First, I’d like to say I am a big Ghost in the Shell fan. I’ve watched all the movies and shows, and read the manga. Its probably my favorite anime. So I would like to note that I am very familiar with the source material before getting into my review, because it seems a lot of people are nitpicking over stupid shit (imo), like the casting/whitewashing (which I am not going to even bother addressing, that’s a whole other conversation), when they have maybe seen the original once however many years ago.
Also, lot of people are bashing it for not being a perfect copy of the original, even though from day one of the first trailer it seemed to be pretty clear it never was going to be. My thought is this: You want the original? Go watch the original. Seriously. Its such a good movie and deserves to be appreciated, but its still pretty niche. As much as I would have loved for this to be a shot for shot recreation of the original, I had to come to terms that it wasn’t going to happen.
So with that in mind, I went into the movie without those expectations and decided to watch it for what it is.
“All things change in a dynamic environment. Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you.” - The Puppet Master
The quote by The Puppet Master rings true, in my opinion, especially in regards to the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole. Throughout the life of the franchise, we are always being presented with something new. Although the Arise reboot wasn’t as well received as Stand Alone Complex, it showed the story and characters in a new light, and I feel that’s what this movie does as well.
The weakest thing about this movie is the story - both in plot and characters. The backstories and other details about the main characters are different, which didn’t bother me too much.
In just about every iteration of Ghost in the Shell, they have the same cast, but are all different to some degree. The character of The Major/Kusanagi has varied across the different versions, especially personality wise. In the manga, she was very upbeat and sometimes mischievous. The original movie removed a lot of that to make her more robotic like. And in Stand Alone Complex, she was somewhat a mixture of the previous two. So I simply viewed this as just another version. There are a few other elements to the character in this movie that serve as plot points, but I don’t want to spoil it.
They changed a few things with Batou as well, such as the reason for his eyes - he receives the upgrade in the movie whereas in all other versions he got them from his time serving in the Rangers before Section 9. Aramaki was pretty badass as Beat Takeshi really nailed the IDGAF attitude. There was one scene where he is being reprimanded by the CEO of Hanka and takes it, then coldly reminds the CEO that he doesn’t answer to him. What a G.
The rest of the Section 9 team really wasn’t given much screen time. Even though we are shown the whole team, only a few of their names are even mentioned or given dialogue. They could have definitely had more character development, but it might be hard to fit such a large cast within the movie’s run time, much like an Avengers movie that has to balance how many minutes each character gets. I could see them expanding to more character development in a sequel. But even then, the original film hardly utilized Section 9's full roster anyway. It wasn’t until Stand Alone Complex that we really get some insight into the supporting cast. And there were some cool episodes that really let those characters shine, like the episode where Saito tells the story of how he met The Major, or when Pazu was framed for murder by someone wearing the same face as his.
I wouldn’t say it was a bad story either, just not the kind of story you would expect to be in Ghost in the Shell. There really aren’t any of the philosophical musings or metaphors touched on like there are in the previous movies and shows, it definitely is dumbed down a bit for a more general audience. There are a few moments that touch on the themes of individuality and reality that are seen in the original, but they aren’t really explored in depth. For hardcore fans looking for this kind of thing, it can be a let down. For general audiences who are experiencing this franchise for the first time, I don’t think it will be such an issue. Still, I liked it. Could it have been better? Yes. But its not the kind of bad writing Suicide Squad suffered from. While the story doesn’t really break any molds in storytelling, its still tidy save for one plothole...
How did the garbagemen manage to get their hands on the guns and therm-optic camo???
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Aesthetically, this movie is spot on. They really went through the trouble to bring the world of Ghost in the Shell to life. The city, the cars, the clothes all look like they were taken straight from the source material, I feel. Some of the footage shown in trailers, like the scene when The Major is crossing the street in particular, looked kind of incomplete. They definitely added more details in the special effects for the final movie.
There are quite a few references to the original movies, some more obvious than others (like the basset hound named Gabriel). A handful of iconic scenes were recreated from the first movie, most of which were in the trailer(s). I thought the action scenes were done pretty well along with the CGI. There is decent action spread throughout the movie, especially in the 3rd act, however I don’t know if it will live up to the expectations of the Avengers/MCU crowd who are used to seeing a huge slugfest every movie, because that’s not really what Ghost in the Shell has mainly been about; its a police/political story with a message, with action as a byproduct. The original ghost isn’t always present in this shell, but there are still echoes of it.
I thought the score was a little lacking and I would have liked if they had the original composer Kenji Kawai contribute for a few scenes at least, but I only say that as a fan comparing it to the original. Otherwise, its a non issue.
Overall though, they really stuck close to the source material and I can say I enjoyed it. This is not the best movie we’ll see this year, but it is definitely the best anime adaptation we’ve seen yet.