Set in a futuristic world where humans are cyber-enhanced, Scarlett Johansson stars as Major – a soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals in this adaptation of the 1995 anime.
Going into this film, it’s impossible not to make comparisons to the original anime that went on to become a seminal work in science fiction. Visually and thematically rife with new concepts, the 1995 version was a ground-breaking animation that not only introduced the world to manga and anime, but also went on to inspire several blockbusters such as the ‘Matrix’ series, and ‘Avatar’, to name just a few. To say this Hollywood live-action remake had big shoes to fill would be a gross understatement. It didn’t help that the film was mired in controversy from the outset as a Caucasian actress (Scarlett Johansson) was chosen to depict Major, portrayed as a Japanese character in the original.
Fortunately, Johansson is more than capable of playing an emotionally-layered, yet physically skilled female lead. She brings a distinct personality to the Major, imbibing her with a sense of robotic detachment as her brain is the only human organ in her cyber-enhanced body. Conflicted by her past as she begins to experience ‘glitches’, her self-discovery becomes the central theme of the film. This isn’t entirely different from the original, which took the concept of the ‘ghost’ or soul to a philosophically richer place, leaving its viewers with a diverse range of questions to ponder about our humanity. However, this adaptation doesn’t progress far beyond a dumbed down origin tale, and is precisely where it falters.
Credit where it’s due – the effort to make a modern revision inspired by the cult classic, and not a frame-by-frame clone is certainly commendable; some iconic scenes and visual imagery are re-imagined within a new narrative. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the soundtrack where Kenji Kawai’s haunting and memorable theme is replaced by a bombastic Hollywood score by Clint Mansell. Nevertheless, the world of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is truly a sight to behold, with an amalgamation of a neo-noir landscape along with a gritty, greasy cyberpunk underbelly. Combined with seamless CGI work, this is a stunning film to watch in IMAX 3D, one that can probably be enjoyed by an audience unaware of its origins. Fans of that cult classic however, will find this merely a decorative ‘shell’ of its former self.