The original Ghost in the Shell movie is seen in an extremely high regard within the anime community.Ghost in the Shell, along with Akira, are movies that have been thrown around Hollywood in case someone wanted to pick it up and put it into the remake/adaption mill and churn out the American version of the film, something that creates an equal amount of excitement and fear within fans of these works. Well, fans of Ghost in the Shell, I can say for sure that this adaptation indeed is just another mediocre product of the Hollywood mill.
Ghost in the Shell is a movie directed by Rupert Sanders and starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, and Michael Pitt. The movie is about a refugee girl, played by Johansson, who was caught in an accident that killed not only her family but devastated her body as well, forcing the Hanka Company to save her by putting her into a completely cybernetic body. Fast forward a year later and she is a part of a secret organization called Section 9, which investigates cyber attacks done on Japanese soil. Johansson’s character, who goes by her rank of Major, does her job well until a series of odd glitches lead her to take a special interest in a new case brought about by a cyber-terrorist (Pitt), forcing her to take a step back and reconsider her identity.
The one thing that Ghost in the Shell nailed was the atmosphere. This movie knew all the trappings of a cyberpunk movie and ran with it, creating 3-D advertisements, cars that are new-yet-familiar, neon-infused nights, dirty alleyways, and abandoned, and dilapidated buildings within a suffocating metropolis. Because the story never leaves the city, the movie ensures to make the setting as enrapturing as possible, sucking you into the world and believing that it may, in fact, be twenty years into the future.
To coincide with the visual atmosphere, the movie also boasted a rather serious tone throughout. Looking back, I can’t think of any quippy one-liners or comedic relief characters. Instead, the movie keeps a serious, heavy atmosphere. Some people might not particularly like the humorless tone of the movie, as there isn’t a chance for the movie to lighten up. But without any humorous moments, the movie keeps up with the genre’s convention. Cyberpunk is not a hopeful nor a cheery genre, and the movie sticks to its guns and asks for the audience to stay and immerse themselves in the heavy atmosphere that the film creates in its various aesthetics, whether they be in lighting, direction, and score. Because of this, the movie creates one of the best visual worlds of its genre.
Now, with the part of the movie that seriously drops the ball: the writing. This movie, from the fine details to the whole plot at large, is just aggressively mediocre. Ghost in the Shell starts with an opening text to help ease the audience into the movie, instead of a cold open or establishing shot. While I prefer being dropped into a movie and pick up the pieces as I go, I let my preferences slide and tried to not have it bother me. What did bother me, however, happened directly after in the first pieces of dialogue, in which Binoche’s character quite literally spells out what the title means, just in case that there’s anyone who didn’t understand what it’s about. These two things in concert are indicative that the movie does not trust Joe and Jane Audience to keep up with the themes of this movie. It insists on holding your hand through any part that might require the audience to use their heads, and it comes off not as helpful but as micro-managerial.
The handholding works on the macro-scale as well, as the plot honestly doesn’t take any risks with the property. The best scenes are the ones lifted from the original anime, while the parts that are added are so derivative that you know where the plot will be heading along with its familiar trappings and twists. Furthermore, these take precedence over exploring any new questions that didn’t arise in the original feature. The point of this review isn’t to compare it to its original source, but the movie doesn’t take advantage of the twenty years’ worth of technological progress and the philosophical questions that have come up within these years. Instead of coming up with an updated version of the movie that asks boundary pushing questions, the movie ends up as an amalgamation of everything that has been around in the last two decades, like a
Moreover, you can see that I’ve been dodging the racial controversy that’s been around this movie since Scarlett Johansson was cast as the Major. While I’m not sure if a non-spoiler review is the most appropriate place to tackle this issue, I can at least point out that it is addressed, but not in an entirely satisfactory manner. The two major groups, Section 9 and Hanka Robotics, are comprised of multiethnic and multinational employees, which wouldn’t be quite unheard of in international cities like this one. This, taken in a vacuum, looks innocent enough. Under the context of the movie, though, one can see that the characters with the most speaking time and importance to the plot are all white characters, including high members of a presumably Japanese founded robotics company. Thus, in the movie’s attempt to try to come off as racially harmonious as possible, just ends up doubling down on the erasure of Asian actors in a film set in Asia, creating a scenario in which no one wins.
So, while this movie really nails down the cyberpunk world, it’s the only actual thing that can be said going for it. It’s a perfectly safe take on a particularly risky IP. If you were to watch this movie, it’s a great exercise in how to and how not to go about building a fictional world. But honestly, it’s not something that gives hope to any type of decent manga adaptions ever coming out of Hollywood.