Film Review: Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where both cops and criminals, well, nearly everyone, has a body and brain that is partially mechanical. Criminals find ways of using this to their advantage, for example, hacking into brains so that witnesses forget events or remember things differently, hacking eyes so people see differently, etc.
Therefore, like the Matrix trilogy, this is a universe where mechanized artificial reality makes one in doubt of one's senses. This movie plays out like basically every episode of the later anime series that spun off from this movie and the second Ghost in the Shell movie; there's a bad guy, they have to chase after him, he hacks people's brains, and characters wax philosophical about being androids, humans, or cyborgs.
This movie is more about the philosophizing than the plot. The plot involves a criminal, "The Puppet Master" who controls people by hacking into their cyber brains. Motoko Kusanagi, a mostly-machine cyborg police officer, and her crew of elite cyberized police hunt down this guy, who can mess with a person's memories and make them think things happened that didn't.
What this setup does is get Motoko to question being a cyborg vs. being a human. When she needs to think, she goes for a dive in the water, but without special devices, her mechanical body would simply sink like a stone. Plus, her and her compadre Batou, also a cyborg police officer in the same elite unit, need their bodies to be subjected to routine, expensive maintenance. Ditching their job is not an option, since their job pays for this maintenance, so it almost can feel like eternal servitude. What the Puppet Master is doing is carving out a path for freedom for himself and his crude android girlfriend.
When it comes time to catch the guy, Motoko has to actually merge cyberbrains with his, learning how he thinks and what he's planning, but also coming to know him and understand his emotions. This tests her loyalty and even her concept of self. But in the end, she does remain loyal to the law.
Though I enjoyed the action and fight sequences in this film, there were a couple of little gripes I had, such as
- I thought that "Aaaahaaahaaah" singing they constantly used in the background was super annoying.
- This movie is more of what might be called "existential moping" than plot or action. It's cool if you like that sort of thing, but if not you'll just be bored.
- It's not that great of a villain. He only really seems scary closer to the end. I guess the villains in the Ghost in the Shell universe are never really scary, like the Laughing Man from the animated series Stand Alone Complex. They're more like living puzzles to be figured out.
- The pace seemed a little meandering and slow.
Other than that, the movie was very visually appealing and does have some good fighting scenes. It's hard to choreograph good, realistic but still cool-looking hand-to-hand combat, especially in animation, and this is done well. The added bonus is that thermo-optic camouflage technology that exists in this universe allows characters to become partially or totally invisible while doing it, which adds interesting visual elements, as well as serving as a metaphor for the loss of personal identity faced by cyborg characters. It's a movie that is moving in sorrow and philosophical depth, which is why I like to watch it every now and then, but it lacks the edge-of-your-seat excitement of a Hollywood action flick.
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