Whether we like it or derisively roll our eyes at it, Hollywood continues to dish out remakes and reboots left and right, from the bizarre Point Break to the actually pretty logical (and for better or worse) long-awaited live action adaptation of legendary anime Ghost in the Shell. While I refuse to see the former on principal, I did check out the latter, so get ready to read about it.
I’m not going to waste your time with a lengthy anecdote about my personal experience with Ghost in the Shell, so I’ll say right off the bat that it’s been a long time since I had such a hard time articulating my feelings on a film. There were a lot of things I liked about it, and a lot of things that left me cold. It’s also the VERY #Problematic, joining The Great Wall and Iron Fist in an extremely white-washy year, so there’s an awful lot going on here.
As I said, this would normally be the part where I get all pretentious and lord my superior knowledge of Ghost in the Shell over everyone, but to be perfectly honest, while I’ve seen the first two films, and a little Stand Alone Complex, I’d hardly call myself well-versed in the source material. That being said, large swaths of the latest Scarlett Johannson vehicle are adapted so closely that it’s a little disappointing. But to focus in on things like that, and to compare the remake to the original in general, is to miss the point of this film entirely.
The greatest strength of this film is in its delivery of some of the key concepts and themes of the source material to an audience who may not be prepared to sit down and watch several hours of anime, because let’s face it, it just isn’t for everyone. To me, that’s the part of an adaptation that people miss all the time because they get bogged down in explaining why the new thing isn’t as good as the thing they liked before it was cool. It seems to me like too many people think that remakes are intended to replace or supplant the original and say ‘hey, don’t worry about that old thing, we made a better one for you’ and that simply isn’t the actual case. The Watchmen book doesn’t stop being the Watchmen book so many people love just because everyone but me hates the Watchmen film. It’s about taking something cool and presenting it to a wider audience in a more accessible way. If this film makes a few extra people think Ghost in the Shell is cool and decide to seek out the original, or delve into the extended franchise, then it was entirely worth while, and personally I think it did a good job of stitching together elements of both films and the series into one self-contained 2 hour package that is easy to watch.
In the most basic of terms, Ghost in the Shell is set in a technologically advanced future Tokyo, with Scar-Jo playing The Major, who possesses a fully organic human brain but an entirely synthetic body and works for Section 9, a counter cyberterrorism unit. Due to her enhancements, The Major is able to do all kinds of camera-friendly, SFX-heavy feats, taking down criminals, asking tough existential questions and attempting to unravel an elaborate conspiracy. The entire thing is moody, but not in an overly Zack Snyder kind of way, though it is a visual feast, much like the works of Uncle Z.
The cast are pretty great, with Pilou Asbaek in particular coming across like a star, and Takeshi Kitano and Chin Han doing what they can to steal scenes, and Michael Pitt is surprisingly great as the antagonist who isn’t quite what he seems (obviously.) For all the understandable talk about white-washing, the film does at least feel extremely multicultural, with most of the white people at least being European and the majority of the cast being of an Asian persuasion. Johannson herself performs the role admirably, but it’s impossible to get around the controversy, something the film actually attempts to address within the plot in an effort to demonstrate self-awareness, only to actually dig a far deeper hole for itself. Let’s just get off this topic altogether shall we?
Look. Despite being #problematic with several bad writing decisions, it’s stylish, the action scenes are pretty cool, most of the acting is solid, the themes are somewhat interesting, and while I’m sure hordes of anime purists would scoff at this notion, I think it’s a decent primer for what Ghost in the Shell is all about, so if you’ve always been curious but anime just isn’t your bag, maybe check it out as a starting point. Personally, I always preferred the second film anyway.