Initiate remake rant number 845.19-6. Preload indignation filter. Snark factor, seven. Execute.
I’ve tried not to be so hard on this ridiculous plague of remakes, reboots and reimaginings that has made the 21st century one of the most uninspired in terms of mass-market entertainment. We’re currently swimming in a very shallow gene pool where every movie feels like it birthed from parents who were first cousins. “Ghost in the Shell” shares the same creative DNA as “Watchmen” or the live action “Beauty and the Beast”—all adaptations with lots of polish but lack anything separating them from source material.
The movie, like the robotic main character, struggles to answer the same question: Why do I exist? “Ghost in the Shell” is the live-action remake of a 22-year-old anime movie, which was a major influence on science fiction and action cinema. As a huge anime film fan, I am familiar with the original. It’s the kind of groundbreaking visual feast that feels somewhat sullied by two decades of being so heavily leaned upon. The live-action remake feels antiquated because so many of its themes have been used so often. Since the movie is so reverent to the source material and makes so few distinct choices, it feels utterly pointless.
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a unique android/human hybrid—the mind of a person in a robotic “shell.” She is perfect in many ways: faster, stronger, intelligent, and possessing some lethal tactical skills. Yet, there are lingering issues with her since achieving singularity. Echoes of her past life create hallucinations. These memories are suppressed by chemical treatments and deletion through her handler and creator, Doctor Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). When not dealing with past echoes and a two-terabyte identity crisis, Major spends time working with Section 9, tasked with taking down cyber terrorists.
Kuze (Michael Pitt) is a mysterious cloaked figure who causes mayhem across the city. Major and her team of action-packed asskickers deal with threats both human and hybrid, as much of the population has taken to augmenting themselves with cybernetic enhancements. As they hunt down Kuze, Major begins to uncover a conspiracy involving the robotics company that helped save her life and transport her consciousness into a super-hot robot body.
There are still things I love about the core story which seem more poignant in our current pre-robotic takeover state. The idea that humanity would begin to augment their bodies with cybernetic implants feels very salient. As robotics pioneers and billionaires push the boundaries of artificial intelligence, driverless cars and a robotic workforce, the themes of “Ghost in the Shell” seem prophetic. Just read an interview with Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and try not to shudder at the robotic world we haplessly veer toward inhabiting. The story feels much closer to science fact than science fiction.
There’s also some impressive design in the film. The city is a neo-noir nightmare of neon. Skyscraper-sized holograms advertise products overlapping one another in a grotesque three-dimensional melange of corporate marketing; it feels like the love child of Madison Avenue and Godzilla. The robots and augmented humans living in the city are equally well-conceived. There’s a nice blend of inspired design, from great to grotesque. It’s a fully realized world and seemingly more real than other computer-fabricated locales.
However, there are some really bad choices that make the movie feel kind of silly. Most notably, the hair. I can’t recall a movie review I’ve written referencing hairstyles, but “Ghost in the Shell” warrants a mention. Anime films and Eastern art often feature the kind of crazy coifs that feel cool in animated form. When brought into the real world, the cool spiky platinum hairstyle of a character doesn’t look as much badass as just plain “ass.” I caught myself snickering a few times.
To adapt a popular film into a different medium means avoiding a copy/paste of the original—but that didn’t happen with “Ghost in the Shell.” So what exactly is the point of the creative endeavor? I’m assuming it’s financial because I can’t find a good reason to adapt a movie if there’s nothing really new added to the final product. It’s the same with Gus Van Sant’s pointless “Psycho” remake. The live-action movie does nothing to improve on or differentiate itself from the original in a dramatic way.