Let me start this review by pointing out the obvious: Western adaptations of Japanese manga and anime have a very bad reputation among viewers, both casual and hardcore, because they don't properly adapt the source material and because they are overall bad. Since I'm not familiar with the original manga or its anime adaptations, I'll do my best to judge this movie by its own merits rather than any preconceptions about what should be or shouldn't be in it.
The movie is set in a world where the line between flesh and technology becomes more blurred and thin, with people outfitting themselves with cybernetic implants and parts to enhance their physical and mental prowess. The protagonist, Major Mira Killian, is part of a special unit that works to prevent the misuse of such technology and comes across a terrorist threat that might hold a clue about her forgotten past.
Aside from my lack of familiarity with the source material, another thing that prevents me from getting fully invested in the premise is my reluctance towards the cyberpunk genre. The idea of a dark, cynical atmosphere with highly advanced technology, corporations enslaving the common people and a stoic, emotionally disinterested protagonist is a tough sell to a modern mainstream audience. It can be done but, then again, that argument goes both ways.
The sole positive aspect of this movie's presentation is the visual effects, which are absolutely beautiful. The advertisements, machines and environments are the only thing the movie does justice. Everything else is awful. The dialogue is 50% exposition about the world these characters inhabit and 50% pointless conversations about themes like humanity vs technology, quest for identity, companionship, etc. Also, the movie tries to remind you of its title by inserting some variation of "Ghost in the Shell'' into a conversation.
The acting is dull and borderline lifeless. The actors are just reading lines from a script, there's barely any humanity or nuance in their performances and if the intention was for them to come off as stiff and robotic as the machines that surrounded, then congratulations! I don't think Scarlett Johansson is a bad actress, but she's pretty bad in this movie. She makes no effort to inject some of her charisma into her performance and her character has no noticeable development throughout the movie. The only actor with a genuinely good performance here is Takeshi Kitano, who only has a supporting part in this movie.
There are two villains in this movie: first, there is the aforementioned terrorist connected to the Major's past and then there's an evil businessman who just wants to get rich. I'm utterly baffled by the movie's willingness to paint the terrorist as a victim of society when the Major points out that he has broken the law and endangered innocents. As for the second villain, he comes off as clichéd and unoriginal and only antagonizes the Major because the movie realizes the terrorist has become too sympathetic and still needs a villain to fill out its runtime. The final battle is likely to remind some of RoboCop's fight with the ED-209.
As for the movie's big twist, the Major is Motoko Kusanagi. No, seriously, that's her name. According to the manga, "Motoko Kusanagi" is an obvious pseudonym and the Major's real name is left unrevealed, but because the movie lazily tries to tie into the manga it's based on, we're left with this so-called reveal that just barely qualifies as fanservice for manga fans.
Since I haven't read the manga or watched the anime, comparing this movie to the source material would be unfair, so I tried to interpret it as a standalone movie and nothing more. Even so, is this a good movie? No, it isn't. It's lifeless, bland and doesn't have anything to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Skip it.
Ghost in the Shell review