My prior knowledge of Ghost in the Shell consists of the following: There was a game on the Playstation 1 in which you drove a red ladybird tank and that the original story is supposed to be kind of a big deal. That’s pretty much it. I ended up deciding not to colour my opinions the movie by searching out any of the source material beforehand. In part because a lot has been said in the build up to this movie and little of it positive. I realised that much of this was to do with the choice in casting and differences in tone. In the end, I thought I’d be better off just going to see the movie and judge it by its own merits, not involve myself in any of the debate that seems to dog the film.
So what did I think. In a nutshell; I think the movie is incredibly stylish, but it comes at the expense of having some much needed substance. The plot focuses on Scarlett Johansson’s character trying to discover who she is, surrounded by a world that begs for further exploration. I loved the way this movie looked. The abundance of sweeping establishing shots of future Japan, with massive holographic advertisements everywhere and the imposing skyline gives the movie a very cyberpunk look. It had this 80s vision of the future design style which suits it incredibly well. The cars, the fashion and the huge abundance of neon made it amazing to look at.
While the movie has style in spades; between the sets, the special effects and the mannerisms of a lot of the side characters being very anime it falls down pretty badly. Where it didn’t grab me were its plot and its lead character. Scarlett Johansson might be the weakest part of the movie for me and considering she is carrying the majority of the film’s scenes, she ends up dragging large portions of the film down. Her story, finding where she came from, takes over the rest of the movie pretty early on and it never really gripped me. Not in the same way passing shots of gruesome body modifications most characters in the movie have, made all the more unsettling by the fact that they all seem totally at ease with it.
I wanted to delve into this cyberpunk world of neon and hacking brains, but instead the movie insisted on dragging me into what turned out to be pretty well trodden ground. Would you be totally shocked if this movie’s conflict all boiled down to shady government shit? If not, then maybe I’ve just watched too many movies. The story is a pretty cut and dried betrayal/revenge plot in which the main character happens to be a super robot. I get the feeling parts of the movie were tempted to delve into heavy topics such as the humanity in machines and if you can be human if no part of you is left. But be it the studio’s lack of bravery to go there, or the lead very one dimensional acting style in this movie, it never dared go very far down that rabbit hole.
While I can’t speak for the manga or anime that followed it, I felt like this movie had a lot to thank Blade Runner for. In fact I could easily see the movies being interconnected. It’s when we start to look back through that you have to think about where these tropes came from first. For all I know, Ghost in the Shell could have come up with a lot of these plot devices and themes. I mean, I see a lot of Minority Report’s visual style in here and I wonder what followed what. So I find myself criticising a movie for being derivative, when in reality it could just be faithful to the source material that spawned these styles in the first place.
Having said that, I feel like part of the reason to remake something is to change it. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t feel like anything new or exciting. Aside from a stunning cyberpunk visual style that is realised incredibly well, it ends up being nothing more than eye candy to me. I would have been much more interested in seeing the daily goings on of Section 9 and the weird and wonderful things they could encounter in this world. Instead of something that ended up feeling very marketable and very safe.