2017 wasn’t the best year in Scarlett Johansson’s career. Aside from appearing in the critically derided Rough Night, Johansson also appeared as the lead in Rupert Sander’s live action adaptation of Ghost In The Shell. Critics and audiences were displeased with the film, finding it lacking when compared to the anime and manga. In particular the film was criticized for “white washing” the characters.
One cannot deny that “white washing” took place. Usually this happens when producers feel that an absence of white faces would hurt a film’s marketability. It’s an ugly truth that, luckily, seems to be in the process of changing in the 2020s. In Johansson’s defense accepting the part of Major speaks more to the industry at large than to Johansson as an individual. A woman looking for leading parts in Hollywood isn’t exactly given a wide variety of parts to choose from. How many girlfriends, sidekicks, and moms is someone supposed to be content playing? Johansson’s desire to expand and mingle her indie film and blockbuster action star personas is only natural, and to an extent Ghost In The Shell accomplishes this.
If one looks at Ghost In The Shell purely for its craft the film proves quite adept. The production design and special effects are all top notch. Sander’s decision to stream line the narrative and focus exclusively on Major’s arc makes dramatic sense even if it sacrifices a more extensive world building. This choice also has the undesired effect of making Ghost In The Shell more typical than atyprical. The potential for Ghost In The Shell to be something unique could have survived the narrative streamlining if, as is the case with Blade Runner (1982), the audience had more chances to just live with Major in small moments. As is, Ghost In The Shell is a superior action blockbuster with the unrealized potential to be something better.
When I first saw Ghost In The Shell in theaters back in 2017 my expectations were very low, I was there to see Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, and Takeshi Kitano all in the same movie. I adore all three actors and, being objective as I can be, I believe that all three were in top form handling the material they were given. The relationship between Johansson and Binoche’s characters and their performances that gave that relationship depth was the highlight of the film for me.