I initially wasn’t very interested in seeing this version of Ghost in the Shell, as the anime has problems of its own and my familiarity with the series doesn’t go past that.
However some teaser or screen shots that i saw of the Major fighting in water had me wonder if this was going to be a remake of the anime, and not another story from the manga itself; which got me hopeful that the film makers would address the many problems that the original anime had.
Thankfully Ghost in the Shell turns out to be a good remake, and it does indeed address the issues of the original but it comes with some of its own.
In the indeterminate future technology and humans have become synonymous with one another, which naturally leads to the creation of less 80’s looking Robocops to investigate high-tech crime and terrorism.
Visually the movie is quite arresting, with a deep and varied colour palette, high-tech atmosphere, high quality sfx work, and crisp understandable action scenes. It shares all of these with the original anime and thus succeeds in matching, updating, and paying homage the original’s visual splendor (which is its greatest asset).
More importantly however the narrative has been expanded and it finally makes all the disjointed elements from the original make sense. Without spoiling too much it makes sense now why the major destroys her body, it makes sense why this version of the puppet master is so interested in her, it makes sense now who attacked section 9, and why they wanted to kill the major in the first place. This is largely because actions that happen during the film actually cause other events later on in the narrative, which is something the original story bizarrely lacked.
Themes of identity and memory carry over from the original and play largely into the plot of Ghost in the Shell; scenes like the Major feeding strays or interacting with other disconnected people are better at getting these themes across more naturally than the long philosophical conversations present in the original.
Frustratingly some of the exploration of the film’s themes comes down to clunky on the nose dialog, with a supporting character and the Major herself uttering the moral of the story that could have easily have been left unsaid (as it had in previous explorations of the subject matter). It also has the same issues Interstellar and Robocop (2014) had, in that it feels the need to bring metaphysical elements into the story unnecessarily.
When people who are presented as scientists and technology experts begin talking about human souls as a literal thing as opposed to implying it, or delineating clear lines between philosophical ideas and tangible real life objects have the result of the dialog sounding silly given the film’s setting. The original did a better job of implying what this remake shows literally; as what a “ghost” is, is never elaborated on in the anime however it can be gathered that it is the person’s identity and feelings, which are the things that make us human.
The original Robocop and Blade Runner dealt with similar themes without bad dialog, and they remain superior takes on the nature of identity, memory, and human condition because of it. They can even be taken as having metaphysical elements as the presentation of the themes in both of those films allows for multiple interpretations of the subject matter, that is not the case in Ghost in the Shell it is explicit why the Major does what she does, and its frustrating as it could have easily not have been had the writers not have been afraid of letting audience members think for themselves.
Ultimately Ghost in the Shell accomplishes what remakes should do, and that is to take their source material and adapt it into a different and/or better narrative than what was originally there. It does this by ironing and fleshing out the narrative while updating the original’s already great visuals.
However it frustratingly comes with its own problems, which ironically wouldn’t have been the case had it taken some more ques from the 1995 outing. As a result it’s certainly worth a look for those who were confused by the original’s opaque narrative, or just wanting to see a decent science fictiony action movie.
But it doesn’t measure up to other examinations of its core themes, and that is an unfortunate thing.
OUT OF FIVE