I came into Ghost in the Shell with high expectations and left a little disappointed. The movie itself is visually stunning and Scarlett Johansson is a bona fide action hero, but the story was meh and to me that was the difference between it being good and great.
I have two main gripes.
The first gripe is that I knew too much about what was going on – the trailers gave away enough of the plot so that when the turn came it lost its impact. Johansson’s cyborg with a human brain character is the logical conclusion of Jason Bourne arc (or at least the penultimate stage of that arc), and the trailer plot giveaways let us know that there is some deep dark secret in the character’s past, a la the Bourne universe. The upshot for me is that I kind of knew where we were headed, and when we got there I wasn’t sure who to root for or whether it really mattered one way or the other (indeed, this particular brand of ambiguity was probably the deal-breaker for me; the moral dilemmas presented didn’t have me torn so much as they had me yawn, have I seen this film before?). It wasn’t all the trailer, though, within the first five minutes of the movie I leaned over to L and said, “oooh, the bad guy,” so that plotline was about as surprising as bad breath on a lost dog.
The second problem, ironically, is that I didn’t know enough about what was going on to find it interesting. Some of the more positive reviews I’ve seen seem very conversant from the source material, including this one from the A.V. Club. I haven’t seen Mamoru Oshii’s sci-fi animated feature, played a video game influenced by it, or have any clue about Masamune Shirow’s manga series or any of the later animated adaptions coming from that, so I’m sure there are all sorts of bon bons in the plot and the cinescape that fans enjoyed and I didn’t. Sometimes when I watch superhero movies with comic book nerds they will be pointing me to some interesting or even delicious asides that add to their enjoyment, but such hat tips to the source material should enhance the enjoyment for the true devotees, not be decisive in terms of the overall enjoyment of the film. Certainly not in a hyped up, would-be blockbuster such as this.
But the movie was not without its charms and I mostly enjoyed watching it, despite the absence of real intrigue. Whatever Japanese city that was was really super cool, and the holograms and flying saucers and buildings and riverfront shots and all that were really spectacular, like Blade Runner with 21st-century special effects. Equally spectacular were the hairdos of many of the main characters, particularly the Pilou Asbæk and Beat Tikano (Dudes, great hair!!!!)…. leaving one to wonder why Johansson didn’t ask for some hair work herself, as her synthetic wig thing was about the only non-jaw dropping thing about her. I guess as long as I’m nit-picking the star, I’d say she was saddled with this lumbering gait, like she was wearing wet shoes, that was never explained, but it didn’t seem to affect her when she was kicking ass and taking names, which she did a lot of.
Way over the $5 bar, sure, and I’m sure I’ll catch it again when it’s on the tube, but I was expecting better.