*. If you just look up “Ghost in the Shell” on Wikipedia you’ll see it described as a “Japanese media franchise.” It began as a manga (comic book) that debuted in 1989 and was turned into an anime film in 1995. It has since expanded into other feature films, a couple of TV series, and more comic books. Not to mention this “live action” film.
*. It’s important to know this history because if you don’t and you just come to Ghost in the Shell cold I think the first thing you’ll be struck by is that it’s an old story, just another cyberpunk thriller riffing on virtual reality and questions of what it means to be posthuman. Well, it is an old story. Kitted out with lots of expensive effects, but the themes it deals with, the story itself, and the whole look of the film, was nothing new in 2017. In fact, it was getting very tired.
*. You’ll have noticed I put “live action” in quotation marks. With the amount of CGI work and other effects in SF movies these days, I think they should be considered hybrids at best. It’s like the “live action” Jungle Book and Lion King Those aren’t real animals, it’s just Disney switching to a different style of animation.
*. So Ghost in the Shell has the look of Blade Runner, especially in its evocation of the city of the future. And when I say Blade Runner I mean not the original Blade Runner but the tinselly Blade Runner 2049. It has bits of Robocop. Some of The Matrix. But there’s nothing at all here that struck me as new or particularly impressive. Mira has a human mind in a manufactured body and says she is the first of her kind. Not if you’ve read any science fiction from the last century.
*. Critics were underwhelmed and even antagonistic.
*. What mostly got their backs up was the “whitewashing” of the character of Mira/Motoko: having an originally Asian character played by a white actress. This didn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that they made Mira into such a babe. This is typical of manga/anime/comic books in general, and was certainly on full display in the original film, but as with everything else here it feels old. As soon as Mira takes off her cape in that opening reveal and shows her form in her camouflage bodysuit you go “Va-va-voom!” And then you wonder why they would give a cyborg warrior such an hourglass figure. I mean, why have boobs at all? Shouldn’t they have just given her more chest armour?
*. Actually, Scarlett Johansson was a natural choice for the part. She’s become the go-to actress for portraying the posthuman. Think Under the Skin, Lucy, and Her. Anthony Lane: “Such is the zone that Johansson patrols.” Or, as Mira puts it at the end, she’s the first of her kind but she won’t be the last. That seem excessively optimistic to me, but it does put a new spin on the concept of the It girl.
*. The other thing that reviewers didn’t like, especially those familiar with the source material, was the watering down of the philosophical questioning. They may have a point. We certainly don’t get much of that here. Mira is just on a quest to discover who she is, only to find out that it’s not her memories but what she does that defines her. Ho-hum.
*. I’m afraid these notes may be making me sound kind of jaded. But there really isn’t anything here we haven’t seen or heard before. The evil corporation. The heroic hackers. The superhuman hero. The slow-motion martial arts and gun fights. The technology that is all so seamless and works like magic. Thirty years ago I might have found this interesting.
*. The ending is particularly lame. We’re supposed to believe Kuze is some kind of incredibly powerful enhanced networked mind and then he gets taken out by something as crude as a remote-controlled spider tank? Shouldn’t he have seen that coming? (Note that in the 1995 film he planned to die and merge his consciousness with Motoko Kusanagi, but that is rejected here.) And why can’t he just upload his consciousness to the cloud instead of dying in that wrecked robotic chassis? Come to think of it, why is everyone still hooked up to wires and skull jacks? Doesn’t this future have wireless?
*. There you have it. Bright and shiny but dull and instantly forgettable. Obviously they were hoping for some kind of franchise but the box office was disappointing. It might have worked a little better if they’d spent more time introducing us to the rest of the Section 9 team, but I’m not sure they had any more personality than Mira. They really shouldn’t have bothered at all.