|The gang's all here for some mostly background work|
"Well, maybe next time you can design me better?"
I have seen the 1995 animated version of Ghost in the Shell (based on the 1989 manga) a handful of times, and there was always something that bugged me about it. Sure the animation, tone, and musical score, were all done very well, yet it was the characters and storytelling that I ended up having a problem with. The film doesn't explain much by jumping right into the middle of things, and the backstory of Major and her partner Batou is virtually nonexistent. I still haven't read the original manga but it doesn't matter if they are the same or not. Incomplete storytelling is still just that, and that's why I can never equal the praise that the anime has received.
Is this loosely live action version designed better? The easy answer is "no". But it sure does look good. In all honesty, this film pisses me off and I'll tell ya why. The look, sound, and feel, of the anime is captured to near perfection, and that's why it makes the disappointment seem even worse. Because the one thing that needed improvement from before is done here, however it's not done right. They decided to give the Major a backstory, and it was the wrong one. They also changed other plots from the anime to accommodate her backstory, which snowballs the story even more into an obvious overall mistake from the filmmaker. Did the secretive operations of Section 6 from the anime have to become a big bad corporation run by an evil overlord that has carte blanche to kill anyone he chooses? Did the Puppet Master have to be turned into an ex-boyfriend? And did Project 2501 have to be changed to Project 2571? I know that last one seems petty, but if you think about it, they couldn't even do the little things right. I will say this though, Clint Mansell's (Reqiem for a Dream) and Lorne Balfe's (Shelock Holmes 2009) musical score is so good, that it makes the film's mistakes nearly wash away while you're hearing it.
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy) plays a near emotionless variant to her anime counterpart that's so so-so, that it makes the other one's bland character look more interesting and emotional in comparison. What missed opportunities were made the last time, once again happens here. The Major's friend and partner Batou played by Pilou Asbaek (Game of Thrones), is unintentionally the film's heart and soul. They tried to do that with Johansson, but Asbaek breathes what little life there is into their inhuman futuristic world. In the few scenes when those two are together and dialoguing, everything feels right. But I guess that that wasn't as intriguing to the studio as focusing on the cover up of the Major's previous life. Aside from a couple of cool moments from Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano, Johnny Mnemonic), some cliched regretful whining from her doctor (Juliette Binoche, Chocolat), the disapproving complaints of the cold CEO of the Hanka Corporation (Peter Fedinando, 300: Rise of an Empire) and the creepy whispers of the "bad guy" (Michael Pitt, Criminal), the costars relatively stay in the background with a remark or two if that. When looking even closer and also examining the trailers, it becomes apparent that more than a few things didn't make it into the final cut. I wonder if those could've helped or not. Probably not.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, of Ghost in the Shell (2017)
The Good- Regardless of the plot change problems, the scene between Johansson and Kaori Momoi (Memoirs of a Geisha) has some emotional heft to it. The spider tank sequence and honestly every action scene looks great. Of course it would have been a whole lot cooler if the tank had the thermoptic camouflage as before.
The Bad- We all know that that's only Johansson's head digitally placed on that CG body after that big battle. I've only seen it look more obvious with Sarah Jessica Parker's (Sex and the City) head on the dog in Mars Attacks! (1996).
The Ugly- So this became more about the Major recapturing her humanity and past, than about a sentient being wanting to merge with her for higher consciousness like in the anime? Why Hollywood? Why? That means that this film's cyborg terrorist version of The Puppet Master was used merely as a connection for the Major to free herself, instead of being an actual higher existence.
Ghost in the Shell is a beautifully dark treasure to look at and hear. With that being said, the unnecessary story changes and the lack of any fathomable depth, makes this adaptation a big bummer. Next time Mr. Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman), try and direct the film with a little more honesty and integrity when it comes to honoring the source material. Better yet, stick to production designing and let the grown ups take over.
Rating- 5.5 out of 10
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
PG-13 | 1h 47min | Action, Crime, Drama | 31 March 2017 (USA)
In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals.
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Shirow Masamune (based on the comic "The Ghost in the Shell" by), Jamie Moss (screenplay)
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano