The live-action version of the popular anime was beset by controversy nearly a year before the film came out with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi aka Major. I went into the film with pretty low expectations after reading several articles and lots of posts about the controversy and the issue of whitewashing in films and found the film to be interesting visually but mediocre overall. Some of the action was entertaining but nothing that stands out that couldn't be seen in a more intelligent film and no great plot or philosophy to help propel the story along.
Major is a rebuilt human from just a brain and sent to work for a government anti-terrorism unit called Section 9. There is some back story delivered by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) about how her family was murdered by terrorists on a refugee boat that drives her to hunt down criminals. Her most recent assignment is to attack the hacker Kuze (Michael Pitt) who uses some cool looking Geisha robots to attack a leader of the Hanka corporation, the same corporation that built Major and sold her to the government.
Assisting Major with the hunt is Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and we see how he gets those iconic eyes. He is the only character I remember from a viewing from over a decade ago of the cartoon. Scenes are copied and pasted from the original cartoon with some awe-inspiring set design but significant changes from the story. What I picked up from half-paying attention to the anime was that the Puppet Master, a name never used in this movie, became conscious from technology and was minds for a different reason. There were questions of what it means to be human, this adaptation takes a much simpler approach.
The leader of Major's unit is Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) who only speaks in Japanese. The setting in Japanese and plenty of the extra characters that add to the incongruency of the white main cast members marching around the city, shooting guns and speaking English. Not that I mind it much but the only real reason for the casting mishap seems to be to take any excuse to get Scarlett in skin tight outfits. All the special effects were dazzling but with a PG-13 rating they never can quite show the grotesque nature of the new body modification technology and the violence of the unit leaving the Luddite message not as effective.
Ghost in the Shell feels like a huge wasted opportunity on so many levels and only accomplished pissing off a large group of people for what looks like it'll be a flop. The theater I saw it in was nearly empty on a Friday night but who knows if it will find success elsewhere. I was aware of the cult status before the live-action adaptation was announced and I'm always into new science fiction but these days creators need to be more aware of the changes in culture. I doubt there will be a sequel but I've heard the anime sequel is pretty cool.