Film review: Ghost in the Shell

If you’re familiar with the Manga classic of the same name, then there’s not much in this film that is going to surprise you, and this is a good thing. It’s pretty much the same story: at some unspecified point in the future, humans enhancing themselves with cybernetic body parts has become the norm. The mysterious Hanka Corporation has taken the notion one step further: a completely artificial body piloted by a human brain.

Now, taking a classic piece of Manga fiction and turning it into a Westernised action flick is always going to be a “swings and roundabouts” proposition. The advantage is that you have a classic story to work with. The disadvantage is … that you have a classic story to work with. As long as you stick to the original plot and keep most of the classic set pieces from the original, then the fans will give your efforts a grudging approval at the very least, and thunderous applause if you’re very lucky (or very good). The problem is that something that is essentially a cartoon may not translate well into a live action movie. Ghost in the Shell gets away with it … just. They’ve changed enough of the sequence to make it worthwhile for the affeciandos to see it, but kept enough of the original to delight them. Not bad, not bad at all.

Still, the elephant in the shell is casting a non-Japanese actress in the lead, which has led to cries of “white-washing” – mainly from the press by the looks of it. Yes, Scarlett Johanssson is white, but the producers obviously felt there was some traction in casting a name that people would immediately recognise. If the film was made in Japan rather than Hollywood then I’m sure things would be a bit different. I don’t think this actually detracts from the film in any way, and probably guarantees that more people (mainly adolescent boys, and computer engineers) will go see it. So, no, I don’t have a problem with Miss Johansson being white. I do, however, have a problem with her being a little bit wooden. I think it’s tricky to pitch your acting towards being a robot with a human brain, but I don’t know… Something just didn’t really gel with her portrayal. It could be that I’m used to seeing her being the Black Widow; in this case, her laid back, sultry acting style works really well; not sure I was as convinced here. Still, her performance was creditable, much like everyone else in the film, though Pilou Asbæk (the guy from Borgen?) was surprisingly good as the cyborg’s sidekick.

The fight scenes were surprisingly sparse, and not really much to write home about. Having said that, that could be because I’ve seen a lot of similar stuff recently, so perhaps I’m just a little jaded. The futuristic setting was extremely good: grim, filthy and crowded; it reminded me a lot of Blade Runner. The setting tells a lot of the story: you get the impression that mankind only thinks its progressing to a brave new world where everyone will be an immortal brain walking about in a plastic shell. Chances are, looking at the state of the planet, we’re not going to make it that far. Great stuff.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t the best action film I’ve ever seen, or the best attempt at a Manga conversion, but it was entertaining, and actually breath-taking in places. The dialogue worked and the acting was okay. I think the best thing about Ghost In the Shell is that they stuck to the original, and for that reason I think it’s worth seeing.

Seven out of ten.


Join in…