Ghost in the Shell has stirred some controversy with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead role of Major, a robot with a human brain who works as a government assassin, for lack of a better description. She works, primarily for the good and the just. The controversy was that they cast a white Western female instead of an Asian actress as the source material has dictated since the anime first premiered in 1995. I have not seen the anime version or the countless sequels and games that have been released since (I counted no less than seven).The previews looked interesting but when I saw that this latest version was directed by the same man who directed Snow White and the Huntsman five years ago, I was hesitant to become too invested in this film.
In any case, Ghost in the Shell stars Johansson as Major who is assigned to tracking down a team of assassins, led by Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt) who are taking out scientists responsible for their creation. Major is not sure who she is but she knows what she has been designed for and she executes her duties almost flawlessly. She is a more-than-efficient killer but there is always that nagging feeling in her head. Who is she and why is she here? As luck would have it, her latest assignment coincides with her quest for her self-identity. Her team, led by Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) and her closest friend Batou (Pitou Asbaek) understand her plight but warn her to be careful what she wishes for. She might not like what she finds out. Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) is one of the scientists Major and her team are trying to protect. Dr. Ouelet seems to be a kind soul but also knows more about Major than she reveals which comes into play later in the film.
Ghost in the Shell is a gloriously good looking film. The visuals, production design and cinematography is lavishly done by Jess Hall. The score composed by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is tremendous and adds a layer of beauty in the same way Vangelis did with his score to 1984’s Blade Runner. You substitute the scores to either of these films with any other score and you have two completely different films with a completely different emotional impact. I also loved Scarlett Johansson as Major. In some scenes, she appears almost childlike with her inquisitive nature about people. Yet, in other scenes, she is the adult action star. She sells this film whether she is the right ethnicity for some or not and she is also a bankable action star. Her versatility as an actress is growing by leaps and bounds. Sure she can work with Woody Allen and now she can kick butt, too. She does it with conviction and grace.
My main problem with Ghost in the Shell is the story that starts out quite compellingly but loses its pep about halfway through the second act. Some scenes seem to be repetitive and the film loses some of the narrative drive. As a result, the pacing starts to suffer, as well, however, there is a pretty fun climax which leaves Ghost in the Shell wide open for a sequel. So you won’t hear any complaints about that from me. There was enough in this film that, despite its flaws, Ghost in the Shell is a film to see. It won’t please everybody, but what it does well, it does REALLY well.
This is a gorgeous film to watch and I did respect the way the story was told; deliberate and methodical. The script, written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger is smart enough that it kept me interested in the material, for the most part, and the supporting cast is more than up to the task of giving this film some weight. It delves into these characters enough that I was invested in them as people. The action sequences are terrific and director Sanders does a decent job of making Ghost in the Shell a homage to the original. Not bad for a man who has not directed a major feature film in five years.
Addendum: I recently purchased this film on DVD and re-watched it. I liked it, even more, the second time around. It is still not a perfect film, but Scarlett’s performance is moving and this film has a bit of a punch to it. The score and the cinematography are both Oscar caliber so I am raising my score from three stars to 3 and 3/4 stars. This is a good film.
Ghost in the Shell – ***3/4 out of 5
Ghost in the Shell – Rated PG-13 for brief nudity, violence and adult situations
Ghost in the Shell – Run Time is 106 minutes
Ghost in the Shell is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations. It is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services.