"You're the first of your kind. But you're not invulnerable."
So, anyone else want to talk about the quality of a movie without getting caught up in an argument concerning whether or not the casting said film constitutes white-washing because they genuinely see the legitimacy on both sides of the argument and want to focus on the actual standard of the film itself above all else. I would love to, but those who made this remake of Mamoru Oshii’s defining masterpiece are making such a notion very difficult.
In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a human who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people's minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to, and her life was not saved. Instead, it was stolen.
Ten years ago the idea that Hollywood could finance and develop a live action version of an anime property was improbable. Every potential project was stuck in development hell and seemed as though it would never see the light of day. But now we have ‘Ghost in the Shell’ with a tent-pole worthy budget no less. Sadly though, like many Hollywood remakes this 2017 film is decent enough, but exists very much in the shadow of the original.
I should immediately praise the film for its visual style though. As he showed with his previous directorial effort ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (which if nothing else at least looked pretty enough) Rupert Sanders brings a certain visual flair to the stylistics of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ renders the futuristic world as an expansive but intimately designed environment. He combines CGI and practical effects excellently to create an advanced world that feels distant to our own but also thoroughly lived in. You can also credit his cinematographer Jess Hall for the great vibrancy of the film, with a wide array of lighting, camera angles and visual styles being used here.
Unfortunately though, that is the only aspect of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ that really excels. The inherent problem of adapting a work as influential as ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is that most of the key themes or elements of it have already been harvested by other filmmakers from Steven Spielberg’s ‘A.I: Artificial Intelligence’ to the Wachowski’s ‘The Matrix’. It’s much like when Disney tried to adapt ‘John Carter of Mars’, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the approach but the influence of the source is so vast that most people are already familiar with its ideas and style even if they haven’t seen said source itself.
I will give this remake credit for trying to further itself in that the plot is not just a repeat of the original. Despite borrowing and recreating some of its most iconic sequences this 2017 version has assimilated a radically different plot to set itself apart. But ultimately that change amounts to very little because the themes and ideas that lie within said plot are almost identical to those of the original and several other films outside of that. Now, similarities are not necessarily detrimental to a film but what makes it very problematic with ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is that the film makes such little effort to cobble together any new innovations. In short it’s moving around a lot but accomplishing very little.
Worse still is the fact that though I can commend the film for coming up with a new narrative, that narrative is flawed. The pacing and structure of the film suffer due to the second act feeling very slow and out of touch with the stylish thrills of the first hour. The plot starts to repeat itself before I could even become invested in it, and seems to burn out long before we get close to the finale. It just feels generic and dare I say outright lazy that nothing within the film was furthered at all. The characters, thematic crux, the environment, they have all been seen before, somewhere else and to a greater execution. There is a distinct lack of depth within ‘Ghost in the Shell’.
On the whole the cast are serviceable enough but like the movie itself none of them are entirely memorable. Scarlett Johansson has shown a skill at portraying emotionally distant people confronting their own humanity and so would seem tailor fit to portray this character. With a better script I believe she has the capability to do something great here but there’s such little innovation to her character or story that she feels wasted in the lead role. As I said at the start though, there’s something to be said about that role. Without spoiling anything I can say that the movie presents itself with the perfect chance to address the controversy in an interesting way that would set it apart from its predecessors, but it lets the opportunity go right by and returns to being another paint by numbers science fiction movie.
‘Ghost in the Shell’ is stunning on a visual level, but lacks the depth or innovation to become anything more memorable.