Film Review: Ghost In The Shell (USA, 2017) is a visual spectacle, but lacks original storytelling

The first scene of Ghost In The Shell is incredibly haunting, as a crimson-hued setting features a fresh, human brain being delicately placed into a robotic body. It’s an uneasy mixture of human and AI – and according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk – it is a reality that’s not too far into the future, once considered pure science fiction that was featured in Ghost in The Shell‘s 1995 anime by Mamoru Oshii.

The reality of director Rupert Sanders(Snow White & The Huntsman)  Ghost In The Shell is a neon-lit, Blade Runner-esque metropolis named New Port City; a modern-day Tokyo on steroids. Viewing the film in 3D – and coming from having not viewed a 3D film in cinemas since Avatar – adds an incredible amount of depth and colour that has the golden touch of modern Hollywood’s almost-reality, yet still holds the fantastical aesthetic of the classic manga – there’s a mixture of brightly lit holograms dotted throughout the city, to spider-like hands tapping on a keyboard.

But even if the setting is incredibly eye-catching, the action in the first sequence is by far a standout. The money shot still continues to be of the stripped-down The Major (Scarlett Johansson) bursting through the wall in a way that augments reality, gun in hand, ready to kick some serious ass – specifically against some rogue Geisha robots that create an incredibly slick and intense moment.

Johansson’s performance is nothing new – her speciality for looking consistently concerned, with the occasional knowing smile does fit well into The Major’s character, but it the ghost inside the shell wasn’t as prominent as I would have hoped it to be. The elephant in the room regarding Johansson’s casting as a widely-interpreted Asian woman, even with Oshii’s approval, still shrouds the film with a blanket of controversy.

Nonetheless, Johansson’s veteran status as an action heroine continues to deliver and remind us exactly why she’s one of the first to be chosen for these roles in the first place. Supported by an equally action-heavy Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones), whose character Batou was both charismatic yet had an interesting development, both bounced off each other with great dynamics.

Yet amidst all the cyberpunk aesthetics of swirling VFX, slow-motion captured action and enchanting colour palette of violet and blue, where Ghost fails to deliver is within its central story. Although making up a great deal of manga culture, the live-action adaptation uses recycled plot devices that make you feel smarter than the film itself – the film began strong, but when cliche after cliche entered the story, I knew it was time to let it rest.

Even with its noticeable flaws, Ghost In The Shell will hopefully open doors for live-action adaptations of popular anime and manga to be uncovered by a Western audience. A new world of imagination, particularly regarding the futurist possibilities in this vein of science fiction and an important, almost political statement with a mixture of culture, hold a new escape route for film goers. Ghost In The Shell has the potential to be a new Jason Bourne or Mission Impossible – but only if it remembers not to always put the Shell a step ahead of the Ghost.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Ghost In The Shell is released in cinemas today and is distributed by Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks.

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