2017’s Ghost in the Shell is the long-awaited, controversially casted, live-action adaptation of the beloved classic that served as one of the inspirations for The Matrix trilogy. Watching it used to be a “requirement” for any self-proclaimed otaku (along with countless others) and even I watched it once (with mixed results).
Hollywood has earned a bad rep with their anime/video game adaptations, much of it deserved. But Ghost in the Shell tries to be as faithful as possible to the source material, even down to abilities and moves that usually do not transition well from animation to live-action. No question, the movie looks beautiful, though it can look very video-gamey at times. The visual treat of seeing a sort of neo-Tokyo meets Hong Kong skyline with gigantic holograms showing everything from propaganda to product ads is a nice experience.
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This isn’t your usual sci-fi, with questions about existence and identity running as the main themes of the film. But where the original succeeded, the movie fails. The emotional impact of the original is absent, and while the film treats literally the same themes as the original, they don’t have the same effect due to the bad pacing, poor story-telling, and less than stellar script-writing. It was, quite simply, boring. And during the times when it wasn’t boring, it was difficult to follow.
I love Scarlett Johannson, and it pains me to say that while she does a fairly convincing Major Mira Killian (real name, Motoko Kusanagi), her acting is wooden at times. It is hard to relate to her and her problems (or any of the characters in particular) because we weren’t given a chance to bond enough to actually care. At literally the opening scene, we were already given an idea that Mira Killian had a previous identity. So much for explosive expositions. Because the audience already knows that things aren’t what they seem, we pretty much know that things will just unravel late in the movie. No emotional attachments, no surprise, no rising tension. Result: zero fucks when Mira Killian discovers that she’s Motoko Kusanagi and meets her mother. A massive opportunity wasted, and that speaks for the rest of the story.
In closing, Ghost in the Shell is a big disappointment, but not in the way that frothing-in-the-mouth fanboys say it would be. It manages to capture the visuals of the original, and even its basic themes. What it fails to capture is the depth of the story. Its one redeeming factor? The movie would have actually worked as a TV series, where it would have more time for expositions and character development. It is NOT the train-wreck that I feared, but neither is it ‘very good’. An OK movie at best.