Spoiler-ish content ahead.
I’ve decided to move the late night trend into the strange territory that is those visual feasts and movie remakes that didn’t quite land the punch. It’s those kinds of movies that are visually arresting and based on deeper subjects but decided to wade in the surface or just never made it across the water. First up, a movie that I didn’t watch when it came out. This movie made headlines by casting a white American actress in a role where the character is Japanese.
Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a live adaptation of the manga and with various nods to the famous anime film by recreating several famous shots throughout its runtime. It’s directed by Rupert Sanders with a script written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger. The original Japanese manga was written by Masamune Shirow. I am going to try to be fair to this adaptation because it obviously has to change some elements of the story.
But it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle. The movie starts with text on the screen, same as the anime. Rather than speaking in vague, general terms, it talks about the Hanzo corporation and putting human brains into robot bodies. Then the movie starts with a conversation between Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) and Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) where they basically restate things already described in the opening text. Cutter ends the convo by saying the patient (Scarlett Johansson) could be the future of his company. Two things already jumped at me in that scene. The first, Ouelet repeats what we already know from the text at the start. Double narration. The second, Cutter is doing the villain’s monologue way too early on and… Really, who speaks like that?
The story is well known. It has inspired countless IP’s. The cyberpunk theme has also been done so many times that… Well, it’s not really new anymore. We’ve seen what a futuristic cityscape looks like a hundred times in other movies that probably were inspired by the anime. To see all that visual feast and expect us to be amazed by it doesn’t work anymore. The original animation is impressive. Here it’s used without any deeper roots. As a matter of fact, the story seems to lack depth and stick to the bare minimum of content to just allow for the cgi-fest which runs the danger to look dated already, and not in a classic way.
In the film, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) works for Section 9, a counter-terrorist unit. She’s the first of the first generation of cyborgs. She keeps having visions that seem to be rooted in some older surviving memories of hers although she doesn’t know her past life. Let’s leave it at that. You can see the movie for yourself to find out, although if you know the original… Stick with that. The themes of humanity and identity don’t really permeate this adaptation. Instead, the threadbare story is the usual main cyborg character looking to regain her memory with anything deeper left out.
It doesn’t work. I wanted it to work, and there are scenes that could literally be lifted off the anime. Without the deeper layers, it looks like a copy of other properties which probably owe Ghost some credit. It looks like we just used the cover of the book and throw away every other page. It looks dated. To her credit, Scarlett Johansson tries her very darn best to embody her role and she succeeds as far as looks go. It feels like she was ready for a better movie.
Lightly recommended for casual streaming for the people who won’t see the anime and prefer something light. Everyone else, go watch the original anime. Without the deeper themes, it becomes boring a little too easily. Heck, I think I fell asleep the first time I tried watching it. Visuals are a dime a dozen in this age, and although Ghost in the Shell delivers its fair share, without its core it feels like a cheap knockoff. Watch the original anime instead and you’ll still be awake by end of it.
That will do for now.