Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, Rila Fukushima, Takeshi Kitano
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Date: 31st March
Set in the near future, Scarlett Johansson is Major; a human rescued from a terrible crash who has been enhanced into the perfect super soldier. Along with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek), she hunts down cyber-terrorists at the behest of her incredibly stoic boss Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano; yes, that one). As always with these situations, things aren’t always quite what they seem and some secrets may be about to be uncovered whilst some truths get revealed.
There are essentially two reviews one can write about this film. One can attempt to separate the film from its origins and assess how Hollywood has attempted to repackage it. The second approach would be to take into account that rich genesis and see if it manages to stand on the shoulders of the giants that preceded it.
For those of you who have little-to-no knowledge of the manga upon which this is based, then you could do a lot worse than parting with your hard-earned cash for this piece of celluloid. As a director, Rupert Sanders is an incredibly safe and competent pair of hands. This is, taken as an isolated piece of work, a fairly entertaining and well put-together film. Its centrepiece, the shallow-water-based fight scene hinted at in the trailer, is a genuine testosterone-pumping piece of work. Similarly Johansson has proven by this point, through her work in Lucy and her various Marvel outings, that she can do this kind of craic in her sleep. To her credit, she can’t be accused of phoning it in here; her subtle looks and furrows of brow are the closest the whole affair comes to addressing the eponymous ghost in the shell.
And therein lies the problem: in a world where we’ve recently seen the likes of Ex Machina or HBO’s Westworld in mainstream culture, it is no longer enough to simply phone-in some proto-post-Matrix-pseudo-philosophy. [Ed.note – the original Ghost in the Shell was, of course, a key influence on The Matrix; this version has the unenviable and, apparently unsuccessful, task of building on both of these texts – SG] Although not quite at the levels of Mary in the Black and White room, the discussions about artificial intelligence amongst us laymen-commoners has progressed beyond what’s on offer here. If you’re happy to take your ninja-robots and their excellently-choreographed ass-kicking without the bigger conversation, then by all means, don’t let me get in your way. However, the whole thing will ring just that bit too hollow.
As for the manga fans, expect that bell not to ring, but to thunder. First of all though, let’s just take one second to acknowledge that, no matter what was produced here, you wouldn’t be happy. It’s okay to admit that no-one likes seeing something they love sullied in some manner. This film is at the core of a much larger discussion concerning the lack of originality in Hollywood at the moment. If they’re not pumping out another Spider-Man trilogy, then they’re just rehashing something we’re already familiar with, like this. I can’t count myself as a fan of the original, I saw it at University once and recall thoroughly enjoying it. However that was in 2003 and in the intervening fourteen years, I’ve not felt particularly moved to seek it out again. What I can admire was that they set their story in a film where the Turing test had been settled, a conclusive set of results published, and had then asked, ‘what next?’ To see those efforts reduced to this is just a crying shame.
All in then, the whole affair is grand. This isn’t destined to become a classic, but will probably generate enough footfall to spawn a sequel or two. It also earns some brownie points for coming in under the two-hour mark: if only Marvel were to pay heed, eh? As for Ms Johansson, well I guess if she didn’t grind out one of these occasionally then we wouldn’t get the likes of Under the Skin.