Fantasy film reflects on human nature

“Ghost In The Shell” stars Scarlett Johansson and is directed by Rupert Sanders, his fifth directorial feature.  Johansson plays Major, an enhanced bionic soldier who tries to bring down a hacker that is thwarting the endeavors of corporate-funded research.  Underlying the main plot is a fully developed ethical question of what separates “human” from “machine” which resonates with films like “I, Robot” and “Blade Runner.”

This is the live action adaptation from the manga written by Shirow Masamune.  Like the animes that precede this film, “Ghost In The Shell” puts you into a world of gritty urbanism and surrealist textures.  The world-building details like a swath of blue in Johannson’s hair, projections of fish amongst skyscrapers and Geisha robots stand to heighten the genre’s unique qualities.  Similar to “Cloud Atlas,” this film could have used a bit of clean-up when it came to the character development of the film. Certain sequences felt as if they originally had more depth but were cut for the sake of simplicity and production time.

The use of slow-motion to convey quick fighting sequences seems to be a necessity given the abilities of Major. I felt as if the writers and director could have been more original in their script rather than stealing scenes straight from the anime.

Parts of this film felt the need to explain certain characteristics of Major’s past when it is simply not needed, and the opportunity to drive the audience to question their own philosophy was wasted.  On a more positive note, Jess Hall’s cinematography allowed the world to really fill the screen and made me want to search for every little detail in the design of the costumes, the projections in the city and the architecture of surrounding buildings.  There were many times I wish I could have hit pause in the theater just to experience this film as a piece of Rembrandt sci-fi.

Apart from the cinematography, Johansson’s performance made the film better than just another throw-away sci-fi action movie.  Her style of acting is very much in line with “Under The Skin” in which she plays a seducing alien creature.  She performs “mechanically” very well and seemingly took acting cues from Alicia Vikander in Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina.”

The ability to perform as a bionic enhancement can either be conveyed in a realistic or comic-like fashion, and this film is definitely categorized as the former. If Johannson acted poorly, this film would have crumbled in the eyes of critics like Mark Kermode, Chris Stuckman and the Schmoe’s reviews. Luckily, Johannson conveyed depth of character in as human-like terms as possible without being flashy or emotionless.

Overall, I enjoyed this film and it gives me hope for future installments of anime-to-live action films.  So far, “Attack On Titan” and “Ghost In The Shell” have both succeeded in staying true to anime quality whilst conveying live action in realistic terms.  I hope to see big budget animes become part of American culture in a similar way comics have with the rise of the Marvel/DC films.

Given the success of “Ghost In The Shell” in terms of artistic and action direction, my love of the series has been rekindled, and I hope future films will gain “Avatar” or “Avengers”-like budgets.