Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell ★★★★½

"Everyone around me, they feel connected to something. Connected to something, I'm not."

Ghost in the Shell is in many ways the best possible outcome we could have gotten from a live action film based on the now almost 28 year old franchise (since it's original manga source). Hollywood (and even Japan in the past decade) have tried and blundered along trying to adapt many other popular anime franchises that it seemed like a near impossibility to faithfully represent the material. Dragon Ball Evolution drifted so far from it's source while also being a mess of a movie. Japan made a whopping four Death Note films that all fumbled in quality and by sticking too close to the material felt stilted and awkward. And the less said about the Attack on Titan duology from the same country the better.

That's likely what made me so happy when the credits rolled for Ghost in the Shell, it was a major Hollywood production of an anime property that was both faithful to the source but offered enough innovation from what came before that it didn't feel like a "so why even make this?" moment. Visually, the film is the most pleasing science fiction movie since Blade Runner (likely as the original material lifted certain aesthetics from the picture). There's never a moment where the CGI felt unconvincing or didn't fit the world it was in (startling considering it's budget is $110mil, nearly half of most major blockbusters) and there are a bounty of practical effects in the film as well that are equally impressive, the geishabots being a definite highlight. It sticks so closely to how I imagine the source would look in live action that specific moments that it lifts directly from the original film left me (along with my friends) with a dumbfounded smile.

The story is thankfully not fully lifted from the original film, instead choosing to create it's own story using pre-existing scenarios or characters. Based on later trailers it was starting to look like another Robocop but it throws enough twists in that it makes it's own (and better) mark. Hopping off of that, because of the change in story there is a change in philosophy with the movie compared to the original and it's all the better for it. What the original GitS did at the time was somewhat revolutionary in what ideas it kicked around but now it's about as basic sci-fi as you can get. I feel that had they stuck so closely to the original film's story and theme it would have just felt like another Matrix; another i,Robot; another Ex Machina. It definitely chooses the ARISE series approach of focusing on the action and characters while having light philosophy that flows naturally instead of feeling like a lecture being given (an inescapable sentiment with the original two films).

Rupert Sanders is a good visual director more than anything (as proven with his previous film, Snow White and the Huntsman), the littlest of details could hold great importance (pay attention to the tone of The Major's blue hair strand as her character progresses) yet at the same time he clearly has a love of the source material while adding his own flair. As for the cast, Scarlett Johansson's performance as The Major is pitch perfect as a character struggling with her own identity but also as a touch as nails agent for Section 9. As for the Section 9 crew: Pilou Asbæk gives a charming as hell performance as Batou (my favorite character from the franchise) and Takeshi Kitano (who only speaks Japanese in the film) as Director Arimaki has a demanding presence in his scenes and a particular highlight when he actually has to get in a gunfight. The rest of the crew, Chin Han as Togusa, Lasarus Ratuere as Ishikawa, Danusia Samal as Ladriya, Yutaka Izumihara as Saito, and Tawanda Manyimo as Borma, feel thrown aside and brought out at only specific moments of the film (possibly since the majority of the story is focused on the Major and they could bring more team dynamic into a sequel). Peter Ferdinando as Cutter, the owner of HANKA Robotics, is fine enough, nothing memorable but nothing bad. Michael Pitt as Kuze, one of the film's antagonists, delivers a robotic and cold performance that fits so well. His voice sounds like text-to-speech, his movements stilted, his mind warped, and while he doesn't have many major scenes in the film what he does deliver is great.

This 2017 take on Ghost in the Shell serves as much as previous entries in the franchise have, updating it every few years with a new take while borrowing visually from other adaptations that came before (plenty of suits are curiously borrowed from more than the original film such as the ARISE red suit). I think it would be a disservice to call this a remake of the original film as so many have because it brings so much innovation story and character-wise that the original film just didn't have that it stands on it's own, just as much as the original anime film's sequel does to what came before. It does an amazing job at providing moments fans will gawk at amazement at and things that will make newcomers want to latch on to the series and learn more. It's one of the strongest films to come from the science fiction genre over the past few decades and while I'm keeping my fingers crossed it gets a sequel, it feels like a movie that over time will get a larger cult following upon further reflection. Hopefully Netflix's upcoming Death Note film can continue this trend in style.

Ghost in the Shell - 4.5/5