MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Scarlett Johansson, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt, Andrew Morris, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Lasarus Ratuere, Juliette Binoche, Peter Ferdinando, Kaori Momoi, Danusia Samal, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Wincott, Yutaka Izumihara, Tawanda Manyimo, Daniel Henshall, Rila Fukushima, Chris Obi, Adwoa Aboah, Pete Teo, Hugh Han/ Runtime: 106 minutes
I think it is safe to say that should I mention the name “Ghost in the Shell” around any anime convention, there will be at the least a decent size crowd that will recognize it as one of the most iconic entries in the genre of movie magic known as anime movies to say nothing of the bigger franchise that was constructed around it and the original source material rather than as a novel idea especially when it comes to its live action adaptation from 2017. Indeed the concept of mixing together both a human body and riveting robotic tech in a bleak dystopian future that feels like a corner of the universe set up by Blade Runner sounds absolutely amazing, but the story also manages to function as a cautionary tale for what could happen if man and machine were to be combined. A feat that grows frighteningly realistic as the days go by incidentally. Suffice it to say then that the original tale was one that was quite forward thinking for the time in which it was made and has managed to stay quite integral to this day as a riveting, intriguing, and quite worthy of pondering saga. On the other hand the live action take on this iconic material from 2017 is one that proves to be no more than just a shell of what this material could be. Indeed there is little to no heart and/or soul to be found in this film’s 106 minute runtime even in the face of some intriguing if not slightly rehashed thought-provoking thematic material. Yes it is not completely dependent on action beats and nifty visual effects work and the themes from the original source material are present, but there is still that undeniable feeling in the air whilst engaging in this slice of cinematic pie that it really truly is no more and no less than a good old fashioned time waster that leaves a lot of the more intriguing and complex material to be discovered in both the manga and iconic animated movie.
The plot is as follows: Ghost in the Shell takes us to a possible future for our species where we see that technology has become so evolved that we are now at a point where that proverbial line between human being and tech has become dangerously hard to figure out and where enhancing one’s body with cybernetic “improvements” has become as common as clouds in the sky thus giving people access to do things with both their minds and bodies they never thought possible. To that end, we soon see that our guide through this world is a young woman by the name of Mira Killian. A woman who, we quickly learn, is also the only person in her family to survive a deadly terrorist attack (though not the one at Nakatomi Plaza). Yet whilst the attack thankfully did not kill her too, it did have its own repercussions. Namely the fact that it did give her enough critical injuries for her to qualify as a top-notch candidate for a distinct “lifesaving” procedure involving her brain being inserted in a completely cybernetic body. To that end, we see that our young heroine is the most reluctant and unaware kind of pioneer in existence since she is the first person to go through such a procedure. The film then moves forward a year and we see that Miss Killian has managed to adapt to her new body quite wonderfully as a member of an anti-terror government agency known as Section 9 and is known mostly as “Major”. Yet things soon take a turn when a run of the mill kind of mission sets the Major forth on a road that will eventually see her coming to question just what she knows. Not only about the world around her, but about herself as well.
Now I think it is safe to say that this film’s core narrative of the union between humanity and technology and the ensuing fallout on both the individual person and the world as a whole is a lot more timely than when the original source material came out over 2-3 decades ago since at that time, the technology age was still making baby steps. Since then though, technology has managed to change the planet as we know it. Yes it is not to the extent that the world is completely way too dependent on technology (at least as far as we know), but the narrative being presented in this film does feel a lot more realistic at this time more than ever. As a result, this would make you think that this was perhaps the most opportune moment to bring this narrative back and introduce you to a bigger, present-day movie going audience. Suffice it to say this slice of cinematic pie manages to do just that as well as giving audiences a decent set of performances, and fairly well done work in both the action and visual effects departments respectively. Yet even as this slice of cinematic pie is able to immerse itself in its more basic and intricate thematic concepts, you still can’t help but get the vibe that a lot of it is being nullified by the film’s style and thus for all of the effort being made in the opposite direction, this film’s superficial ingredients still manage to emerge and define it significantly more than the complex narrative. A result that for a film like this is the proverbial nail in the coffin so to speak since being triumphant in the attempt to balance this dueling pair is what helped make a film like this known as The Matrix such a success. A feat that this film is sadly unable to significantly pull off for the most part. Indeed though not for lack of effort, this film is not able to consistently combine the two in a way that matters and as a result the action beats and visual flair often take over more than the riveting narrative even gets the chance to.
Be that as it may be though, this slice of cinematic pie is still, on some rudimentary level, a decent enough, albeit highly flawed, viewing experience on the most basic level possible. Yes it doesn’t really work with anything novel by any stretch, but it is at least a decent and engaging enough slice of cinematic pie whose superficial ingredients should keep you entertained on some level even if there are moments where the narrative moves at a snail’s pace rather than engaging and lightning quick. To that end, we see that the action beats in this film come at us with both a respectable degree of ferocity with decent support in regards to props, locales, and effects work, but also that the gun fights in the film are surprisingly realistic and the world the film is taking place in does feel lively and creatively designed. Yes, in all fairness, a fair amount of this movie will most likely be eerily familiar should you be a fan of the anime. However this is because this take on the property does try to recreate some of the more noteworthy shots and moments from the original animated film and also tries to ensnare ingredients from the series as a whole and combines them all to utilize within this slice of cinematic pie. Indeed its comfort level, to say nothing of awareness, of the original movie will also aid movie goers in trying to overcome this take’s void of intricate concept analysis to say nothing of characterization fall by the wayside a little bit since you will at least be able to comprehend what is attempting and immersing yourself in the world as you go along. Suffice it to say this is most certainly an attachment of sorts to what came before rather than an outright replacement. Indeed it really does seem like to takes too much for a big film made by a major studio these days to really focus on what made the original property so time honored in the first place. Thus whilst this take does actually try in a lot of areas it still at the end of the day comes up short due to the filmmaking team putting priority on the vast majority of the wrong arenas.
All in all I think it is safe to say that Ghost in the Shell, in any of the forms that someone could choose to either view or read it in, is a distinct property that manages to showcase a riveting, gripping, yet also pitch-black possible future for our species that involves enhancement and the terrifying divorce of our species from what makes human in the first place including our peculiarities and the limits that we and nature have set on ourselves as individuals. Suffice it to say then that a slice of cinematic pie adaptation of such material is one that cannot simply stick its pinky toe in complex and intriguing waters. Rather it must be willing to do no more and no less than sinking itself fully in said complex and intriguing waters, and must have its purpose for being made in the first place be more for the intriguing and thought-provoking concepts it explores with zeal more than anything else to the point that the action beats, the distinct visual flair, and the astonishing effects work should only serve as a means to getting audiences to venture forward as well as aiding/enhancing the concepts at play that I previously mentioned. To that end, it should be noted that whilst the 2017 live action take on this iconic property is nowhere near as immersive or thought-provoking as it should be, despite a fairly potent attempt to make it so, and instead ultimately comes to rely more on its riveting, yet slightly exhausted, action beats and effects work instead. Thus is this adaptation the worst thing to happen to this iconic story? Not even close though I understand why a lot of the avid lovers of the original took serious issue with this film. Is it as good as it could have, and should have, been? Again: not even close. Make of that what you will therefore dear reader whether you choose to watch this film or put it back in the 5-dollar bin and keep looking for something worthy of your time. On a scale of 1-5 I give Ghost in the Shell “2017” a solid 2.5 out of 5.