Before watching the film I checked out some of the concept art various artists did for the film. It did have a very unique feel and look and so I decided to see this one on the big screen. Although I did not expect too much from the story. Some movies are just there for the eye candy. I saw the original animated film a couple of years ago and found its themes and look rather interesting. Another reason to give this live action version a shot.
The story is quickly told and unfortunately not too complex. We mainly follow Major (Scarlett Johansson) on her quest to learn more about her past. She is a cyborg with only her brain being organic. She was part of an experiment that’s supposed to bring cybernetic enhancements to a new level. The world she lives in is completely absorbed by media. You can’t look anywhere without being bombarded by ads and information. Cybernetic enhancements are a norm and nothing unusual. Major is part of a special police unit and through her and her colleagues we are introduced to how these technological enhancements work and what they can do. Throughout the film we follow Major down a rabbit hole of discoveries that clear up her past and how she became what she is. Together with her team she tries to track down a hacker who can become a real danger to the technology that almost completely consumed mankind at this point.
While asking interesting questions about where mankind might be headed, it only asks these questions on a shallow level. Instead they focus on a plot we have seen in similar shape or form many times before. Which is disappointing to a degree. While watching the film I was not really able to connect to the character of Major. Instead I connected more to her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek). He was interesting in the fact that he looks like a bulldozer but they never used him that way. He was restrained and pretty tame compared to what other films would have done with a character like him. Beside him we have the wonderful Juliette Binoche playing Dr. Ouelet. She is sort of a mother figure for Major and oversees her medical treatment and the experiment Major was part of.
I feel all the folks we see on screen did their best to get the most out of their parts but to me it mostly felt flat. The film has a runtime of 107 minutes and in an age where most big productions go for 2 hours and more… it’s rather short. To me it felt longer than its 107 minutes. Which makes me feel weird since a film like this should be completely in my wheelhouse. Visually it certainly is. The world is fascinating and I would love to make a trip there for a week. More than a week though… no, I guess the constant bombardment with information would drive me crazy. The film’s problem is the storytelling and its characters. Like mentioned earlier, we have already seen this story so many times. In the beginning of the film is a cut that jumps 1 year ahead. Which brings me to the characters and the fact that, if I had seen what Major had to go through in that one year, I may have been able to connect better with her. The characters in general could have been deeper. They missed a big chance there. Especially with Juliette Binoche but also Takeshi Kitano. It’s so weird how they handle his character Aramaki. He just appears on screen without any big introduction or back story. Even at the end of the film we don’t know much more about him. Yet Kitano plays Aramaki as if he’s having the best story to tell from all the characters in the film. I want to know more about him and his role/part in this world. More character moments again would have extended the runtime. So who knows, maybe the film would have slipped into ‘completely boring’ territory.
Director Rupert Sanders doesn’t have too many things on his resume and maybe it wasn’t the smartest move to hand out a quite heady scifi piece to someone without proper experience. On the other hand you simply cannot expect Blade Runner like quality here. While visually it does come close to a benchmark look, much like Blade Runner in 1982. But it lacks spiritual depth and glosses over the actually interesting philosophical topics. To handle the heady stuff it would have really required a very experienced director though.
As for the whitewashing controversy… I don’t care. It would not have changed or influenced the quality of the film in any way shape or form. It’s a Hollywood production, do you really expect them to go for actors that match the ethnicity of the original characters? Not gonna happen.
So is this film worth a recommendation? It’s not the usual two hours of loud explosions and action setpieces which is definitely a positive. It is visually inspiring and very interesting. You can literally get lost in all the stuff that’s going on in that futuristic version of Hong Kong. Storywise it’s unfortunately nothing new and misses chances with its characters.
If I recommend it then solely for the visuals.