Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

This isn’t an art film when it absolutely could and should be.

I deliberately didn’t re-watch the original before seeing this to avoid just comparing them instead of experiencing this one in its own right. I’m still pretty sure this is inferior in ways it didn’t need to be – and the evidence is within this movie alone. Visually, this is pretty amazing, in a Blade-Runner-meets-Fifth-Element kinda way – and the fact that the technology is at the point where a live-action film can match anime in aesthetics and effects is only outdone in impressiveness by how much of this is practical (like the Major’s skin suit, and the geisha… oh lord the geisha. WETA workshop posted some behind-the-scenes video of these which I highly recommend checking out).

Whitewashing aside (except to say: that issue is addressed in fingernail-scrapingly tone-deaf fashion within the movie itself), what keeps this movie from being a classic, apart from the fact it doesn’t innovate but instead builds on the back of innovative movies, is that it isn’t an art film when it absolutely could and should be. The original English dub’s dialogue lacked sophistication to match on any level the sumptuous visuals or interesting themes. This version takes things another step down: it’s inherited the themes of its predecessor, but clearly doesn’t know what to do with them. Instead of an exploration of subjectivity in a world where technology has rendered humanity, identity, gender and even race (nudge, wink) customisable and cosmetic, the film chases and finds its ultimate resolution in some ironically conventional ideas about love, friendship and morality.

This movie should just be weird. Funnily enough, the most Hollywood thing about this version is the whitewashing not of the Major, but of the script.

ScarJo can play weird art house movie alien (see Under The Skin), but her performance here is pretty narrow in range. We should be searching the Major’s face for signs of humanity, and feel many kinds of uncomfortable with what we find there (in the anime, this was achieved in part by giving her piercing eyes which never blink). But, between the dialogue and the film’s twee affirmations of family and friendship, there’s no room to get alien (or even Replicant), no exploration of subjectivity (much less abjectivity). And it’s a real shame, coz they nailed the hardest part (the visuals) and created a world – and a foundation – solid enough to sustain more experimental, exploratory storytelling than what we get here.

Here’s Nerdwriter‘s deconstruction of this adaptation, right down to choices in lighting and composition: