*** This review may contain thermo-optical camouflage spoilers ***
A young woman is brought back to life as a cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier and must stop a terrorist who wants to destroy the Hanka company that created her.
Without drawing too many comparisons to Shirow Masamune's 1989 Manga and Mamoru Oshii's animated 1995 counterpart, director Rupert Sanders' Ghost in the Shell adaption is interesting, if somewhat plodding in places. Scarlett Johansson's Major is devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals but Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger's screenplay never really explores these missions and we are immediately thrown into an origin story of sorts where the missions are intertwined with the main plot of Major discovering the truth about herself.
Heavily Blade Runner influenced, whereas Deckard was a character in a world, Major's world seems to revolve around her which limits Sanders'. That's not to say it's not a full realised world, it looks visually stunning. There's political also business corruption, cyber-drugs, human trafficking and Yakuza activities touched upon. The sets and striking costumes are finely put together. Scarlett Johansson's Major anti tall, skinny Hollywood typecast aesthetically excels and Pilou Asbaek is great as Batou with his cyborg enhanced eyes. Notable are Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki, Majors dirty Harry-like boss and Julia Roberts looking Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet. Michael Pitt as Kuze is sadly given little to do aside from deliver theatrical lines cloaked in distracting, yet, excellent CGI. Also Michael Wincott has an extended cameo and is sorely missed early on.
Edited by Billy Rich and Neil Smith it appears purposely but jarringly choppy in places, who knows possibly to cash in on the younger age rating or a home media extended marketing ploy, either way this hampers what could be a decent if somewhat condensed adaption as Major, a brain in her mechanical body, or shell fights her way through cyber-enhanced foe at times utilising her tantalising thermo-optical camouflage. You'd think though that the screen writers would have the opportunity to deep dive into the themes, rather than dull them down. Also the cumbersome spider tank steals from the closing some much needed tension. There are a few twists and emotional scenes in amongst the handful of action set ups but the premises are material we've seen explored before. Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell's music is moving and perfectly fitting, to Sanders' credit it has quiet times, Asbaek particularly shines in these moments.
Essentially this incarnation of Ghost in the Shell is a journey of self discovery and one finding themselves, not about Major becoming more. It's reminiscent of Robocop, Strange Days, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet and countless others and that's the snag with the timing of this live-adaptation, a good movie is (usually) a good movie no matter how original or unoriginal it happens to be but it almost doesn't feel fresh enough to break the mould. That said, it more than holds up to repeat viewings.
Overall, it's worth your time if only for the visuals, comic book action and robotics. Now with the origin-like story already told a sequel could be very appealing indeed.