Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell - see it on the biggest screen you can
Ghost in the Shell (M)
107 mins ★★★★
Having watched some anime before, but not the original Ghost in the Shell, I can't compare this live action film adaptation to its source material but I can say the blockbuster movie with the dubious director and the chequered production history delivers a pretty terrific two hours in the cinema.
Principally, Ghost in the Shell looks incredible, and you should see it on the biggest screen you can find. It may annoy some aficionados that the production design inevitably evokes Blade Runner, but in fact the futuristic cityscape reads more like a pixelated videogame interpretation of a dystopian Japanese city, and its looming holograms and misty horizons are a joy to behold.
But to its credit, or perhaps to the credit of the film's director, Rupert Sanders (she wrote, begrudgingly, of the man who made Snow White and the Huntsman and cheated with his lead actress), Ghost in the Shell also boasts an engaging story, not-too-stupid script and universally fine performances from an eclectic cast. It is normally at this point I applaud action blockbusters which stray from the Hollywood casting room out into the big wide world of international talent (the disappointing Kong: Skull Island mixed upper-class Brits with Chinese martial artists and Oscar-winning Americans). But Ghost gets even more kudos for peopling its tale with veritably serious actors from the arthouse side of the tracks: the lead from a Romanian abortion drama; a Dane who fought Somali pirates in the original (and superior) version of Captain Phillips; and a 70-year-old legend of Japanese cinema, the actor-director-comedian "Beat" Takeshi Kitano. The additional presence of Juliet Binoche as the atypically emotional scientist feels like unnecessary frosting on an already delicious cake.
The titular ghost is Major, the first of her kind: a human brain transplanted into a fully synthetic body to fight as the ultimate weapon. If you think about it, it actually sounds like rather a good idea. In a slightly Westworldian scene, Major is created and emerges as Scarlett Johansson, and while I'm not sure it's necessary to see quite so much of her bare bottom throughout the movie, it's probably true to the anime so I'll let it go.
Major works with a team of soldier-types to locate and bring down baddies, under the instruction of the mysterious Aramaki (Kitano, who speaks only Japanese in response to the rest of the characters' English). Much of the action thus revolves around their entering strange places (there is the obligatory nightclub scene but, like everything else in the film, it looks so awesome you forgive all the tropes) and encountering rough, two-dimensional villains who sport varying degrees of facial reconstruction. Thankfully, the film isn't as overrun with fight scenes and gun-play as most blockbusters, and it even manages to raise moral issues of memory and existentialism – granted, these are not fleshed out, but at least the film attempts to not just resort to "being pretty".
But its key selling point has to be the film's stunning set design, innovative make-up and costuming and the fact it still made every effort to wow its audience with some truly great photography. Ghost in the Shell ought to enthral its younger viewers for whom the source anime matters most, but it is also a terrific sci-fi adventure in its own right.