Ghost in the Shell is an American adaptation of the science fiction manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. Written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger, it was directed by Rupert Sanders and stars Scarlett Johansson as The Major; a fully cybernetic human being except for her brain, who works as a counter-cyberterrorist field commander in Section 9. When a cyber-terrorist hacks and kills members of Hanka Robotics – the company that gave The Major her cybernetic body – she must find and stop him and learn the truth about herself.
This film has a simple story and a straight forward, cohesive, concise, utilitarian plot with an organic cause and effect chain. It is not at all complex, there are no subplots and it is easy to follow. It’s unclear whether or not there are supposed to be big twists, revelations or reversals. There is a moment which seems like it was meant to be such, but it does not come off that way because it had been obvious from early on. The other revelation that this moment leads to was itself very strongly hinted at in the film’s trailers and fails to have the impact that it should as a result. There isn’t much of a big moment in the film and the climax is fairly quiet.
The characters lack charisma and aren’t very personable, particularly The Major; she’s distant and it feels like there is a wall separating her from the audience and to some extent the other characters. That, perhaps, was done on purpose. Batou is the closest to a personable character that the film gets and Dr. Ouélet is the closest to a likeable one because of the way that she treats and interacts with The Major. The characters are more or less just there and do what they are written to do. Connecting with and caring about them is superficial at best. The one character for whom this is not the case is an older Asian woman that The Major comes across.
There isn’t much of anything to say about the acting. No one was offensively bad and no one was amazing. The actors did their jobs. If any of them deserve singling out, they would be Scarlett Johansson and Michael Pitt. They both did well in being reserved and also emotive at times when it called for the characters to be either one. Particularly for Johansson’s character, The Major, who spends much of the film somewhat detached and cold. When she does express emotion, there are times when said expression is subtler than others and Johansson convincingly portrays both.
The film moves at break neck speed for the first half and slows down slightly, to a more even pace, in the second half, but still wraps up quickly. For a film with a running time of one hour and forty-seven minutes, it barely feels like an hour.By the time it reaches the middle it feels like it’s hardly gotten through the first act and it’s astounding that the film reached that point – in the narrative, not it’s run time – already. It reaches it’s rising action almost as fast and just as surprisingly. It never feels like it’s as far into the narrative as it is.
The visual effects are amazing and seamless. There is a lot of it and it very rarely looks fake or out of place. There are only a few instances when it does and those are when it is clear that Johansson has been replaced with a CGI figure and at some points when she is in her thermoptic suit, especially when she walks. For the most part the visual effects are so well integrated that you forget that the majority of what you’re looking at frame to frame is computer generated.
If there is one thing about The Matrix Trilogy that is oft repeated, it’s the fact that it was heavily influenced by the original Ghost in the Shell film. That trilogy is deeply philosophical and explores numerous themes, some of which are in Ghost in the Shell (1995). This film has no such themes…or really any at all. It introduces the theme of what it means to be human, as one would expect such a film to. However, it never goes anywhere with it. This despite hitting the audience over the head with it in the first few scenes with dialogue that blatantly spells it out for the audience and is less discreet than the words “THIS IS THE THEME” flashing on screen.
In fact, there are a few instances of the film spoon feeding the audience through dialogue. Like The Major’s internal conflict and a scene in which the antagonist appears. It’s apparent that the antagonist has made an appearance, but The Major tells the audience explicitly that they have. Her doing this is immediately made irrelevant when the antagonist repeats a phrase that they had used earlier. It felt like the filmmakers, in those moments, were treating viewers like they were stupid.
Despite good action scenes, Ghost in the Shell is not thrilling, exciting or moving. There’s no real high point in the film, the stakes aren’t felt and it’s middling throughout. That being said, it’s a pretty good film that is competently made and good enough to be a leisurely, enjoyable watch.