I’ve just came home from watching the new Ghost in the Shell movie. Here is a somewhat spoilery rant I have to get off my chest. Still reading? Good. Gloves off from now on.
This movie is an insult to the original anime. Maybe I will soften up after a few days but right now I have really strong feelings against this film.
Bad adaptation work
The 2017 Ghost in the Shell is an average action flick and a really bad adaptation. Because it takes iconic scenes from the original anime I fear the movie will be praised for being “faithful” but I have to tell you, this faithfulness is only skin deep.
The copied scenes are watered down versions of the original, missing key elements that define the original cast of characters. I felt these reused scenes were tucked into the movie, lost their meaning, included because they trigger a reaction from people who seen the original. Take the famous fight scene in the water for example. In the anime it ends with Batou covering the naked Major with his jacket. A minor detail which tells us about their characters, both being superhuman robots which Major embraces, she doesnt feeling naked when not wearing any clothes yet Batou is not letting go of his humanity and see the human side of the Major, covering up her naked body.
The boat scene feels weird too. The Major accuses Batou that he will betray her. She does not trust him in this version of Ghost in the Shell, yet Batou knows her hiding place, never explained how or why. There is this strange dissonance, the film tries to convince you that they share a connection but fails to deliver why. In the original they are two robotic soldiers fighting side by side for years, they grown to trust each other. In the new version Batou is mostly human, and he only knows the Major for a year, she is basically a new superweapon given to Section 9 for no obvious reason. The friendship is really underdeveloped.
The spider tank scene lost all its symbolism, no family tree, no allegories to evolution, just a dumb fight with the infuriating cliché where the bad guy is not pulling the trigger point blank but have a monologue instead. The scene where the Major jumps from the top of the building is in the movie two times. It is a famous scene, it is recognizable, but this is dumb fanservice, there is no reason to be there twice.
There is a basset hound in this film. In case you did not know these dogs are not really part of the Ghost in the Shell universe, they are in the anime because Mamoru Oshii, the director of the two anime movies, likes to put basset hounds in every film he makes. There was no reason to include the dogs in this movie, they tried to use them to developed Batou’s character, which is okay, but it was the only noticeable character development moment in the whole movie. For me, Batou was the only likeable character in this movie, his character deserved more.
The flat characters are a sore point for me. See, the anime is half an hour shorter than the new movie. It also contains many long, still shots and yet it gives you more information about the world, and it has better character development.
The editing messy is all over this film, after the boat scene batou somehow disappears when the Major is apprehended in the harbor. Another example is, the bar fight scene. In the beginning of the scene most of Section 9 is present together with the Major but after some shaky-cam fight cuts she is somehow separated for what it feels like almost an hour. She gets captured, interrogated and rescued while the team is doing… what exactly?
The CGI sometimes did not blend in. Cars felt weird, fight scenes felt weird. I could not help myself rolling my eyes when Motoko was leaping from one collapsing concrete structure to another in the final fight scene. This thing was dumb in The Hobbit when Legolas did it on a collapsing bridge but at least He was an elf, Motoko is heavy machinery but the CGI made her feel like some ragdoll jumping around.
Even with all these scenes, which sometimes imitate the original frame for frame, I feel they did not managed to find a coherent visual language that works well, I did not get any real impressions about the city or the inhabitants, the set pieces all felt generic.
I’m picking at structural editing errors but the plot is really weak too. The whole conflict of the movie is that people’s brains are put into cybernetic bodies against their will. They wants us to believe that In the future they did not find volunteers for this kind of thing while large parts of the populace are willingly alter their own bodies. No soldiers, no opportunistics mercenaries, no terminally ill were offered this new experimental procedure which could give them a new body. No, they had to use rebellious teenagers and memory erasing. What could possibly go wrong?
What is the motivation of the major? She wants revenge on every terrorist because they killed her family. She wants revenge on Kuze because he is a terrorist. Then she wants revenge on her creators because they used her against her will. An easy to digest revenge plot cliché.
The original anime plot is about rogue AI that wants to merge with a human mind in order to evolve. This may not fit well into the average Hollywood blockbuster, I agree. But take a look at the plot of another incarnation of the franchise, the second season of the Ghost in the Shell anime tv series titled Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG. The creates of the new movie definitely knew about it because they cherry picked an important character, Hideo Kuze. The story revolved around an immigrant crisis in a future Japan where the immigrants are trying to gain independence while various forces are trying to brand them as terrorists and gaining political power this way. This is a plot of a TV anime series from 2002. Given the the current political climate, this plot could have been adapted into something much more relevant today.
The movie closes with the opening song of the original anime. An interesting choice. It definitely stopped me leaving early, but as I sat there it made me think of the original and how uninspired this adaptation was.
I have a feeling (hope?) that no one will remember this in a year and I do hope that Hollywood will not do these kind of adaptations. I much prefer adaptations where the creators look at the original, understand what made them great and create something new with those insights. This seems to work with literary adaptations, I think Arrival and Edge of Tomorrow did a really job at adopting their source material.