Based on the franchise of the same name by Masamune Shirow, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell serves as the first live-action adaptation. Directed by Rupert Sanders, Ghost in the Shell draws heavily from the manga and 1995 anime film, but is lacking in several areas. This film unfortunately substitutes the original’s characterization and depth for an action-heavy picture that is sure to please average movie-goers, but ultimately disappoint those seeking a more complex narrative.
Set in the future, Ghost in the Shell follows a cyborg soldier from Section 9 called the Major (Scarlett Johansson), as she attempts to learn about her past while also battling a mysterious entity called Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt). The plot is inspired a great deal by the original film, but features significant changes mainly the Major’s character arc. While it is admirable that the film was not a shot-for-shot remake, some of these changes forfeited terrific aspects of the source material.
Scarlett Johansson is adequate in her role as Major Mira Killian, but not much more, likely due to the poor characterization provided by the writers. Johansson has proven that she is a capable actress in other films such as Her, but she is ultimately limited by the choppy writing of her character. Although there are times where her acting talents shine, there are far too few and they cannot save the blandness of the protagonist.
There are quite a few supporting characters, but none of them truly stand out aside from the Major’s second in command Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and the Chief of Section 9 Daisuke Aramaki (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano), but that’s only due to their extended screen time compared to the others. The main villain is occasionally interesting, but he is unfortunately used too sparingly.
Although the film tends to be boring, it is not a complete disaster. The musical score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is truly magnificent and it pays homage to the original film’s score. There are also impressive visuals presented in the film that help the movie stand out amongst recent films. Both of these elements work together to create an interesting tone throughout the film, which helps make up for the mediocrity that is present in other areas.
The original manga and anime were so memorable due to the ethical questions and themes deriving from the Major’s own “ghost”, but it is clear that this adaptation chose to focus more on flash than substance. The only thing that this film offers other than wonderful music and nice visuals is the want to revisit the original film. All in all, Ghost in the Shell is better than most anime adaptations and is certainly watchable, but it never comes close to matching the depth of its source material.