Coming off of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, it seems that director Rupert Sanders gained a driving force to make the most visually inventive film Hollywood has seen in years. In many ways, he succeeded with Ghost in the Shell and yet the film is held back by a narrative dumbed down for its western audience despite a plethora of spectacular visuals.
Adapted from the manga and feature length animation, the film follows a woman whose brain is transplanted into a synthetic body after an accident and begins working for a futuristic government task force. Sanders and company have distilled the original cyberpunk vibe in a chilling and almost hallucinatory way. This is singlehandedly the defining characteristic of this version, as cinematographer Jess Hall creates a tantalizing and well-worn future city that, when coupled with the amazing synth score, really sets itself apart from the other big budget films being created as of late. The melding of CGI and well-crafted sets creates a glossy world that fits into the visual style created by the source material.
It is unfortunate that the actual assembly of the film did not seem to have as much care and attention put towards it. Awkward staging and line delivery disassociate the Major, Scarlett Johansson, from any connection to the audience. While she does give her all in many of the sequences, the amount of controversy that resulted from Johansson’s casting does not seem to have resulted in the best result for the film. This is further accentuated by a haphazard edit that unfortunately emphasizes the excess of shaky-cam and slow motion that never seems to find a solid rhythm in its 106 minutes. This is surprising, given the originals’ ability to cover additional material with over 20 minutes cut from the runtime. It seems the ability to trust a mainstream audience with heavier, boundary-pushing material must have been cut from an early stage.
With all of its faults, the film does truly shine when the cogs are finally set into motion, both Pilou Asbaek and the immortal Takeshi Kitano handle their roles as the kick ass Batou and Chief Aramaki with a verve and swagger that elevate the pulpy crime drama aspect with several chilling set-pieces. This update may be without a large justification behind it, besides putting dollars in pockets of investors, but the jumbled final product does provide ample amounts of brilliance despite several large missteps.