First of all: I won’t get into the whitewashing-debate. I understand the arguments behind it, and I got my own opinion on that, but this review will deal exclusively with the movie itself. Also, please note that so far, I haven’t seen the original (an oversight that I’ll correct on May 13th, when it will be shown at the Vienna Filmcasino). Thus, if you automatically disregard any reviews that don’t complain about the whitewashing at length and/or compare this live-action film with the anime, you might as well stop here. This is about one thing, and one thing only: The movie, taken by itself.
One thing that “Ghost in the Shell” has going for itself is that it’s visually arresting. The beginning in particular offers a couple of beautiful images, culminating in a nice action sequence that, in my opinion, already was GitS’s best (the rest of the action was fine, but never quite reached the same level – which, with a movie like that, is a little bit of a problem). The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe was also quite good, and – with its mix of orchestra and synthesizer – fits the movie (and its theme of a fusion between men and machine, aka the “natural” and the “artificial”) quite nicely. I also think that Scarlett Johansson was pretty much perfect for the role. She’s a very physical actress, and very convincing in action scenes (see her Black Widow or “Lucy”), but she also has this knack for slightly outlandish and otherworldly characters (“Under the Skin”). “Ghost in the Shell” makes use of both of these qualities – and, of course, also her incredibly beautiful, angelic face – but she also shines in the few emotional moments that the movie gives her. The rest of the cast was great too. As for the characters, I liked that Dr. Ouelet wasn’t a typical mad scientist-kind of bad guy. Otherwise, most of them – including Major – were a little generic.
Which also brings us to its biggest disappointment for me: Maybe it’s because the trailer already gave too much away, or that the original anime movie served as inspiration for similarly themed movies, but… plot-wise, “Ghost in the Shell” didn’t feel particularly groundbreaking (to put in mildly). If the live-action film is a fair representation of the anime, I’d argue that it was heavily influenced by both “Blade Runner” and “Robocop” – two (better) movies that I had to think of quite often while watching this. But even apart from that, I had the feeling that there were a lot of really interesting themes and topics, which “Ghost in the Shell” unfortunately dealt with in a very superficial way. Take the idea that we’re not made by our memories, but our actions. It’s a sentiment that’s uttered twice within the movie – but we’re only told, not shown. It’s an idea presented only in words, but not within the plot of the movie. There were many other, interesting ideas in this which they never really got into – which is possibly the main reason why the reveals and certain moments never really resonated emotionally. “Ghost in the Shell” is an empty shell of a movie – albeit a visually beautiful, entertaining, and occasionally thrilling one – but it’s missing a soul. Which, given its subject matter, is not without a certain irony.