Movie Review: “Ghost in the Shell” – All Style, No Substance

Written by Matt Butler May 02, 2017

ghost in the shell

Weeks back, when Ben McVittie and I talked about the Power Rangers remake, I had a prediction about remakes in general. I predicted that since 90s kids are currently an adult demographic, we’re essentially moving away from remakes of 80s material and into remakes of 90s material (this is put far more elaborately than anything I said in the podcast). That’s about the only reasoning I can think of for Ghost in the Shell (2017). Because it’s relevant now, I guess. But just like Power Rangers (2017), it misses the point, rendering itself pointless.

Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is a think-piece on consciousness disguised as an action thriller. It’s a gorgeous piece of Japanese animation, set in a cyborg dystopia so gritty and lived in that it feels just years away. But the meat of the film, and the part that demands rewatches and philosophy videos, is the dialogue. It’s a rich discussion on identity, what it means to be human, and our continuing search for fulfilment. The remake has… some of these things?

“You are not defined by your past, but by your actions.”

Ghost in the Shell (2017) proves an interesting anomaly to remakes. It is, at the very least, trying to expand upon its source material. Although it hits many of the beats from the 1995 film, it rearranges the sequence of events to gravitate towards Major’s (Scarlett Johansson) emotional journey. It asks further questions about what it means to be a human-machine hybrid. This would make for an interesting character study if it weren’t already explored in so many other sci-fi films. The message of the original is wholly unique: The merging of man and machine is not only inevitable, it’s necessary. Think of it as “resistance is futile” but friendlier. While this idea is still intact in the remake, it’s surrounded by so much emotional flourish that it becomes irrelevant.

ghost in the shell

As mentioned earlier, Ghost in the Shell (1995) is more think-piece than action. What looks like an Asian Blade Runner is actually a hard sci-fi analysis on the potential relationship between human and machine. It accomplishes this with an even-handed approach to the future. The setting is modern and high tech but rot with filth and decay. The characters are human but behave robotically. Ghost in the Shell (2017) seems overpowered by one or the other. It has a bright, flashy Blade Runner setting and a collection of dramatic human performances. It has sleek visuals, but little content to give meaning to them.

“We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.”

Scarlett Johansson’s performance is the most intriguing part of the film, and I’m not sure if I mean that in a positive way. She seems divided with how to play Major. Will she lean toward her emotional conflict or will she play it cold and calculated? This question kept sitting in the back of my brain, and I think it was a mix of confusing motivations and my general apathy for the movie. Ironically, the only thing that makes sense to me is Johansson’s casting. If only for the most cynical of reasons. Scarlett Johannson was cast in Ghost in the Shell to draw in an audience that otherwise wouldn’t have paid mind or money to this movie. It’s marketability, whitewashing marketability. And it’s only made more glaringly obvious when Major meets her mother, played by Japanese actress Kaori Momoi.

ghost in the shell

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is far from faithless, but it’s still a pale imitation. My thoughts are that the writers didn’t have a tight enough grasp on the material. Not that I don’t understand that. I barely understood this film until I watched Wisecrack’s explanation of it. Now I understand…some of it. While I was hoping for something along the lines of The Jungle Book (2016), which combines the philosophy of the book with the spirit of the 1967 film, Ghost in the Shell‘s (2017) screenplay wasn’t cerebral enough for that. The writers simply bit off more than they could chew.

“Never send a rabbit to kill a fox.”

The original Ghost in the Shell stands as a key influence in science fiction. Ex Machina, A.I., I Robot, and The Matrix all glean inspiration from Ghost‘s cerebral discussion on artificial intelligence. Ghost in the Shell (2017) has flavors of all these works, but hardly of its own. Ghost in the Shell (1995) explores new ideas, Ghost in the Shell (2017) rehashes old ones. I say go check out the original instead. Or, if you’re looking for something with an even more optimistic view of the future (and Scarlett Johannson), I strongly recommend Spike Jonze’s Her.

My Rating: 5/10

ghost in the shell

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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