Adapting the classic Japanese manga “Ghost in the Shell” into a live action film sounds like a pretty magnificent idea for a movie, right? This sci-fi extravaganza tells the story of Major (Scarlett Johansson), a cyborg who has a machine for a body but a human mind. Her brain was rescued after she died and Major has been trained to be a rugged crime fighting soldier; it’s a sturdy story idea that’s squandered in this film.
The movie is a visually slick dazzler, an intense, lavishly structured, virtual feast for your eyes. It’s like a candy-colored version of “The Matrix.” Every frame is saturated with splashy and colorful artistry, but most of this beauty has no sense of purpose except to look cool and get a rise out of its core manga fans. There are too many corny, nonsensical visuals (like a bizarre giant hologram of a bikini-clad woman lifting weights) that will leave you scratching your head. Once the glossy sheen begins to dull, the story quickly fizzles. The look of the movie fits with the original work, but here it’s plagued with a boring and uninspired story that’s presented in a far too simple and straightforward fashion to do it any justice.
Johansson is quite good as the half-robot with a really awful wig, but she’s played this type of role before and has yet to convince me that she has any greater range as an actor. Her lunky walking posture is amusing and she is convincing as an ass-kicking woman (though not so much as a character who is of Japanese heritage; there’s been some controversy over this casting choice among Asian American groups). The supporting performance are altogether forgettable with the exception of the lovely Juliette Binoche as Major’s creator Dr. Ouelet and Pilou Asbæk who at times steals everyone’s thunder in his very minor role as Batou.
Overall the film feels like an empty, hollow shell with no brain or heart, a pulsating visual assault for your eyeballs that’s allowed to run rampant until it becomes an overgrown mess of slick colors and zero substance.