in movies, reviews

The new ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a disappointment

[This post contains some plot details from the new Ghost in the Shell]

I saw the new Ghost in the Shell last night, and while I don’t think a faithful adaptation of the original animated film would’ve done well in the U.S., what we ended up getting instead was a generic sci-fi action film with a cookie cutter plot and wafer-thin characters. Sure, the production design and visuals are pretty great, and there are one or two decent action scenes, but the film is otherwise completely forgettable.

And don’t even get me started on the racial issues this movie brings up.The movie takes place in a city that clearly is supposed to evoke Japan (New Port City), but most of the primary characters are white. Scarlett Johansson not only plays a role that was originally brought to life as the Japanese character Major Motoko Kusanagi, but we learn in the film that she actually has a Japanese woman’s brain inside her. Her white body is literally replacing a Japanese person’s!

There will be TAKES left and right on this one. And there should be. I just wish Ghost in the Shell felt more worth getting worked up about.

A few other notes:

  • I was occasionally impressed with how streamlined the plot felt compared to the original. Gone are the 1995 film’s references to internecine government warfare and its lengthy philosophizing about the nature of man and machine. Instead, Major is the primary character in this film, and it’s her journey that we are meant to relate to the most. For good or ill, the new film rises and falls on the characterization of Major — and I don’t think it works out super well on that front.
  • Some of the action scenes do feel, shall we say, heavily inspired by the animated film. But hey, might as well use that valuable IP to the fullest.
  • There are numerous references/easter eggs that relate to the animated film. Those who are fans of the original will find a decent amount to keep their attention here.
  • The action set pieces are pretty impressive. You get a sense of Major’s physicality and how good she is at immobilizing and killing people. But the combat always felt super brief and didn’t really build to anything satisfying. Don’t see this movie expecting a great action film.
  • The ending of the new film is drastically different from the 1995 film. I won’t say what exactly happens, but the 2017 film feels like what people are referring to when they use the term “Hollywood ending” in a derogatory fashion.
  • Kenji Kawai’s music for the Ghost in the Shell animated film is iconic and irreplaceable, but composers Clint Mansell and Loren Balfe do an admirable job translating that sensibility into this futuristic action film.

Further reading:

  • DaanishSyed

    Devil’s advocate – I haven’t seen the film yet, so obviously I have no idea what I’m talking about – but is it possible the fact she is literally replacing a Japanese woman a satire/commentary on the entire white-washing practice? It’s so on-the-nose, that it’s hard to believe that it was done in earnest. Remember, many people took Starship Troopers at face value when it first came out.

    • Burzol

      Yes, perhaps? Or, if it’s not a satire, maybe it makes sense plotwise that they changed her into a robot with pretty actress face? Evil corporation correcting everything?

      • I wish but sadly it’s done earnestly and straight up.