Ghost in the Shell is visually astonishing. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) has crafted a special effects wonder that will melt your eyeballs. If only the plot was on par with the technical achievement. Unfortunately, it is rote and predictable. But the film is so engrossing to see, the mediocrity of the narrative is not a deal killer. I am unfamiliar with the source material, so can't say how faithful this adaptation is. I hope audiences will appreciate the film as a first rate cinematic experience that stands apart from previous incarnations.
Set in near future Japan, humanity has enhanced itself with cybernetic upgrades. The Hanka Corporation takes this technology to the ultimate goal. They succeed in transplanting the brain of a deceased woman into a fully robotic body. Thus creating Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first cyborg and perfect weapon. She's placed into Section 9, a government program run by Mr. Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). Along with her partner, Batou (Pilou Asbaek), they fight terrorism and crime.
Major's world is turned upside down by a new enemy, Kuze (Michael Pitt). This mysterious figure is waging a war against the Hanka Corporation, killing anyone that gets in his way. Major's search for Kuze leads to frightening discoveries about herself. She begins to wonder whether she has free will or is just a machine under corporate control.
The future depicted is magnificently realized. The city is a sprawling behemoth of darkness and light. Buildings connected by multiple car lanes, covered in holographic imagery that has replaced the billboards of today. But beneath the gleaming skyscrapers is a twisted world of poverty and human mutilation. The ancillary characters, with their upgrades, are ghastly mixtures of flesh and robotics. The attention to detail is mesmerizing. At times I looked away from the primary action just to marvel at the background intricacy. Sanders and his production designer are at a next level here.
The term "ghost" refers to your soul or spirit. "Shell" is the machine body that holds it. This is the philosophical construct that Major struggles with. This concept has been around since the dawn of science fiction. From Blade Runner to The Matrix, humanity's integration with technology has been seen ad nauseam. This is the hurdle that the film does not get over. The script by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler is too conventional. It doesn't take us anywhere new in the man versus machine struggle. This may be because the writers where adhering like glue to the original manga comic by Masamune Shirow. Regardless, the filmmakers should have been as bold as the visual effects plot-wise. The story needed to be more elaborate and unexpected.
The action scenes are well done and not overblown. I like the fact that Major is a deadly combatant, but not a super hero. She can be repaired from any injury, but doesn't have eye lasers or ridiculous strength. She takes a hell of a beating in scene after scene. Scarlett Johansson plays her with a rigid gait and inquisitive look. Major is not a Black Widow cyborg.
From Paramount Pictures, Ghost in the Shell is a must see for the special effects. The look of the film is damned brilliant. Anyone with an inkling for science fiction and futurism will be impressed by Sanders effort. Johansson plays Major well enough. Once again, she's restrained by the script's limitations. It's been there, seen that as for as originality is concerned. I judge Ghost in the Shell by the overall experience. Shell out the dough and watch it in IMAX 3D. You'll definitely get your money's worth for the eye candy.