Tuesday 4 April 2017

Film Review: Ghost in the Shell

ScarJo goes cyberpunk in this action thriller directed by Rupert Sanders - but is it more than just an empty shell?

Adapted from an influential 90s Japanese anime, Ghost in the Shell sees Johansson play a cyber-enhanced human called Major tasked with combating dangerous criminals and terrorists as part of Section 9, a secretive taskforce who answer only to the upper echelons of government. After sustaining life-threatening injuries in a car crash, Major wakes up with a whole new synthetic body and her memory completely erased - she only knows what she is told by the organisation that build her.

As her past starts to flood her subconscious, Major begins to pull at a thread that throws everything she knows into question - and cast doubt on those she thought she could trust.

Set in a neon-soaked cyberpunk future filled with towering holograms and shiny skyscrapers, Ghost in the Shell is a visual masterpiece. I don't use that term lightly either; it truly is a staggeringly beautiful film. It recalls Ridley Scott's Blade Runner through its production, costume and character design, and the nondescript Asian metropolis where the film takes place feels huge and well-realised. We're given just enough information to fill in the gaps between our world and this not-so far flung future.

Similarly, the cinematography by DOP Jess Hall is rich and deep. The colours dance and burst from the screen, perfectly melding with Clint Mansell's hypnotic electro score that pulsates through each scene and ties everything together.

In terms of acting, Ghost in the Shell is good if unremarkable. Johansson is a compelling lead, but the cold distant robotic approach is something we've seen from her before in Under the Skin and Lucy. She does a good job of carrying the action though.

Given that I know next to nothing about the original Japanese manga/anime, I went into Ghost in the Shell with no expectations. Surprisingly, the film works well for someone with zero prior knowledge of the series, such as myself. You're not spoon fed information but neither are you starved for details; the film gives you enough to hold your interest and carry the narrative, even during the slower moments.

The questions surrounding Major's past and the corruption inside Section 9 are enough to keep you engaged, even if the film doesn't go as deep into the potential ethical territory that it could of given the subject matter. It's this area where Ghost in the Shell struggles; as a cyberpunk action movie with cyborgs and robot geishas, it works like gangbusters. As a piece of art that explores what it means to be human in this all too real future, it leaves something to be desired. It certainly touches on this idea, but merely in passing and definitely not with the same poignancy or delicacy as the aforementioned Blade Runner of even The Matrix.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

Visually, Ghost in the Shell is worth the ticket price. Scratch beneath the surface and you'll find a film struggling to find a balance between appeasing mainstream audiences with action and enthralling sci-fi fans with the moral and ethical dilemmas that undercut the narrative.

Ghost in the Shell is in cinemas across Australia now.

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