If you thought that Hollywood was running out of ideas with their superhero movies and Disney live-action remakes, then they must really be scraping the bottom of the bin if they have to look to 90s cartoons and anime to get their next monetary fix.
Ghost in the Shell, contrary to popular belief, is not about the afterlife of a deceased turtle, but rather follows the escapades of counter-cyberterrorist organization Section 9. Set in a cyberpunk world, the series is known for tackling topics such as identity, consciousness, and sociological issues that you deemed too crazy to understand back in your college days.
This new movie, unhelpfully titled Ghost
in the Shell, tells a similar but somewhat different tale about how a film with
whitewashed characters was able to deliver a serviceable rendition of the
source material without copying it like a Xerox machine. So yes, it isn't that
After an incident left her physical body as useless as the human male nipple, Hanka Robotics implanted Major Mira Killian's amnesia-ridden brain inside a more powerful, nipple-less exoskeleton and assigned her with the task of arresting high-tech terrorists in a futuristic city teeming with both natural and synthetic life.
Let's put some focus on the world before getting into the plot. The setting for this movie is nothing short of "pretty damn cool", as it pays homage not only to the manga and anime it was based on but also does a very good job of portraying a cyberpunk-themed world that stands right up there with classics such as Blade Runner and the Deus Ex video game franchise.
From towering skyscrapers that showcase holographic koi fish to dank slums
populated with obese Basset Hounds and a cybernetic black market, the whole
place feels alive and shows both the pros and cons of advancing technology.
Almost every change in location is marked by a dramatic pan across the city;
and while this may get boring really fast in other films, Ghost in the Shell always has something new that makes you want to
know more about the world and its inhabitants.
Which makes it pretty saddening that a lot of its characters have as much dimension as a meme from the early 2000s.
Because the Major is given so much emphasis, it feels as though she was
the only character who was given a script that was longer than 10 pages. Even
though her acting may seem robotic, Scarlett Johansson purposefully makes it so
that her monotone replies and blank expressions help you understand that the
Major is one part human and one part excessively detailed mannequin.Ã
This just makes Pilou AsbÃÂ¦k's Batou just as important. Serving as the Major's second-in-command as well as her trusted friend, it is with this googly-eyed soldier that she makes her most human connection. And while none of his scenes are memorable, Batou serves as a breather from all the philosophical crap the series is known for.
Apart from these two, not even the other characters' names stick to memory unless you're a fan of the source material. The motherly doctor, the foreboding villain, the mentoring leader - most of the cast is just there to move the plot along with their singular motives and provide little more than breadcrumbs for the Major to follow in this easily derailed story.
For the first 50
or so minutes, the plot centers around Section 9 as they hunt down and track a
mysterious hacker who plans to destroy Hanka Robotics instead of spending his
time on 4chan. This is where most of the iconic scenes from the original anime
are present. The backwards leap of faith from a building, the totally unfair
invisible fight in shallow water - most of the scenarios that fans would deem
necessary in this reboot make their appearances in nostalgic yet entirely new
This is something that Ghost in the Shell does really well. Instead of directly ripping-off scenes like a painful Band-aid, it weaves in familiar elements within the context of a different story. The theme music, the costumes, even the aforementioned philosophical crap make their way into the film in such a way that fans will notice the nods while those who are new to the franchise won't get totally lost.
But this is also its bane; because in simplifying the themes that makes the franchise what it is, Ghost in the Shell can also fall short when the time comes to explain things.
Take the exchange during the initial meeting between Kuze and the Major, for example.
Upon finding out that he was experimented on by Hanka Robotics, Kuze's motivation devolves from something existential into plain, old, generic revenge. It's something that could have been given more depth and though this would make it a little more confusing for some, reducing a person's motive to revenge just puts him in the category with every other villain from The Riddler to Aladdin's Jafar.
Individual motivations, a sense of identity - the deeper questions that are asked during the latter part of the film aren't given enough attention to reach a satisfying resolution. Though the Major eventually does find out about her past (which surprisingly answers the question why she is portrayed by an American actress), by the end of the film she just blindly accepts who she is and goes back to jumping off of buildings like at the beginning of the movie.
The boss fight at the end is the weakest part of Ghost in the Shell because just as soon as the film gives you some answers, it suddenly halts all momentum and drops the iconic spider tank for a grand finale. It's here where you see just how one-dimensional the other characters are because while two of them are present, it is only the Major who does all the fighting against an enemy who can solely be described as a crazy man who is drunk on power.
So why would I still recommend watching this?
It's because unlike other reboots that copy everything from its origins or go all gritty just to make themselves relevant to the present day, Ghost in the Shell has a stand alone complex of its own. It doesn't live up to the standards that were set by original 90s manga or anime, but it manages to make itself accessible to newcomers while providing a new story for older fans.
Taken by itself, this movie doesn't break new ground like The Matrix or other films that were based on the original Ghost in the Shell, but then again, it doesn't need to.
Though the film's story and characters are lackluster, they are totally overcome by the world in which they are set in. The music, atmosphere, and elements are all there, but if you're looking for a glimpse into the cybernetic future of moviemaking, then this isn't it.Ã