Ghost in the Shell is based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow and follows the Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first human to have a full synthetic body, as she tracks down a cyberterrorist and discovers who she is.
The world of Ghost in the Shell is highly futuristic; nearly everyone is enhanced by cybernetics in some way or another. The Major survived a cyberterrorist attack, and her body was beyond repair; her entire body is cybernetic, including parts of her brain. The very concept of this world is perversely intriguing. How would people function with one or multiple parts of their body being synthetic? What kind of world would it be if everyone was like this? This is a great concept for a science fiction world, but it would have been more gratifying in a better-made film.
There have been some films that have been terribly paced because they make a significant time-jump within the first act. In just the first five minutes, not including the longest logo reel you will ever see, the movie jumps to one year later. Thankfully, it does not possess the same pacing flaws certain films do. However, the pacing can be slow. Despite having a decent number of action scenes, the plot tends to drag on. This is for two main reasons–the characters and the length of the main story.
Most of the characters are not fleshed out. They are just…there. For example, who is Batou, the Major’s second-in-command? What is his personality outside of his interactions with the Major? Where does he come from? Does he remember his past? Why does he love dogs more than people? I get it, dogs can be better than some people, but why does Batou think this? All of the same, except for the question about dogs, can be said for every other character except for the Major and Kuze, the cyberterrorist the former and her team track down for the majority of the film. He does have some development, but most of it is in an exposition-heavy scene. Never give the audience too much exposition. The pacing of Ghost in the Shell feels slow at times because you don’t care about most of the characters. The characters are the backbone of every movie; people are stuck with them for 90-plus minutes, so you might as well make them interesting.
Secondly, the marketing was not entirely accurate. A sizable portion of it was focused on the Major rebelling against her creators and seeking the truth about who she is. In reality, about 40 minutes of the 106-minute runtime is dedicated to this story. As clichéd and played-out as the trope of the main character discovering who they really are is (Jason Bourne, Wolverine, Tarzan, just to name a few), most people are going into this movie expecting that to be a significant part of the story. That is not the case. At several points throughout the movie, I thought, “When is she going to question who she is?” Many viewers will likely think the same thing because what comes before is slow and uninteresting.
Scarlett Johansson has never been a great actress, but in Ghost in the Shell, she delivers a compelling performance, possibly the best of her career. Despite playing a character who is 99% robotic, Johansson still manages to bring emotion to the Major. She can’t feel any part of her own body, so when she wants to know what real skin and lips feel like, Johansson conveys that sense of wonder in a believable manner. Furthermore, she does an excellent job of portraying the Major’s anger and confusion at the revelation that she is not what she thinks she is, as well as the desire to discover the truth. It’s not that Johansson is a terrible actress; her performance as the Major stands out among the rest of her roles.
Scarlett Johansson and a fascinating concept carry Ghost in the Shell, but neither are enough to save it from undeveloped characters and uneven pacing. If you’re a fan of the anime, you will enjoy this movie like a friend of mine, who is a fan, did. Otherwise, you can wait to rent it.
Ghost in the Shell gets a C
“I’m not telling people where to give money, but if there is to be a spotlight shed on me, then I’d like to direct that spotlight onto causes I think are worthy or onto interesting, progressive figures.”-Scarlett Johansson
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