I wanted to love this movie. I did, truly. I guess you already know how the rest of this review goes but do try to stay with me here, I’m not just a crying fanboy. While I drafted this with minimal spoilers, there still are spoilers ahead so consider this your spoiler warning.
So Ghost in the Shell is a manga from the late eighties, a movie from the mid-nineties, and an anime from the early 2000’s. This franchise has been through a lot, and I’ve been a fan of it for a very long time. The 1995 movie, while slow-paced, is an excellent work of art that conveys the messages that it wants to convey quite clearly. The Major, Batou, and Aramaki are some of my favourite characters from manga. The Major has this playful nature, Batou… is the butt(ou) of several jokes, and Aramaki is a sly fox that you can’t help but admire. Togusa representing the stubborn, older generation. Most of the other members had augmentations that made their job easier (Saitou’s vision, for example). Others augment themselves for fun (Borma’s liver augmentation). I guess the point that I’m trying to get across is that Ghost in the Shell represented a crossroads in our future where all of these types of people coexisted. We weren’t all cyborgs and we aren’t all humans. And the characters are all so relatable, it’s hard for me to pick ones that I don’t like. Even in the older movie, it was incredibly difficult for me to dislike the Puppetmaster, rather I disliked some of his actions (the poor man with false memories).
Maybe this one was a little close to home, and I shouldn’t have gone in because of that. Let’s talk about what I liked about the movie first.
The movie is visually appealing. I can almost see the future with holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers already. While I see the payphones on the side of the street disappearing (sorry 1995) I can see the idea of more robots in the service industry. Hell, Japan, in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics is already constructing hotels run by robots dinosaurs. ROBOT DINOSAURS! Come on man! ROBOT FRICKIN DINOSAURS! There are some great special effects, however I believe the movie failed to capitalize on the 3D. Especially the scenes where The Major is getting painted back to normal, mesmerized me every time.
The acting is fantastic. ScarJo knows how to play her character (most of the time) and there were some great scenes where you could really see how her movements felt robotic, like it wasn’t a natural human body. In the source material The Major is a little more playful, which is what I liked about it, but eh, new adaptation, different direction. I’m not terribly bothered because what ScarJo did do, she did well.
Before I move on, I do want to take a moment to address the whitewashing controversy. Anyone that complains about it doesn’t understand the source material. The Major’s origins are notoriously mysterious (within source material, which this movie dodged for the most part). And I think that anyone that complains about the whitewashing doesn’t quite get the point. See, the major is effectively a human inside a machine and (I believe) the point that Shirow was trying to make with the character of The Major was that none of the external features really matter (and this is very effectively demonstrated in the 1995 movie). Quite simply, there’s nothing in the source material (that I recall) that makes The Major “Motoko”. In fact, there’s nothing that really makes The Major female. Sure, the exoskeleton appears female, but it could have easily been male. The Major itself could easily be ‘male’ (if we’re going by original personality) but again, that doesn’t matter. That’s the point of The Major.
I don’t know where they found Batou (Pilou Asbaek) but he was perfect. I don’t think they could have picked a better Batou. Christ I loved his Batou. He just seemed so buff! Kuze (Michael Pitt) exaggerated the little robotic flairs of The Major. I’m not sure how much of that was CG, but the line delivery was spot on. He really played himself off as the villain we could all sympathize with even if corporates didn’t turn into assholes.
There are some notable exceptions to the excellent acting. Togusa’s character (Chin Han) had like two lines the entire movie and they were delivered in such a way that I felt like it detracted from how naive the Togusa of old seemed to be. But this isn’t just nostalgia bait, he gave the line so quickly and so flatly “I am a human, and I will always be 100% human” that I felt like the line was wasted. I also don’t like exposition that way, especially when that line served no purpose for the entire movie.
I do wonder why Aramaki spoke Japanese for the entire movie. He clearly understood English, as everyone else spoke in English and the others clearly understood Japanese (maybe they had a translator in their ear or something). But with what little screen-time he had, he did exude badass. And while we’re on the topic of Japanese, why was Hanka always pronounced as hay-n-ka? Should’ve been pronounced Ha-n-ka and every time they pronounced it incorrectly I would cringe. Sounds weird when you read and hear Japanese most of the time.
Okay, let’s talk about what I didn’t like. Everything else.
I don’t think this is really “Ghost in the Shell”. The original Ghost in the Shell discussed several existential themes regarding humanity and what it means as we merge man and machine. It also addressed how these things would impact our day-to-day lives, and how these things could be abused by corporations and governments. It’s not like the source material lacked things to really discuss. And I don’t feel like I got much of that out of this movie. I feel like it was sorta just mentioned, and then we moved on so we could get to the action scenes. The action scenes weren’t terrible, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not really what I paid for. Other scenes didn’t seem to connect too well if you ask me. I feel like we may have been shown a series of loosely connected stories, which is kind of what the manga did… but I don’t think that a movie should be doing that sort of thing.
The language (Ghost, Shell) seemed very forced every time they were used, to the point where I feel like it would’ve been more natural to use ‘soul’ instead of ‘ghost’ every time they mentioned it. But this is due to line delivery, in the source material ghost is used so matter-of-factly that it doesn’t really leave an impact. But the doctor says “But the important part of you, your humanity, your ghost, is still there” is practically romantic so the language doesn’t seem to fit the line.
They ripped a scene straight out of I, Robot (a beloved favourite of mine), and I, Robot did it better.
My biggest complaint might be the Motoko subplot. It gets introduced about twenty minutes before the end of the movie and is resolved like five minutes after it’s introduced. And quite honestly, I don’t mind its inclusion at all. I have several problems about how it was included. First – why is the effective introduction of the subplot at the END of the movie, rather than towards the beginning? I feel like it would’ve been more effective had it been placed much earlier, perhaps right before the bar scene. And the extra irony about that scene is despite everyone complaining that ScarJo isn’t Japanese, the way they characterized Motoko’s mother looked distinctly Chinese. Just saiyan. The second thing is how very little we have to go on. There’s a glitch that The Major continues to see and it’s really the only thing she has to go on and The Major sort of just accepts that she’s Motoko but I personally don’t feel that the audience has enough information to come to that conclusion. The pieces of evidence she has are the memories of the burning building, watching her allies get kidnapped, and the name she was told by the Chinese lady. Sure, it’s “confirmed” by Kuze but I don’t think he should’ve had the information to make that conclusion either.
Long story short, I believe the movie failed to deliver on its source material, and just became another Hollywood action movie. Which I find depressing because of my attachment to the source material, but that’s fine. I would not recommend this movie. The pacing seems poor and the scenes incoherent. While there is some beautiful imagery, I don’t think that there’s enough of a movie here, let alone Ghost in the Shell. Thanks for reading