It is almost an impossible task to make something like Ghost in the Shell – like many remakes and big-screen adaptations of renowned works of fiction, everyone who is a fan has a version of said work in their heads. Whether it’s a comic-book, a novel or as in this case an adaptation of a manga series that wowed readers back in the late 80’s, never will a new version reach the dizzying heights than comes with expectation. And with added pressure of the whitewashing controversy that surrounds it, it was always going to be an uphill battle from the off, but the bottom line is whether the film is actually any good – and the swift and decisive answer is that it very much does.
Beginning with a glimpse into the works of Hanka Robotics, we see the makings of one of their cyber-humans: a sculpted, meticulously crafted cybernetic organism that is breathtaking in both design and engineering, all it lacks is a thinking mind and such is the technology that a human brain can be fused with it to create the perfect amalgamation of the two and by extension the perfect weapon. That weapon is Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first of her kind and programmed to serve and protect from criminals, terrorists, power-hungry cyber corporations and everything in between with precision and efficiency. But with a human brain fighting with the synthetic shell it is ensconced in, Major is soon faced with her unknown past and where she came from.
Similarly to the controversy over the “Americanisation” of the source material was the choice of Rupert Sanders as director, who is best known for this work on 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman which isn’t perhaps the best calling card. But as sophomore efforts go, the British director has redeemed himself – visually, the film’s comparisons are wide but it’s Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner that will be front and centre of many film-goers minds when they seen this. A glow with huge, monolithic graphics, punctured by a spellbinding score from Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe, the city streets are drenched in water and rain whilst up above the landscapes glisten and sparkle with neon-drenched images that Sanders and co utilise beautifully with a 3D watch, for a change, an absolute must.
Refreshing too is the action which has a more muscular feel that many modern action blockbusters – you can feel every blow, every strike as the action crescendos swell, with the opening set piece as thrilling and beautifully realised as anything you will see this summer as Major and her team rips through the room with startling intensity. Indeed it’s equally thrilling to see those involved, particularly Johansson, really in the midst of the action which only adds to the more brutal nature of the action. As for the star, it’s another superb turn that cements her as one of Hollywood’s best: with her stinted walk and cold stare, she nails the cyborg motif but beneath the surface lies an unanswered heartbreak, a yearning for answers that is played beautifully and anchors the film with consummate ease.
It’s shame then that it’s in the film’s screenplay can’t quite keep up – written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger, it falls victim to the old “two many cooks” syndrome and feels somewhat muddled in places. Ultimately when you peel back the shell there is sadly nothing new to challenge: the connotations and debate about about humans, technology and what defines them aren’t confronted as one would have hoped, while the plan of the films “big-bad” Kuze, played with gusto by Michael Pitt, doesn’t quite pay-off and rather falls away in the final third amidst some typical pyrotechnics. What salvages it is the poignant and heartfelt journey of Major as she begins to discover where she came from, with one sequence in particular resonating with true emotion.
The summer season has started earlier than ever this year with some of the year’s big hitters already staking their claim for critical and box-office supremacy, and while Ghost in the Shell may not make the kind of waves that some of its counterparts will make, it’s certainly continues the excellent trend thus far. A visually thrilling, electrifying sci-fi actioner that while lacking the depth to make it truly soar, is still a blockbuster to greatly admire.
Ghost in the Shell storms into UK cinemas in IMAX 3D on 30th March.