By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The live-action Hollywood “remake” of Ghost in the Shell (GitS) hardly succeeds in waxing the philosophical from Masamune Shirow’s manga or the anime directed by Mamoru Oshii. While I knew these ideas will be the farthest thing the hive mind planned for the Western adaptation, I secretly hoped for some redemption. A few scenes from the anime were nicely recreated in live-action format, but I wanted more substance than style, to which this film had in abundance. When this movie is partially shot with Alexa 6K (65mm) cameras, I’m hoping the National Geographic IMAX theatre in my hometown gets it during this film’s second run at theatres so I can see this movie proper on a square screen.
While I did not expect much of the Frankenstein-style discourse to exist throughout the film, there were a few moments Major (Scarlett Johansson) tries to understand who she is, why she was created and where her “ghost” comes from. This actress basically got a chance to play a different kind of Black Widow, a person stripped of her identity to become a professional hit-man (woman) and not have “family” to worry about. When she’s the main character, at least fans of this actress got what they wanted instead of waiting for a Marvel Comics Entertainment version.
In this film, she’s a cyborg woman-in-arms and the closest person she comes to care about is her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk is solid in this role). He can hold his own in a fight and together, they work for Section 9, a counter-terrorism organization led by Aramaki (beautifully underplayed by Takeshi Kitano). Much of this film has the team looking for a terrorist. After an assassination attempt to rid key scientists and members from Hanka Robotics, this special ops group eventually have to track down Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who is loosely based on the Puppet Master villain from the 1995 film.
I hoped this movie was more of a faithful recreation of film that started it all. I do not mind a copycat product just to see more of the gorgeous visuals recreated in live-action, but in true North American fashion, parts of the narrative were re-written. I do not care about the white-washing casting controversy, but rather just hope the treatment of the philosophical material is given the respect it deserves. Johansson most likely looked at the printed material when she was researching the character, but when it came down to filming and what director Rupert Sanders wanted to come across, the gravitas coming from the actress’ portrayal was not always there. This movie felt like a story coming from the Marvel Entertainment machine. Pitch an origin story, pitch what the heroine has learned in order to become what she is and get to the fun stuff with a second film. I suspect a sequel will most likely happen.
After this film, I’m left wondering if Battle Angel Alita will follow along a similar style (the director they got involved has a great track record for it), let alone get made? This other animated property follows along similar lines. Daisuke is a cybernetic expert tinkerer and he finds a battered female cybernetic body to rebuild. Little does he know that by awakening her, this ‘bot slowly begins to remember bits about her past as a hunter-warrior-assassin and seeks “completion.” She was part of a special ops team, and just how she ended in a scrap yard in a post-apocalyptic world is perhaps the ultimate question. While this character finds a rebirth of sorts, I’m wondering how the ideas from one property will translate over to GitS. Major does get a name, but just how it all ties together does require the producers to greenlight a second film to further develop this the background to this killer queen. Just like the song, she’s got to be well versed in etiquette and guaranteed to blow your mind, anytime.
3 Stars out of 5