Earlier this year, I previewed the live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell by watching the original anime film, and while I applaud the effort to adapt the original material, I came away feeling that there wasn’t enough here to justify such a big expensive remake.
This is a visually stunning film (thanks in part to a lot of moments directly copied from the evocative imagery of the anime), with a really good cast, there’s exciting action and moments of the same philosophical ideas that made the original so unique.
One problem here is that now its twenty years later. The original Ghost in the Shell, and the manga it’s based on, was revolutionary in the ’90s. But twenty years later, films like The Matrix and Minority Report and Robocop have already staked out a lot of the sci-fi territory that this film occupies. Without any new ideas to build out the universe, what is this film but a good-looking retread?
This is a stellar cast, a diverse cast, with exciting actors like Juliette Binoche and Pilou Asbæk. Scarlett Johansson, as previously discussed, continues her transhumanist phase here with a chilling, dissonant performance. The visual effects work to do things like take apart her face and reveal a robot interior is stunning and awards worthy, to be sure.
There’s a character here, a new character, introduced to be the villain of the piece. This is an element that simply doesn’t work, and isn’t even necessary. Part of what makes the original Ghost in the Shell anime successful is moral relativism, the grey areas, that the world lives in, and there was no need for a black-and-white dynamic to be added.
Of course, you can’t talk about Ghost in the Shell without discussing the whitewashing controversy. On the one hand, this is a bit overblown – Scarlett Johansson is a mega-super-star and clearly has a handle on these kinds of characters, so why not let her tackle it? On the other hand, the film doesn’t address the controversy well. Spoiler here, but by making her character a Japanese woman who has been put in a caucasian ‘shell’, they’re certainly steering into a skid that could have been avoided. For what it’s worth, there’s a lot of diversity in this film, and that deserves applause if nothing else.
If you were to come to Ghost in the Shell with no background of the last twenty years of science fiction, it would probably seem revolutionary. This film, as previously discussed, is really visually stunning, and that deserves praise. Unfortunately, this context matters, and for that reason I found Ghost in the Shell to ultimately be disappointing.