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Movie Review: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Favors Gorgeous Style over Hard Sci-Fi

Ghost in the Shell is an anime classic! Does the movie live up to the original? Read our movie review to find out:

The 1995 anime classic Ghost in the Shell holds a special place in my heart for being a landmark of breathtaking animation and surprisingly intelligent science fiction. As directed by Mamoru Oshii, I thought of the movie as a compromise between sci-fi picture that is equal parts philosophical and action packed. There would be long scenes where characters talk about the depths of what it means to be human, followed by a scene of a spider tank firing a machine gun. But this live-action adaptation, helmed by Rupert Sanders, makes an even bigger compromise by making this world much more serviceable to a commercial audience.

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Scarlett Johansson as the robotic Major.

On one level, I should probably be offended by this attempt at doing away with most of Oshii’s concepts and themes, leaving only the bare minimum of story in favor of the more flashy elements. But this isn’t Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. This is the big-budget Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell and it’s more or less what I expected.

Scarlett Johansson assumes the role of the Major, the first human of the near future to have their brain placed inside a robot body. She’s a solid enough choice for the role, given her body-comfortable nature from Under the Skin and action-ready reflexes from the Avengers movies. Though the movie doesn’t have a lot of time to explore every aspect of her character, there are little scenes carved out here and there that use her well. To understand more about the human body she lost, Major leads a woman to a bedroom and caresses her face to understand what it feels like to be human. It’s a surreal scene that could have had more potential, had the movie not been in a rush to have her kick the crap out of gangsters at a strip club.

 
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Pilou Asbaek as Batou.

She doesn’t have much time to lament on the concept of her soul as she’s on contract by the Hanka Robotics Corporation to work for the government organization Section 9. Their current case is dealing with a hacker terrorist that is targeting members of Hanka for a personal vendetta that may or may not be connected with Major’s accident that led to her robot body. On this search for the truth, she’s aided by her fellow officer Batou (Pilou Asbaek), a white-haired grunt with beady optics installed in his head. Chief Aramaki, played by the always-intimidating “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, also feeds her orders. While Kitano spends most of the movie barking orders quietly in his chair, he is thankfully given a badass moment to pick up a gun and get in on the action. I had much more fun watching him defend himself with a pistol and a suitcase than Johansson sliding on her knees to punch some guards.

Related: Movie Review: ‘Power Rangers’ Mighty Morphs into a Clunky Blockbuster

What the film lacks in its script, it makes up for with the cinematography and visual effects. The city environment that Section 9 occupies is a stunningly vibrant and overly detailed metropolis, doing its best to topple Blade Runner with how many gigantic video ads can be slapped onto skyscrapers. There’s something beautiful to look at in every scene, sometimes computer-generated and sometimes practical. Worth noting is an amazingly shot action sequence in a ritzy Japanese-style conference room. Robotic geishas shift from slowly serving sake to opening their faces to reveal tentacle-like wires that hack into their cyborg victims.

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