By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
You’re on the treadmill. The beautiful girl of your dreams in on the elliptical. Your eyes lock. Nervously, you exchange numbers and set up a first date. She’s stunning and you can’t believe how lucky you are. Then she opens her mouth and you discover just how utterly vapid she is.
In a nutshell, that’s the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell.”
In (what I assume is) the distant future, technology has completely taken over the world. People are quite literally connected to their tech (as opposed to their metaphorical connection in today’s world). Lost limb? No problem. Toasted retinas? You’re covered. In these times, virtually everyone has some Hanka Robotics’ AI attached to their person.
That includes The Major (Scarlett Johansson) – a member of a task force that targets criminals, hackers and other ne’er-do-wells.
While Major is enhanced like most of the population, her’s is a bit more extreme. Rather than an AI part or two, Major is a human brain (the ghost) wrapped up in a tidy AI package (the shell).
From time to time Major has “glitches,” that show her bits of the memories that were supposed to be wiped away in the lab. Despite those, she never strays from the business she was created to complete.
Things ramp up even further when a mysterious hacker, Kuze (Michael Pitt), begins waging war on Hanka Robotics and anyone working with them. Since Major’s task force is a partnership between Hanka and the government, that puts her and her team in the crosshairs.
Sounds interesting, right? It is, but only in small increments. For every interesting beat, there’s five minutes of pure, unadulterated boredom. Pointless dialogue on top of pointless dialogue-less scenes on top of more pointless dialogue. They tried the cerebral approach in the actual story line – unfortunately it had more Ambien-like qualities than actual Ambien does.
Without question the best parts of “Ghost in the Shell” come by way of the action scenes the visuals.
Action is plentiful, complete with chases, shootouts, robots, cyborgs and some pretty gnarly hand-to-robotic-hand combat. Most movies that go full throttle from beginning to end struggle, but in my opinion “Ghost in the Shell” suffers any time something isn’t either blowing up or on the verge of blowing up.
But the real stand out here is the visuals. The CGI – from the machines to the tech to the effects that made Johansson look equal parts human and AI – is spot on. I use visuals here because while the CGI is brilliant, I don’t want to slight the cinematography, lighting, scenry, etc. There are some shots that are absolutely jaw-dropping and would stand up against anything you’d see nominated during awards season. The scenery and lighting are also top-notch, and often do a better job of setting the mood than the story does.
There’s most certainly an audience for “Ghost in the Shell,” and it’ll probably be people who grew up reading the manga or watching the animated films. Much like last year’s “Warcraft,” I think this is very much a niche film – the people that already love the franchise will love the film, but it’s probably not going to bring in a whole lot of new fans.
That’s not to say that if you’re a newcomer and find yourself in the theater you won’t find something to cling to – there’s lots of eye candy here. Just know that there’s not much going on beyond the surface.
★★1/2 of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.