The idea of an American Ghost in the Shell adaptation was set to receive backlash from fans of the source material but I was cautiously optimistic as I was entering Rupert Sanders’s new take on Masamune Shirow’s manga on the count that I love Mamoru Oshii’s original film. Amidst all the backlash it received from fans before it came out was a particular firing towards the casting of Scarlett Johansson which has even led to accusations of whitewashing and with that having been said, I didn’t want to let it ruin the optimism I was carrying on the idea of a new Ghost in the Shell film now told for American audiences but for the new ground it carries I can only say it was one of the last of my issues if I had many to name on the spot. Unfortunately among many of those qualms I had with Ghost in the Shell, one of the most glaring ones was that it had to be incredibly monotone.
For those unfamiliar with the context of the original Ghost in the Shell, a simple explanation can go along these lines. The film is set in a future where man and machinery are now linked between one another and our focus is on Major, a cyborg who once lived a life as a human and only soon finds fragments of her own memory coming back to her. Like the first film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, Masamune Shirow’s original manga was one of the most innovative works of storytelling for their time and it was hard already for a new take on the story to keep up. That’s not to say we would always want a remake to live up to what the original has set out, but unfortunately where Rupert Sanders’s own take on the story falls flat is clear enough on the count that it fails even to replicate the wonder the original stories have presented and even as a standalone effort, it feels too empty to recommend.
One of the worst fears I had with a new Ghost in the Shell film especially as done by Hollywood would have been present on the count that it would ignore the philosophical values of its source material in favour of the clear layer present as an action film. Unfortunately this fear had proven itself true for it thought rarely ever feels present in terms of what the original Ghost in the Shell had been striving for making a clear monotony present even within the action sequences. Once in a while you’ll have an incredibly well-done action scene but no matter what craft has come right behind it, Ghost in the Shell only ever manages to make sequences that would normally look impressive feel so dull to watch. What makes said aspect of the film much worse comes from a lingering feeling that the majority of these action scenes feel uninspired at best. They’re never incompetently choreographed or filmed, but rarely do they ever carry any form of energy.
Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Major is one among many things that was so widely discussed prior to the film’s release (bringing back the controversy it had started with the accusations of whitewashing) but I had hope from here because she seemed like a perfect embodiment for the “shell” Major lives in. She’s trying her best in this performance and I can credit her for that, but it’s hard to even care about her struggle which is arguably the most frustrating thing that Ghost in the Shell could offer. Like the film’s philosophical grasp, Major is left a really empty figure all throughout as the result of a deadened, if expository screenplay. One can easily say it’s ironic that Scarlett Johansson is only cast as a shell without the soul, given the film’s own title but it’s problematic when it only makes Ghost in the Shell lose its own grip on humanity – something that would strengthen the merits of the original story.
As far as positives go, they can range from the direction to the film’s sense of worldbuilding, the score, or Takeshi Kitano’s performance. It’s rather evident from here and Snow White and the Huntsman that Sanders has a keen eye when it comes to how he handles visual appeal because if there were something about Ghost in the Shell that ever found itself at as much a strong point as the original, it would be how it sets up the world in which it inhabits. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Takeshi Kitano gives the best performance inside of the film, for it seemed that he carried more heart in this role compared to many of his other performers who either feel phoned in or sidelined (another case with Juliette Binoche after Godzilla). The soundtrack is fantastic among many more positives that come to mind, and once the original theme is played over the ending credits – it was pleasing.
I kept thinking to myself about a number of remakes that I’ve seen coming from Hollywood studios (especially with Disney recently remaking a number of their classics which have yet to impress me) and if there were anything that Ghost in the Shell had felt like, it was one of those that existed because it can. For one it may be a worthwhile theater experience because the film’s own sense of worldbuilding is absolutely incredible, but it turns down philosophy in favour of uninspired action sequences and an overly expository narrative as it lacks the wonder that made both of its sources, whether it be the manga or the original film as groundbreaking as they were. The saddest thing about Ghost in the Shell, sadly, is that it’s set to gain interest or immediate dismissal on the count of the controversy it has been receiving thus far rather than what it really is as it stands, just an experience as emotionless as Major’s ending speech.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger, from the manga by Masamune Shirow
Produced by Avi Arad, Ari Arad, Steven Paul, Michael Costigan
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 106 minutes