Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)


I talked about this a while ago, but it bears repeating. It absolutely does not matter that Scarlett Johansson was cast in the role of a Japanese character. Putting aside that we are talking about fictional people that do not exist, looking at the context of the material in question, Major being any color serves no purpose. In all her incarnations (which are remakes of an adaptation of a manga from 1989), her look has remained consistently inconsistent. Sometimes she is an older woman or a lollicon nightmare with equally fluctuating hair colors and styles. Furthermore, in a universe where people change bodies at will, the pigmentation of the bodies’ skin is utterly meaningless. If anyone bothered to actually research the source material, they would know nationality and ideology are the only cultural determinates in Ghost in the Shell. This nonsense about whitewashing could not be more pointless. With that said, was the film worth the wait or another failed adaptation of a beloved anime?

While tracking down a terrorist hacker, Major has an existential crisis. She is a cyborg and struggles with the idea of what she really is. Her questions, however, bring her closer to an answer she may not like.

When confronted with something as difficult as an adaption, it is important to understand that not everything will translate to the new medium. Game of Thrones had to fill a 10-episode quota with one hour of content each. Obviously you are going to lose a lot of what made A Song of Ice and Fire great in the process. I had the same realization with Walking Dead, but it is still baffling how hard the show runners screwed up. Rather than remove bullshit from the comics, they added more. Seriously, does anyone really care about Morgan, the Priest, or What’s-Her-Face? They get more attention in the show because AMC wanted 16 episodes per-season at 44 minutes each. If they had to meet a quota, then the writers could have, you know, actually tried instead of add more padding than an adult diaper.

Going into Shell (2017) I knew it would not be the same animal as the anime(s). With cartoons, especially those from Japan, there is a lot you cannot do in live-action. You have 90 minutes to entertain an audience and make spending their time and money feel worth it. With the Shell live action movie, there was no way we would get the same glorious violence, long digressions on philosophy and politics, or the same complex crime-drama narrative with many layers and details. Anime itself is not your typical medium and especially difficult to translate into live-action. I cannot fathom what Gurren Lagann or Kill la Kill would look like with real people.

Ignoring the source material completely, Shell (2017) is just fine. It is not terrible or mediocre, but it is not good either. Honestly, the only reason to see it is if you are a fan or you want to see Johansson in a latex body condom. There are not enough good things to make it worth the full price of admission.

Let us start with the good.

The film looks great. Every scene is full of cool stuff that was also very well shot. Even the cheap CG was tolerable because there are plenty of real things that you can almost reach out and touch. Batou’s eyes, the anachronistic cars, and make-up on a lot of the actors were such a breath of fresh air. The sets were also exemplary where they seemed lived in and fit the world. You could believe such a place exists and the advanced technology was a part of it despite the overwhelming squalor. Thanks to the directing, the aesthetics are not just background details. You are meant to see everything and immerse yourself rather than overlook them as simple visuals. It is a shame the set pieces have more substance than the rest of the film.

Story moments, scenes, and the dialog just happen. There is no real feeling or life behind it. A character will say something and it does not mean anything beyond the obvious. Then a scene pops up that does not serve much of a purpose before the start of the next. The same can be said for certain plot points like Major coming to terms with who and what she is. Unlike Suicide Squad, there is at least more to the movie, but the idea that the protagonist having an existential crisis felt meaningless is not good. If you want to feel invested, you need substance and Shell (2017) has none.

This is likely a side effect of the adaptation process, which took the Walking Dead route. Rather than build up worthless crap, the movie takes from every version of Shell and mashes it together. Not only does it adapt the movie from ’95, it takes from all the other incarnations except Arise. Kuze from 2nd Gig was the villain, Coroner Haraway and the killer gynoids from Innocence show up, and the shut down of Section 9 from the first season for Stand Alone Complex happens at the climax. There are also scenes from the ’95 movie that are straight up live action reshoots.

I imagine the point was to adapt the Shell property as a whole instead of a fraction. For whatever reason I cannot discern and it negatively affects the film. Instead of making the iconic spider-tank feel like another part of the world, it is a prop that was set up in the beginning before it comes back in the end. About two minutes later it is gone after a lackluster action scene. The sniper helicopter from the original comes in shortly thereafter, followed by Saito, who never got an introduction. Both of these elements simply appear, but instead of feeling natural, they come in at the very end because it happened in the first movie.

By trying to appeal to fans that have been waiting a decade for a live action adaptation (I wasn’t), Shell (2017) tries too hard. Yes, we fans like all the cool stuff in the shows and films, but it had meaning and a point. It was done with finesse because the shows and movies were simply being themselves. That cool stuff we liked only became cool because we said it was afterward. Rather than become its own animal, Shell (2017) willingly tethers itself to the source material without regard for its own identity. It is exactly what happened to Rogue One.

I could go on about the flaws in the adaptation process, but as I said before, Ghost in the Shell (2017) was just fine for what it is. There is certainly a chuck of good to be had, but not enough that I would give a full recommendation. It is worth a watch for the price of a matinee or a rental when the time comes. However, if you want too see a better version of the film, the original ’95 one is perfect.



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