The 2017 live action version of Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, is upon us. I am a fan of the 1995 anime, though it isn’t a perfect movie. It’s a bit dry with a lot of speeches about identity and the nature of consciousness. But I still like it and have seen the anime several times. I’m also a fan of the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series and I’ve read some of the original manga, which has a different tone from all the other versions of the story. This review focuses on the 2017 movie, which I think of as the “Scarjo” version.
The new live action movie basically keeps the same world and characters from all the other versions of Ghost in the Shell, more or less. It take’s place in a near future world where cybernetic implants are commonplace and people can surf the web with their minds. The main characters are the crew of Section 9, which I think of as a team of semi-military cops. OK, so maybe just cops. They can also be likened to the FBI and other federal agencies that stop crimes. In most versions of Ghost in the Shell, “the Major” – usually named Motoko Kusanagi – is the central protagonist, although the Scarjo version calls her Mira Killian. Each version of the story pits the Major and the rest of Section 9 against opponents with advanced computer hacking abilities that allow them to infect cybernetic human beings with viruses, new memories, and all that scary stuff.
So now for the big question: Did the live 2017 Ghost in the Shell Scarjo version of the movie suck?
Before anime fans flip out and start setting fires to things, drawing us into an ever widening apocalypse of epic proportions way before Donald Trump1 gets his chance, let me explain my reasons.
Remember when I said the 1995 anime of Ghost in the Shell was a bit dry? Yeah. Well, the Scarjo version is the fucking desert. I was bored within a couple of minutes and pretty much stayed that way throughout most of the movie. There were some decent action scenes and, as many have noted, it looks nice. But only in certain places. Even the visuals only work part of the time. There are several shots of the Major that look really fake. Like, bad CGI fake. There are also shots where we see big, holographic advertisements throughout the city that look cheesy. Maybe it was on purpose? For me, the cities in Blade Runner, a movie from the 1980s, looked a lot better than the cities in this movie. I seem to differ from a lot of critics on this one as even the haters seemed to think the movie looked great. I would say the visuals were pretty mixed. In ten years, this movie will probably look pretty bad all around thanks to the power of overused CGI.
A far bigger complaint comes from the way the characters are portrayed. Scarjo…your loveliness…how could you! The Major just sort of stomps around, her neck bent like she has scoliosis or something, and talks in a monotone. To be fair, I suspect Scarlett was told to portray the Major in this way to convey the same idea as the 1995 anime where she does not see her body as really being a part of who she is. That’s a clunky way of approaching it, but that’s the best I got. Like so many other things the movie tries to incorporate from the animes, it’s taken too far and just sort of ruins the experience of the live action film by hitting us over the head with something that should be subtle. The other characters are better. At least they’re allowed to express emotions. But we barely get to see any of them. Even Batou is only a very tiny part of this film.
There are a number of story elements that didn’t work or didn’t make sense. These are, of course, really spoilery. See some of them below if you dare!
The Story…with Spoilers, Obviously
The movie begins with a familiar scene of the Major under construction. Note that cyborg women in the future will have no nipples so nudes of them on social media will be fine. Thank you PG-13! Then we get a scene between the CEO of Hanka, the *cough*evil*cough* corporation that makes cyborgs like the Major, and her doctor. It’s a really clumsy, boring way of setting up some of the ideas for the movie. Is the Major property, or a person? Neither, says the evil corporate dude. She’s a weapon. Note that she wasn’t a volunteer or anything like that. They just shoved a brain into Scarjo’s body and hoped for the best. Yeah, that’s how I’d do it too because I also has the dumb. She has no memory of her life before the transfer, but I’m sure no one will figure out the entire movie during this scene even though almost everyone did.
Fast forward to a year later…and the point where the movie really should have started…and we see that 5 minute clip of the movie everybody saw a week or two before its release. The Major takes off her coat and nose dives through the air, nude but nippleless, in a ham fisted recreation of that scene that every anime of Ghost in the Shell is legally obligated to have. She beats up and shoots a bunch of people while those creepy Geisha bots grab everybody and start scaling the walls. The Geishas are easily the best part of this movie, BTW. One of them looks at the Major and says, “Help me! Please! Don’t let me die!” Then it says, “Collaborate with Hanka Robotics and be destroyed!” Which is a bit of a contradiction, but OK. This is the best part of the whole damn movie. Alas, it only goes down hill from there. So, just as in every other version of the story, we have a super hacker that’s using robots – and later people – to do his evil bidding. I’m totally sure he really is evil too and won’t turn out to be a good guy later on even though he totally does.
Later, the not-bad guy “hacks” a pair of garbage truck drivers who happen to have augmentations that make them resistant to gunfire and at least one of which has active camouflage. Wow. Garbage is a tough business in the future. The Major chases this guy into a scene, reminiscent of the anime, where he’s standing in water. She unleashes some super kicks on his ass, knocking him down. Pity we can’t see her moves because she’s invisible, but I digress. Then we get a scene where the Major is telling him that his memories are false, just like the anime. Finally, he hangs himself simply by jumping up and letting himself fall, which most of you will see coming because Section 9 has fixed a cable to his neck. It seems that vertebra in the future will be made from Waterford crystal because you really need a lot more pressure than that to break a normal human neck. They don’t make’em like they used to, kids.
Much later, we get a scene of her with the spider tank, the big finish from the 1995 anime. It’s clearly designed to look the same as the one in the animated movie and the Major’s fight with it serves as the big set piece for the film. The Major, predictably, gets on top of it and tries to rip the door off, breaking her arm and body in the process. My wife, never having seen the 1995 anime, was a little surprised by this. But no one who has seen the anime will be surprised by much in this movie, sadly.
The big mystery? You’ll never guess. Go ahead. Try.
You do remember that you were warned about spoilers twice already, right? OK. Doesn’t matter because you already saw this coming within 1 minute of the movie’s opening scene.
It turns out that the Major really is Motoko Kusanagi! GASP! They wiped her memories and tricked her into taking a drug that suppresses them. You’d think they would install a little pump inside her that does that without even telling her, but no, you’d be wrong. The Major figures all of this out and her team tries to help her while she’s on the run. Hanka, being evil, tries to have her and all of Section 9 killed. But they failed because movie! Ha ha!
I am not someone who is stressed about the issue of white washing, but people are talking about it, so it’s a thing. I just wanted you to think about this for a moment. We have a movie where people are up in arms about white washing, and in that movie, we learn that our hero – the very character who was white washed – is, in fact, Japanese. But on the inside. Yeah. Think about that. Take your time. Then forget all about it so you don’t leave me any comments about white washing. Thanks for that.
In the epilogue, we see that Motoko is back to work. Hurray! She’s atop another building. She says something about doing the job she was built for, then pulls off her jacket and plummets toward the ground nude. I take this to mean she was born to strip. I’m also guessing that the rest of Section 9’s function is to recover her jacket from all the buildings she leaves it on to avoid budget overruns. That’s taxpayer money paying for those jackets lady! Why does she even wear a jacket if she can’t get cold and has no modesty oh just never mind.
My verdict? Rent this movie so you can say you saw it. Ultra-hardcore anime fans seem to be the only ones who like it for the most part. If seeing things that are familiar to you in a movie is enough to hold your attention and start you clapping, you might like it too. But I wouldn’t inconvenience myself to watch it. Sad to say.
I wanted to like Ghost in the Shell, Scarjo version, but alas, insert monologue about identity and the nature of consciousness, be sure to include the words “ghost” and “shell” as much as possible, right here. The end.
- Don’t bother to post about how much you like Donald Trump because I don’t care. Thank you in advance. ↩