One year ago there was a breakthrough in a laboratory operating at the cutting edge of technology when they were able to create an android that was operated by a human brain placed in its mechanical skull. The ethics of this innovation were glossed over when the uses such a robot could be put to were realised: this new breed of superhumans with their near-invincible forms, easily repaired should they be damaged, would be ideal for keeping law and order in this world of the future. The Major (Scarlett Johansson) is that first incarnation, and now has been ordered to hunt down evildoers against the state and corporations which she does with nary a complaint, such is her obedience. But for how long?
Ghost in the Shell started life as a well-regarded manga in Japan, and as with just about every example of that it made the leap to the screen in the 1995 anime, which was also much-respected even if (whisper it) it was a sterile and rather tedious experience if you were not already invested in the chilly philosophising and snail's pace allowing the viewer to take in the tiniest detail of what was happening before them. Therefore when this and another (far better) anime Akira were announced as being remade in live action, those legions of fans were up in arms since there was Hollywood involvement and that to them meant one thing: a Westernised version of a very Japanese property, smoothing off any non-American edges.
Thanks to the 2017 film doing underwhelming box office, it seemed Akira was scrapped as a remake proposition, and there was a lot of badmouthing going on at Hollywood messing up a so-called classic, especially when Johansson was cast in the lead. A white star playing an Asian character? Sacrilege, went the cry, though what was conveniently ignored was that this Ghost in the Shell was not an exclusively American production, it was a co-production between many countries including Japan and China, not to mention Hong Kong where much of it was unofficially set, or at least alluded to. These producers wanted a leading lady who would be famous across the globe and that's who they got, though what they did not get was the year's biggest female-led blockbuster.
That prize went to a certain wondrous woman, and this Ghost in the Shell was left to be battled over by those who were dazzled by its careful copying of the anime's design with computer graphics, and those who felt it was a betrayal of their beloved original; everyone else could not bring themselves to give a stuff about an over-elaborate fantasy world that not only did not look particularly attractive, but was emotionally frozen, with its most prominent storyline as Major tries to regain her humanity utterly stillborn since the script did not offer Johansson any chance to bring any personality whatsoever to her character. Fair enough in those early stages when she was robotic, but she had nothing to work with in the latter stages either: Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier had done a better job in that respect.
Director Rupert Sanders was so caught up in translating the anime appearance into his movie that he neglected anything vaguely human that might have breathed life into his android efforts, ironic when this was the point of the plot. Even the '95 film was not the best at delivering that theme of finding humanity, and there was a reason science fiction anime did not make a satisfying transition to the big screen too often, they were two different media and the animation did not necessarily result in the same impressive visuals when rendered in photorealism, in fact they rarely did. To underline the citizen of the world flavour of this version Johansson was surrounded by cast members from across the planet, but none of them ever felt as if they were getting along with each other as far as the performing went, leaving a cold, distant experience where if you were not captivated by the second-hand imagery you were going to have a very dull time of it. Throwing in a big fight at the climax did little to lift a glum, grey, cheerless effort. Electro score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe.