the 1995 original will have doubts over such a precious movie being given the Hollywood treatment, many are likely to leave feeling pleasantly surprised at what they encounter.
Ghost in the Shell is released on March 31st.