In defense of the author: He is an ardent fan of Scarlett Johansson and will watch any film in which she appears in theaters. This is generally a good time and will happen anyway since she’s in all the Marvel Studios films now. This was not one of those times.
When a film makes such a point of explaining the meaning of the title in the first five minutes, it’s probably going to be a bumpy ride. Ghost in the Shell comes with some baggage. For one, it’s based on a series of animated films and graphic novels that this reviewer has never seen. This allows me to see the film for what it is, no comparison to anything else. And I for one found it lacking.
Coming from the director of Snow White and the Huntsman, Ghost in the Shell follows Major (Johansson) as she is the first fully robotic being to house a human brain. She works for Section 9, a government agency that fights terrorism.
The premise of a cybernetic future isn’t fresh, but the visuals were nice. A bit outlandish, at times, but helped to sell the world. Other than that, it was rather bland and stole wholesale from far better films (Blade Runner, for one). It didn’t help that the plot was warmed over from pretty much every other action film with a spy angle. Questions of who to trust are answerable from the start, but drag on and on and on in this film.
Other characters in the film are fine, but don’t get enough screen time or backstory. Beat Takeshi plays Major’s superior Chief Aramaki who doesn’t speak any English in the film, but this doesn’t affect anyone else since everyone speaks every language in the future, apparently. There are several fun action scenes, but they are too short and are sometimes preceded by a joke that is unkind to trans people.
Perhaps the makers of the film knew they wouldn’t get another shot at this, since the end wraps everything up so nicely. I sincerely hope Scarlett Johansson stops appearing in films like this and starts appearing in more films like Her or Under the Skin.
Now, for a spoiler warning! The following paragraph will have spoilers.
There is much to say about Scarlett Johansson playing a character named Motoko Kusanagi in a live-action film. Except, she kinda isn’t playing her. Johansson is technically only the robot body of the brain of Motoko. In the course of the story, it makes sense that when creating a robot body to house the stolen brain of Motoko, that they wouldn’t make her look too similar. I don’t find that a very good explanation, but it’s the best I could work out. The writers of this film pretty much gave up when Johansson’s Major meets her mom and her mother never remarks at all about how different she looks.