Ghost in the Shell is one of the most popular and easily the most widely recognized anime property in the genre, so of course it was going to get the big bucks live-action Hollywood remake. It took more than twenty years to finally get there, but Ghost in the Shell boasts the star power of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role and the visuals of director Rupert Wyatt (Snow White and the Huntsman) to help hack into a new generation of fans.
Johansson stars as Major, the first human brain to be transferred to a cybernetic body after a horrible crash in a world full of humans with partially cybernetic enhancements. Naturally she’s immediately turned into a weapon for the government and used to stop the most dangerous of criminals and threats. But when a mysterious villain appears with the ability to actually hack into people’s minds, Major is the only one who can stop him – until she discovers a connection with this mysterious man and realizes that her life was not saved, but stolen from her.
Ghost in the Shell is the rare, surprisingly competent adaptation of an anime property that works more than it fails. Unfortunately the story is showing its age and after so many other films and properties being inspired by and borrowing its ideas, themes, and designs for their own stories, this live-action remake feels a little too late to have any real impact. After you strip away the film’s originality, audiences end up with a terrifically shot, but only slightly above average cyber-superhero noir thriller.
Rupert Wyatt’s visuals and the gorgeous designs in the film are indeed the true stars of Ghost in the Shell. Wyatt showed his prowess for jaw-dropping visuals in Snow White in the Huntsman and brings a whole new aesthetic to the cyber-punk sci-fi landscape here. The Geisha-bots look incredible and move incredibly on screen, and Major’s suit/body is also incredibly designed and shimmers with subtle blue energy on top of her skin-colored prosthetics.
Wyatt also managed to pull off some of the goofier character designs found in the anime with aspects like Aramaki’s (Takeshi Kitano) silly hair or Batou’s (Pilou Asbæk) peroxide spikes and cybernetic eyes. The talented design and effects team even made a stunning version of Kuze (Michael Pitt) that had far too little screen time.
Unfortunately in a movie about cyborgs and technology, there’s little use for silly things like emoting or humanity. Not to say anyone in the cast turns in particularly bad performances, they’re just playing cyborgs in a bleak distant future with a script that doesn’t allow them too much of an emotional spectrum. Ghost in the Shell succeeds as a passable sci-fi action vehicle with amazing visuals and few moments of greatness, but never fully gets its footing to provide something truly original and unique.