Film Review Ghost in the Shell Series

Anime Eiga Review: Ghost in the Shell

Original Release Date: March 16, 2017
Directed By: Rupert Sanders
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Based on the Series Created By: Masamune Shirow

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Ghost in the Shell (2017). Reader discretion is advised.***

Film Synopsis

In the not so distant future, humanity has begun to embrace cybernetics, and society is becoming fully digitized. In this world, it takes a particular sort of soldier to fight a new breed of enemies. And though warriors can be trained, they can be better when they are built.

Major Mira Killian (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) is the world’s most advanced super-soldier. Her mind may be human, but her body has been built from the ground up to be an unstoppable force for combat.

Once online, the Major is sent to work for the elite counter-terrorism task force Section 9. In the course of her duties, the Major runs into a dangerous hacker who is targeting the people who built her.

While in pursuit, the Major slowly begins to realize her memories do not align with facts. She then begins to suspect that what she has been told and who she thinks she is could be a lie.

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Film Positives

Yes, we are really doing this.

As I am writing this review, I am making it a point to always remind myself to look at the movie, not the adaptation. I repeat, look at the movie, not the adaptation.

Admittedly, judging any adaptation’s accuracy to its source should be taken into account. As such, I won’t claim to know this series’ source material seeing how I’ve never read the Ghost in the Shell manga. Be that as it may, many of the moments and scenes in Ghost in the Shell (2017) were directly lifted from the original Ghost in the Shell (1995). The two film’s climaxes, for example, were eerily similar. So, in that sense, it wasn’t difficult to tell when this movie changed something.

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Taking all that into consideration, it would be so easy to tear this film apart, especially given how heavily it – to use a word I despise – Americanized the Ghost in the Shell mythos. Or, at least, that’s what I thought before I watched it.

Now, don’t go getting ahead of yourself. This movie was not good. However, this Hollywood adaptation had a decent idea (scandalous, I know). Unfortunately, the primary problem was that this idea wasn’t well-executed, and there were plenty of details that left behind giant question marks. Still, what Ghost in the Shell (2017) tried to do wasn’t misguided.

I will give this film that much credit.

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The notion that the Major was the only one of her kind remained in the ballpark of the original Ghost in the Shell (1995). This played into the Major’s identity crisis. How much of herself was indeed hers, and how much of it was dictated by a computer program? Along with that, this take on the formula brought with it a much more blatant isolation factor. And by the way, that’s not the same as me saying this was better.

Of all the Ghost in the Shell stories I have seen, Ghost in the Shell (2017) had the clearest path between points A, B, and C. There was an obvious villain, the goal was well defined, and with this film’s premise, the internal crisis the Major faced wasn’t hard to wrap your mind around.

But again, just because this film did these things didn’t make it suddenly good. Other Ghost in the Shell stories may have been more convoluted, sure. However, doing the exact opposite of that left behind a movie that was utterly bare bone.

What I’m getting at is: The story of Ghost in the Shell (2017) wasn’t its weakest link.

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Additionally, I will admit that this movie was visually interesting (outside a fight scene, that is). I mean, yeah, the CGI hasn’t aged well, which isn’t the most ringing endorsement since this film only came out two years before this post. Nevertheless, the world presented in Ghost in the Shell (2017) wasn’t dissimilar to the worlds of other Ghost in the Shell stories. Like other installments, this movie matched the time it was released.

I can imagine a solid Ghost in the Shell narrative being told in this film’s universe.

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Lastly, for this section, there were a few costume designs that I thought worked exceptionally well in live-action form. But before I go on, please take note that I said:

  • A FEW costume designs
  • A few COSTUME designs

I am making the distinction because some characters – a.k.a., one – looked absolutely ridiculous. Plus, it was strange to have a pair of Caucasian actors play the roles of Ghost in the Shell’s two most iconic characters, the Major and Batou, portrayed respectively by Scarlett Johansson and Pilou Asbæk. Another reason for the distinction is because the costume designs for both the Major and Batou were actually really good, especially Batou, after he got his signature eyes.

And that last line is a perfect segway into why this film didn’t work.

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Film Negatives

I’m not sure where I should start.

I suppose the best place to begin would be with the thing that bothered me the most about this movie. Ghost in the Shell (2017) felt as though it was trying to be the introductory chapter in a much larger story. I have no idea if this was ever the intent, but that is how the film came off. There was a constant need to explain the origin of something.

I’m not referring to how this movie explained the Major’s situation. Seeing how this was her story, it wasn’t that strange for the film to give a little bit of background. But where that might have been acceptable, let me ask this:

Why didn’t Batou have his cybernetic eyes in the beginning? There was no real need for us to see the moment Batou lost his organic eyes, so why make such a big deal out of it?

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That may seem like a small detail, but it is just one example of how much handholding Ghost in the Shell (2017) had. And that in itself was strange since this film threw in so many nods to previous Ghost in the Shell stories. If I had to guess, it was almost as if this movie was more interested in having a giant Easter egg hunt instead of telling a fun narrative.

That reminds me, let’s go back to something I said earlier.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) had a good idea, making the Major the only person of her kind, but it failed in the execution. Since much of the Major’s memories were controlled by computer programs, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that her brain could be hacked. And yet, how was it that other people’s heads could be tapped into as well?

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In every other Ghost in the Shell installment, MANY people had Ghosts. In fact, most of Section 9 had them, as well as had fully cybernetic bodies. Therefore, it was never odd when someone took control of another person’s Ghost since everyone was connected to a giant network. If we suppose that everyone in Ghost in the Shell (2017) was also linked to some sort of system, wouldn’t that have made the Major just like everyone else?

I won’t pretend I have fully understood the underlying concepts of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Nevertheless, the Major and the rest of her team have operated under the same rules. What Ghost in the Shell (2017) did was have the Major be this unique player, but everyone else operated under the same system seen in the rest of the series. So, I was trying to figure out what made the Major special.

Then we found out where the Major’s Ghost came from.

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This was not clever storytelling. This was a roundabout way of explaining why the Major was played by Scarlett Johansson. Not only was there the whole issue of a Caucasian actress playing a Japanese character, but the movie also went down this highly unnecessary plotline that could have been unnecessary had there been proper casting.

It’s frustrating because, in an attempt to convert the Ghost in the Shell story for a more Western audience (a concept I believe to be outdated and ridiculous), this film came off as a weak knock-off of something much more profound and memorable.

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And lastly, although it was great to see Takeshi Kitano in this movie, what in the hell did they put on his head? I know Director Aramaki has his signature look, but it is okay to take some creative liberties when something that looks fine animated looks really, really stupid in live-action.

Also, I wasn’t impressed by Johansson’s performance. Not only was it generally stiff and emotionless, but Johansson also captured none of what made the Major awesome.

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Final Thoughts

It wasn’t that I went into this movie expecting not to like it, but there were qualities to it that gave me pause.

If I was just looking at this film with its own merits, it would have been forgettable and not at all special. And I wish the story ended there.

However, how can we ever forget this happened when it shares the name of one of the most iconic anime franchises there has ever been.

To my fellow film buffs, there is nothing I can recommend about this movie. And to my fellow anime fans, this is the dictionary definition of a Hollywood botch job.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is entirely skippable.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this film? How would you advise Ghost in the Shell (2017)? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and thank you so much for following along for Ghost in the Shell Month. I’ll see you next time.

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