Ghost in the Shell Part II: Review

A quick guide to the ranking system:

8.5 – 10   : Loved it.
6.5 – 8   : Liked it.
4.5 – 6   : Worth a watch.
2.5 – 4   : Didn’t like it.
0.5 – 2   : Hated it.
0      : Watching paint dry.


Quick information:

Director: Rupert Sanders.
Length: 107 minutes.
Rating: 12A.
Mid-credits scene? No.
After-credits scene? No.

Part II: Review

Warning: this review has spoilers for both the original 1995 anime and new Ghost in the Shell. Read part I for a spoiler-free preview/review!


Originally, I thought about writing this review without going back to watch the original Ghost in the Shell anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii in 1995 – part of it, I think, was just intimidation over how big Ghost in the Shell is. Some of my favorite films, and probably yours too, have been influenced by the series in one way or another. For instance, the Wachowskis apparently made The Matrix by telling producers they wanted to make Ghost in the Shell but “for real.” James Cameron described the original film as “a stunning work of fiction” that reached “a level of literary excellence.” And that’s not all, the list just goes on.


Ultimately, though, I came to my senses and I watched the 1995 movie. While I highly enjoyed it and I certainly recommend it to anyone, watching it was just a suggestion before the new film. For all of its flaws – and there are a fair few – the new Ghost in the Shell is a pretty good entry level movie for the slower paced anime movies and series. And although I think long-time fans will be disappointed that the film chooses to focus more on the action and visuals than the philosophical questions and existential themes in the original, it does introduce the basic ideas of the series – though it doesn’t get further than that – while managing to pull off some breath-taking visuals.


The film starts in a very similar manner to the original, only the first two scenes are switched. Instead of watching Major (Scarlett Johansson) dive quite literally into action, we see an almost shot-for-shot remake of the robotic creation or shelling scene from the original, which delightfully is also accompanied by the iconic Making a Cyborg theme – you can see the anime scene below.


We then jump forward in time to one year after her creation. Major, or Mira Killian, is the first full body cyborg and is a part of the anti-terrorist Section 9. In the particular scene, she dives off a building and makes use of her thermo-optical camouflage to stop a terrorist attack by Kuze (Michael Pitt) whom they only know by name and reputation. Along with the rest of Section 9, including Batou (Pilou Asbæk), Major attempts to find and defeat the enigmatic villain, who is an amalgam of various Ghost in the Shell villains like Puppetmaster and Kuze’s namesake.


Many scenes from the anime movie are faithfully reproduced in the live action film, though they are usually placed in a different context. Apart from the first two scenes, we also see a variation of the garbage truck chase, the shallow water thermo-optical fight, Major diving in the ocean, the spider tank fight, Major laying side by side with Kuze (or Puppetmaster in the original), among others; we also get a nice Cowboy Bebop reference (bang). And though it is a treat to see if you’re a fan, it almost seems as if they tried too hard to fit the plot into recreating those scenes sometimes.


But, visually the film is beautiful. Everything looks to be crafted with extreme care and detail, in a seamless blend of CGI and practical effects; things like the geisha bots and Major’s skeleton are all incredibly detailed props when they could have been CGI. The deep dive scenes also look great. The city itself was similarly detailed as an enormous sprawl of sky scrapers and projected neon billboards, which look amazing in 3D. Overall, it looked an awful lot like Hong Kong, with the circular walkway from Causeway Bay featuring prominently in the third act. And it turns out that it was, and the original anime city was indeed modeled after HK and this movie was partially filmed there as well.


Unfortunately, most of the film does not take place in the gorgeous city, though the little we do see is great. Instead, the main characters only interact in it for a handful of scenes, and when they do, half of it is in broad daylight in what seems to be an uninhabited grey block away from the city center. The depth of the world suffers. In the original, we also receive an amazing three-minute city montage. We don’t get that here, and the city somehow feels empty.


This wouldn’t be an issue if the rest of the film was equally great. But it isn’t.


The dialogue in particular is terrible. Although the concept of implanting a brain into a full body cyborg is not very complicated, we are still constantly reminded of the basic premise. I cannot remember how many times they mentioned “Ghosts” being in “Shells”, because it’s a lot. The rest of the film is equally over explained and it felt like some of the dialogue was just read aloud instead of acted. As a result, it becomes very difficult to separate the dialogue from the performances themselves. One thing that was noticeable, though, was Major’s mechanical walking gait, which was interesting in the context of the character, but still looked awkward.


Most of the characters are not too well developed either. We never really get a feeling of what’s going through Major’s head, and so some decisions seem less driven by character motivation and more by what the plot demands. For instance, after being released by Kuze, she stands by and lets him get away from the chasing Batou – despite the revelation that her memories may be faked, Kuze still did some evil things and probably should have been stopped. Out of all the side characters, Batou was the most well developed, while Togusa (Ng Chin Han) barely featured. Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) had a few cool moments here and there too, especially towards the end where he fought off Cutter’s men with a revolver and subsequently shot off a one liner: “Don’t send a rabbit to do a fox’s job.” Another interesting decision was for Chief Aramaki to only speak Japanese, but that wasn’t too big of a problem.


As for the villains, Kuze was especially strange. It almost felt like they didn’t want to make him a villain, and his reputation of being a formidable terrorist is never really realized. Instead, he is much more sympathetic and it doesn’t feel like he’s capable of what he has done. Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) on the other hand is just bad. He’s basically an evil businessman who only cares about his bottom line; there’s nothing more to him.


On top of that, the film also seems unfocused. It attempts to explore a number of themes, but it doesn’t truly commit to any of them. The original looked deeply at what it means to be human. Major contemplates these questions in that film: she can’t pass on her genes, her entire body may not be unique, her memories can be faked, so what makes her human? And the anime film is done in a way that is intentionally slow-paced, focusing on the philosophical questions at hand rather than the action.


This film, on the other hand, does the opposite. In fact, the second half of the film abandons most of the themes in favor of something more generic. Spurred on by Kuze, who is revealed to be a failed test subject in the same project that created Major, our main character decides to find out more about her past life. She then discovers her real identity as Motoko Kusanagi and meets her real mother. As it turns out, Cutter kidnapped and wiped her memory in order to create a mindless weapon. Section 9 then plots to kill the corrupt Cutter in an act of vengeance and the film ends shortly after they do just that. There is no thematic resolution to questions of belonging or Major’s humanity. With all of that being said, the action in the film is, at the very least, good.


Overall, an interesting and fairly entertaining film, but don’t go in thinking it’ll be a masterpiece: 5.5/10

We’ll be showing Ghost in the Shell at 19:00 in 3D on the 6th and in 2D on the 8th of June; you can get tickets at the door from 18:45. Oh, and if you haven’t already, read part I for a preview of the film.


Thank you for reading! You can find more previews and reviews like this one here! If you have any questions, you can e-mail the cinema at cinema@imperial.ac.uk or me at tkc115@ic.ac.uk. Check out our Twitter and Facebook for more details, or if you don’t have Facebook or Twitter, the Imperial Cinema website’s got all your needs covered!

What kind of photos do turtles take?

Shellfies!

Cinema-blog-ites, courtesy of Tik Kwun Chan. They're emitting high frequency posts that are disabling your reading. You're not going to be running around for quite a while.


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