Review: GHOST IN THE SHELL Is a Visual Masterpiece

I was more than a little excited to see Ghost in the Shell. I absolutely loved the original 1995 Japanese animated film that was based on the Manga by the same name and saw a lot of potential in a live-action remake. There is some pretty incredible stuff being done with special effects these days, so I was stoked to see just what they were going to do with it. If you’ve seen the original, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m not usually a fan of live-action remakes, but my hopes were high for this one.

Scarlett Johansson plays Major, the first ever cyborg implanted with a human brain. She works on a special task-force called Section 9, fighting terrorists and other really bad guys. When higher-ups from Hanka Robotics (the company responsible for Major’s existence) begin to die, Major tries desperately to find the hacker responsible for the murders.

Pilou Asbæk is a perfect — and I mean perfect — live-action replica of Batou. He looks exactly like the animated character, and if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll notice that there’s a slight difference in the way he looks in a couple different shots. Although this is explained in a plot point that is different from the original movie, it didn’t bother me at all.

A lot of people complained about the casting of Johansson in this role, but I thought she did a fantastic job as Major. She looks so much like the animated character with big, expressive eyes that perfectly portray the conflict between humanity and technology. This is also one of the first times I’ve seen her in a movie where they didn’t oversexualize her character, something that would have been very easy to do, but irrelevant to the storyline.

That brings me to my first negative point. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll notice a glaringly obvious fake nude bodysuit. With such impeccable special effects, Major’s body looks like a silicone onesie. They made very little effort to make it look like real human skin, which didn’t make sense at all. I understand how distracting a realistic nude suit would be, but it couldn’t be more distracting than being able to see where the suit ends at Johansson’s neck and fingertips.

Ghost in the Shell is the most visually stunning film I’ve seen to date, and I don’t say that lightly. I’m a huge cinematography nerd, and for me, this film was as good as it gets. The action sequences were captivating, and they copied a lot of the visuals from the original film, which couldn’t have been easy, so major props to them.

What didn’t make this film a perfect ten for me was how much they babied the audience. There’s an intro at the beginning that explains that it’s the future, and that human/cyborg hybrids exist. Because you couldn’t figure that out on your own, apparently. Then, within the first five minutes, they use the title of the movie, albeit broken up. But come on. This isn’t Zootopia. We’re all adults here, you don’t need to explain the title of the movie right off the bat. They use the words “ghost” and “shell” enough later on that I’m pretty sure anyone who had any questions about what the title means could figure it out by the end.

SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT NOTHING TOO BAD.

But perhaps the biggest problem I had with this films was how much it deviated from the original storyline. So much so that they completely obliterated one of the main themes of the original. For me, one of the most incredible parts of the original Ghost in the Shell was how existential it was. Concepts like the definition of life and death, birth and family, and the evolution of humanity really made Ghost in the Shell a work of art. All those ideas are sort of touched on in this remake, but the main theme is changed to make it more relevant to a larger audience.

And I totally get why. Obviously a huge action blockbuster isn’t going earn gobs of money asking people about the meaning of life. At leas,t not in the spiritual, existential way that the original did with drawn-out sequences and sparse dialogue. In order to make this film more marketable to the broader part of Western society, they had to tone things down quite a bit. 

I actually liked how much they addressed the issues of technology, privacy, and individuality in the modern world. Although these ideas are pretty overused in sci-fi movies, I think they’re all the more relevant in this day and age.

I get why they did it, and I honestly didn’t mind it, until the end. Which I’m not going to spoil for you.

Die-hard fans of the original film and comics are probably going to appreciate the visuals of this film, but there are some serious changes to the plot that are going to be major hang-ups. If you don’t know a thing about the originals, you’re probably going to love this movie. I was really torn, because I absolutely loved the animated film and its message, but I really appreciated what they did with this remake.