Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 feature Ghost in the Shell is perhaps the best known (and best reviewed) anime film ever, an instant-classic parable about the rise of technology and the inherent dwindling of humanity. It’s served as inspiration for any number of films that followed; the Wachowskis famously pitched The Matrix by handing the studio a copy of Ghost in the Shell and saying, “We wanna do that for real.”

Why it’s taken 22 years for a live-action version to make its way to theaters is anyone’s guess, but it has finally arrived, with Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) at the helm and Scarlett Johansson starring as Major. A cybernetic creation made from a human brain and an artificial body, Major was manufactured by Hanka Robotics as a weapon to fight terrorist attacks.

A year after her creation, Major is up against an unknown foe killing off Hanka higher-ups. She teams up with her fellow operatives to eventually track down the assassin, and the story, on paper at least, all comes together.

With so much attention paid to making Ghost in the Shell look cool (and making ScarJo look particularly appealing in her latex bodysuit), the film’s plot becomes the first and most egregious casualty. The overarching theme and the thought-provoking message that dominated the anime original (and, presumably, the manga source material–though I’ll plead ignorance) gets lost early on, and frankly that’s a bummer.

Though screenwriters-by-committee Jamie Moss (Street Kings), William Wheeler (Queen of Katwe), and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Age of Extinction) made sure to include most of the set pieces from the original film (the garbage truck shootout, the ankle-deep water fight), the script itself is little more than what you’d see in any run-of-the-mill action film. The writers seem to have been perfectly content to let Sanders (and production designer Jan Roefls) create a Blade Runner-ish world, so Johansson can run around shooting things in it.

Speaking of which…two years ago, when Johansson was signed to star, Ghost in the Shell made headlines following accusations of Hollywood whitewashing. While the film offers up a half-baked attempt to explain Major’s un-Japanese appearance, it’s likely to do little to pacify anyone up in arms about it. (For the record, Oshii himself said he had no issues with Johansson’s casting.)

But that’s only one more of the film’s flaws. While not an unqualified disaster by any means, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t have enough going for it (and certainly didn’t find enough inspiration in the source material) to be considered anything more than a disappointment, a ghost of what it could have been.


2.5 stars

Worth the 3D glasses?

While there’s plenty of 3D pizzazz, much of it actually distracts more than enhances. There’s a lot of holograms in the cityscape, along with raindrops, glass shards, and countless bullets. Without the 3D glasses, they’re a minor issue. With them, you’ll spend the entire movie paying more attention to them than the movie itself.