I have been thinking about the Ghost in the Shell live-action film recently. Even though I am only about ten episodes into the Stand Alone Complex, I am beginning to understand the characters and themes of this world a little better. And suddenly! I think, why do I not remember anything about Rupert Sanders-directed adaptation at all? Okay, a few visuals are impressive, plus some beautiful sequences, but that is it. I am not here to hate on the film or talk about some of the controversy surrounding the casting. I simply want to try and understand why it didn’t work for me! I think the production value of the film is beyond satisfying, but as a fan of animated films, something didn’t sit right with me. I will try to put those thoughts to one side as I think about it as I also think about it as a stand-alone movie as well.
Overall this might be slightly different from other Ghost in the Shell reviews because I do not want to get caught up in the plot too much. Actually, thinking about it, the story is the most fundamental part of any movie, so do I know what I am talking about? However, it is the plot of this film that is the weakest part of its production. Okay, for a Hollywood film, it is pretty perfect and sticks a bow on everything it needs to. Alternatively, as a representation of the Ghost in the Shell, it lacks the imagination, intelligence and cohesion of any of its animated predecessors. My only concern is that some story elements are taken from the stand-alone complex because I don’t want that. I’m looking at you daughterless Mother.
The visual effects are fantastic, and the props are beyond satisfying. I mean, is there as beautiful as a real robotic geisha girl? I remember watching some of the Weta workshop behind-the-scenes footage of these creations, and I found it mesmerising. This film looks beautiful from beginning to end, no doubt. You can also tell that it was filmed with much love, passion and admiration for Masamune Shirow’s original vision of this universe. I thoroughly enjoyed the story as a stand-alone film. Unfortunately, I also spent a lot of time wondering how they completely missed the point, and then the penny dropped!
I don’t blame director Rupert Sanders for this or writers Jamie Moss, William Wheeler or Ehren Kruger. However, when you have something as successful as Ghost in the Shell, it resonates with an immeasurable amount of people for many different reasons. As a fan of Ghost in the Shell, this didn’t feel like the Motoko Kusanagi I know, and that is where everything else around it falls apart. I like the character Togusa, and it didn’t even feel like his true character was in this film at any point. I can only imagine other die-hard fans may have a list that is longer than mine.
If you want to make a Ghost in the Shell live-action film, simply recreate the original animated film or write a fresh new story with the characters that everybody knows. I’m not sure if there are some copyright issues surrounding the 1995 film, but what a wasted opportunity. Instead, we get something that seems to be a watered-down version of a story I already love. As I said earlier, a miserable Major does nothing for me. In any other version, her character is charming, witty and far more appealing.
The Major deciding she has more to do in the real world and refusing to link with Kuze Michael Carmen Pitt goes against the grain of what Ghost in the Shell is truly about, in my humble opinion! The Major’s merging with the Puppet Master in the animated film is beyond the world of our existence. It’s taking humanity and asking if technology can push us further than our flesh and bones can take us. The real problem is that film fails to notice that the cybernetic side of the Major is just as important as her physical brain.
I do not enjoy talking badly about films, but this is part of my journey in watching everything Ghost in the Shell related. I wanted more from the film, and it did not deliver. However, it’s popcorn for the brain and could be set in any science-fiction scenario and be decent. I love a bit of pain and misery in my main characters, but Scarlett Johansson looks like she has had a long weekend in Amsterdam and overindulged on the local asparagus.
I’m not sure how this comes across to any other fans of The Ghost in the Shell. However, I know what I enjoy, and I like to make sure what I write is the truth. Kyle Davies, domestic distribution chief for Paramount, felt the controversy around the casting had damaged reviews and said: “…you’re always trying to thread that needle between honouring the source material and making a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly, the reviews didn’t help.
Alternatively, I would like to add a bit of positivity to the end of this review. I think the anticipation of this film led me to go back and watch the original anime. I was always curious about Ghost in the Shell, and now I feel like I am finally starting to enjoy it. The skyline of this modern metropolis is beyond beautiful, the dreariness of a rain-soaked future is tangible, and the whole aesthetic of the world feels real. I suppose I am glad it exists, and I am certainly happy that we got to see some of the original anime’s greatest hits in live-action. I wouldn’t say it’s a flop for me, and given all the facts above, this film could end up becoming my guilty pleasure on a rainy day. However, I will admit that I can’t wait to get back to the Stand-Alone Complex.