After being in development for over a decade the live action adaptation of Ghost In The Shell finally comes to the big screen. An impressive and extensive marketing campaign, marred only by the whitewashing controversy (more on that later!), resulted in reasonably high expectations for the film. There was a certain amount of nervousness from the fanbase of the franchise who seemed to echo the concern, “I hope it’s not terrible”.
The film is set in a world where the line between cyborg and human has become increasingly blurred. Implants are the norm. After suffering life threatening injuries during a terrorist attack, Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) is literally brought back from the dead. Her brain has been implanted into a cybernetic body in order to preserve her life. The procedure is the first successful transplant of its kind by the Hanka corporation. Once fit, Killian goes to work for the anti terrorist branch of the Police called Section 9 at the rank of Major. Here she is investigating the hacking and murder of several members of the Hanka organisation by a mysterious figure called Kuze (Michael Pitt). The search for the hacker leads to the uncovering of some facts that cast a new light on the work of the Hanka organisation and Killian’s past which is slowly seeping back into her consciousnesses.
The production of Ghost In The Shell gained a lot of publicity for all the wrong reasons. When Scarlett Johansson was announced as the lead character there was an outcry in some quarters over alleged whitewashing of the role. The original Anime had a Japanese woman as the main character and the usual morally outraged brigade got a head of steam up in various online websites. What they failed to grasp was that, in fitting with the story, the character of Killian is just a shell and not the real person. She could have looked like anyone, not necessarily a Japanese woman. The other more obvious reason is, of course, money. The company behind the original anime gave the project its blessing and in fact praised the casting as being appropriate for a film which has international appeal.
Director Rupert Sanders has crafted an absolutely gorgeous world for the characters. Set primarily in a mega cityscape, the film has opted for a look where skyscrapers dominate the view and giant holographic adverts and neon signs tower above the population. This is an effective and visually stunning backdrop to the very personal story of Killian attempting to come to terms with her life and her past.
For anyone with a passing interest in the anime version of Ghost In The Shell a lot of the story will be quite familiar. The majority of the story points are lifted from the original film although there are enough differences to hold the audiences attention. It isn’t an overly complex plot and if it was focused on just that it would have been a bit dull. Thankfully the action sequences more than compensate for any shortcoming in the story telling. Johansson has already proven to be a very accomplished actor in physical roles. Here she carries the film with her performance. The action, while owing a lot to its source material, comes across very well on the screen. It is staged in such a way that the audience is fully aware of what is going on and where everyone is. Thankfully there is a dearth of jump cuts to spoil the flow.
Support comes in the form of some particularly fine actors. Juliette Binoche as the lead scientist is the main driver for the story moving forward. She is the first person Major sees when waking up in the cybernetic body and represents all that appears good in people. For anyone interested in the recent wave of Nordic dramas Pilou Asbaek will be a familiar face. He is a very good fit as Killian’s partner Batou as he has the physical presence to carry off the role of a hard man with a deeply buried softer side.
A few weeks prior to the release there was a special preview in cinemas where the first ten minutes of the film were shown in 3D. I was seriously put off by this as it looked horrendous. It could have been the screen I was in but it looked really bad. The regular screening, which this review is based on, was so much better. Without the distraction of the dodgy effects the whole experience was considerably better.
Overall, a film that was way better than expected but a little off on the balance between action and story.