Before I start I know there was a lot of controversy around the making of this film, particularly around the casting of many characters. I’m not going to go into that as part of my review as it has already been widely spoken about. Instead, I’m going to look at the film in it’s own right. So let’s go.
Directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman), Ghost In the Shell is a live action adaption of the 1995 animated movie based on the Manga of the same name. It has been one of my favourite anime films for many years so I was excited to see a live-action version. The trailers looked good, in some places making it very clear that a lot of scenes were shot for shot remakes of the anime which only served to increase my hype levels for the film. It’s a real shame then that the film was disappointing.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ONWARDS
Let’s deal with the plot. The story of the 1995 anime has Major Kusanagi, an almost entirely cybernetic assassin/police officer investigating a criminal called the Puppet Master in the year 2029 where cybernetic enhancements are common place. Kusanagi was designed as the perfect soldier, having a human brain in a cybernetic body, the term ‘Ghost’ referring to a consciousness inside the ‘shell’ body. Long story short Kusanagi discovers that the Puppet Master was created by one of the government departments and desires a physical body he can be downloaded in to experience mortality. Kusanagi has been questioning her own humanity throughout the film and eventually agrees to merge with the Puppet Master to live inside a new body. I’ve left a lot out of the story as I don’t want to spoil everything but believe me, it is a deep film with an incredible story and visuals.
The live-action film has a similar plot, the Puppet Master is there and Kusanagi carries out her investigation but the reveal towards the end of who she was before her cybernetic transformation is different to the original (and not as satisfying). The very ending of the film is also very different, SPOILER instead of merging with Kusanagi the Puppet Master is killed.
In terms of how the film looks it is very clearly influenced by Blade Runner and Fifth Element. The city looks beautiful and not beyond belief that the future could look like this. Plenty of holograms and vehicles that are recognisable but still look more advanced than what we currently have. There is a good blend between the clean, sanitary super advanced technology and the grimey street level worlds which the main characters cross between. I have no complaints about the city.
I think Scarlett Johansson was the wrong choice to play the Major and I’m starting to think she’s not great in many films! I think she was cast (apart from being a big name in an attempt to bring in a wider audience) because she is pretty good at monotone, fairly expressionless acting. The Major is essentially an android so I understand the cold, emotionless performance but it prevents you from connecting with the character at all. The animated version, while very robotic, still demonstrates a lot of humanity and emotion in the performance. Johansson’s interactions with the other cast members is poor and I don’t know if it was just me but it doesn’t feel like they actually had a good time together on set.
Michael Pitt plays Kuze aka the Puppet Master and while he is this mysterious hooded character who can be anywhere anytime through the network he has created he is great. When we see his face and he explains his motivations, my interest evaporated. Instead of wanting to feel human, the Kuze wants to destroy his creators for what they did to him. I don’t really understand the change in story as it just turned him into a bit of a villain stereotype, very similar to Ultron.
My favourite character in the film is Pilou Asbæk‘s Batou. He is the best performed and closest to the anime. We even get a little extra development on the character as he doesn’t start with the recognisable eye enhancements. We see him injured on duty and receive his augmentations. A very different character to his portrayal of Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, he is the human balance to Kusanagi’s robotics. Always there when he is needed and he saves Kusanagi at the end similar to how he does in the anime. I would gladly see a spin-off film focused on Batou.
There are quite a few scenes that mirror the anime, including the opening credits, the opening action sequence, the street chase and the final action sequence. I know this is very vague but the scenes have to be witnessed to fully appreciate (I’ve given you a few stills below as a sample but please, if you don’t want to watch the whole film, at least check out these sequences). These scenes are very good but feel a bit forced. It’s almost as if the director wanted those scenes in the film and tried to fill the gaps in between. The film doesn’t feel whole and seems to be confused at the story it is trying to tell. Instead of being about personal identity, it seems to just be about a cyber terrorist. If it wasn’t for the fact that the manga and anime are so strong, this would have tainted the story.
I was not a fan of this film. I wanted to watch it because I love the anime so much but this is a perfect example of how some things should be left alone. I’m now also worried about the rumoured Akira remake as that is my all time favourite anime and if they ruin that I will destroy everything!!! If you love the original, don’t watch this. If you haven’t seen the original then you might enjoy this a little more but even then it’s not that good! I apologise for bringing this to your attention.
Ghost in the Shell (2017) gets 3 beans out of 10 on the Geekstalk.