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Ghost in the Shell. A Review.
in 1999 the Wachowski sisters (then brothers) introduced the world to their Kung Fu/bulletime/Sci-Fi masterpiece "The Matrix". From the plot to the martial arts, The Matrix was something American audiences had never seen and they all wanted more. Being male and around the age of 10 when the matrix came out, I was obsessed. Guns, Sci-Fi and Keanu Reeves, what more could you want but as I grew older and more disappointed by the ensuing sequels I looked for outlets that would provide a similar viewing experience. To my surprise, I found that the Wachowskis has lifted much of The Matrix from a Japanese Anime called Ghost in the Shell. At first it seemed like something I should not be allowed to watch, but once you get over all the....well nakedness and hard Sci-Fi, Ghost in the Shell comes alive. I was not an Anime fan at that point in my life (not that I really am now) but Ghost in the Shell was like nothing I had ever seen. It's influence on the Wachowskis when it came to The Matrix was immediately apparent, aside from the obvious similarity of wires connecting to the base of the neck they shared the same themes such as free will, our reality and the advancement of technology. This is why when they announced that a live action Ghost in the Shell movie was being made the internet immediately bashed the decision. Ghost in the Shell is not only one of the most important Anime films of all time and not just one of the most important movies of all time, but the plot elements and themes have inadvertently changed media forever. When things are this far reaching and important it's understandable for people to get upset and defensive, and to be honest they had a reason to be upset.
Ghost in the Shell takes place in a world where electronic augments are not just available but are ingrained in everyday life. These augments include things like cybernetic eyes that give the user all types of stuff such as infrared and X-ray vision. As people become more machine than human the limits of what makes one a human are blurred, none more than our antagonist Major Killian (Scarlett Johansson). Major's body was destroyed in a terrorist attack, but her mind is still alive and her brain is placed into a cybernetic "shell". When she wakes up she has no memory of the events that occurred before the operation, but the cybernetic body provides her with a multitude of abilities. Major joins a group that is tasked with stopping terrorism and after seemingly thwarting an attack, Major starts having flashbacks to what she believes to be her life before her augmentation. She also starts having visions of a man who has control of a network of humans/machines, forcing them to carry out his terrorist vision. As Major starts to get closer to finding this man she starts to unravel a mystery about her past, her augmentation and purpose in the world.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Major, a decision that was critically viewed at the time, but one that I have always stood by. While as a fan of the Anime I did not really want this movie made, I though Mrs. Johansson was perfectly cast as the star of this movie. The role required a strong performance and while this is not Johanssons best, she shows up and gives her all and certianly elevates the movie. Major is more machine than human and Johansson emanates that in her performance. She has a blank slate on her face for most of the movie but somehow is able to get the viewer to connect to her issues. Unfortunately Ghost in the Shell is almost exclusively about Major, and while there are other characters they are severely under developed. Pilou Asbæk as Batou probably gets the most to do other than Major, and Asbæk does a great job of not only looking like the original character but capturing the feel of the original Batou. Don't get me wrong, this is a movie about Major and to have shoved in side-character side-plots would have added to the run time and derailed the plot. It still would have been nice to get to know some of these other characters a bit.
Over the years I have seen countless screenshots taken form the Ghost in the Shell Anime and even years and years later they still are mind blowing. The backgrounds from the Anime are some of the best ever created. The remake is metaphorically lacking with it's backgrounds. They are so concerned with the viewer being hand held through the plot, which has been severely dumbed down I might add, that they forgot to fully build the world that surrounds it. Of all the great things about the Anime version that I liked, it was the way the setting and world stuck with you. This version lacks that crucial component. The movie is not poorly directed, although I thought some of the action scenes were a little underwhelming, they were enough to satisfy my need for some guns and punches. This world feels completely computer generated and that is not surprising as it is full of special effects. This is kinda how the whole movie feels in a nutshell, the components and pieces are there but we only get the bare minimum of said parts. No part of the anime gets this treatment worse than it's strongest asset, its plot.
The Ghost in the Shell Anime honestly took me a few viewing before I totally understood it. Granted I was like 13 and probably too young to understand the themes anyway, but it never dumbed itself down or treated the viewer like a moron. That is exactly what this version does, the viewers hand is held tightly as we are dragged through the 1 hour 47 minute run time. For fans of the anime this is their worst nightmare but for people who are not familiar it is a gift. In my opinion Ghost in the Shell should not be easy to understand, it is dealing with some pretty high level Sci-Fi and philosophy elements and to properly convey the ideas the movie wants to the viewer has to be willing to be in a bit over their heads. It is a movie that you can continuously talk about because of its concepts and things like that will be lost for viewers of this version. If you want to hop on this train now and not feel left behind the hand holding is probably welcomed. To each their own i guess but there is a sense of accomplishment that goes along with understanding these ideas using only your brain, and a little bit of Wikipedia.
Viewers of this version of Ghost in the Shell will be split into two different groups. Those who have seen the original Anime and those who have not. People who have not seen the original will probably like this version. It's a decent Sci-Fi movie with some good action and a solid setting. Those who have seen the anime will find it a disappointment if you compare it to the source materiel. It's so strange that so many things in this movie in 2017 feel old and a bit stale, but that's only because the 1995 version created and popularized many of these customs that have become almost a mainstay. While I was a bit offended by the "Americanization" of the plot and the lack of substance, this remake could have been a whole lot worse. Scarlett Johansson is solid in the lead role and if anything it was a reminder of how much I like the 1995 anime, which to me after watching this version is a Home Run. The remake is an inside the park Home Run, and anyone who has ever hit a Home Run knows how much more satisfying it is than hitting one that stays in the park. If you have never seen the 1995 version and don't want to get into Anime or want the lite version give this a shot. If you are a fan of the 1995 version or are interested in going all the way in and diving into this world, skip this version and either relive the original or start your journey now.