It’s rare that I get nervous when I step into a theatre to watch a movie, but this was certainly one of those times. When people hear “adaptation” they tend to jump at the idea that the movie will automatically be terrible. I don’t think I can really blame this thinking either because a lot of adaptations are pretty damn bad. Though adapting from books has garnered a lot of success, adapting from video games and anime have gotten us no good movies. The video game adaptations are like 0 for 40 at this point and the few anime adaptations that were attempted were complete misses. As a fan of anime and as someone who wants to see more of them make it to the big screen I was really rooting for Ghost in the Shell. If this movie was good then maybe studios won’t hesitate to put a reasonable budget into other anime properties. On top of that Ghost in the Shell happens to be one of my favorite anime and I believe the original movie is one of the best animated films of all time. Is it possible for this live action adaptation to stack up with that animated film? Yes, but I didn’t expect it to. I just wanted a good film that maintains the essence of what Ghost in the Shell is.
This film certainly didn’t get off to the best start. I’m not talking about the first scene of the movie either, I’m talking about the controversy with the casting. With claims of whitewashing being pointed at the film I knew it would be rough sledding until it eventually hit theatres. While arguments for both sides of this certainly have validity, I wasn’t going to be deterred from watching the movie. At the very least I can say that in the end the cast is actually very diverse. But there is also a plot element within the film that will likely make or break the the film if this controversy was something you kept in mind while you were watching. It’s something that I thought was fine, but at the same time something I know other people might hate.
Now the actual beginning of the film didn’t start off that great either. One of the most inconsistent parts of the movie is the script. This was easily the hardest thing to nail down while trying to adapt this property. This is a story that has a cyborg who delves into philosophy about identity and existence. It’s not an easy thing to pull off without confusing your audience. The dialogue at the beginning of the film felt too on the nose. It’s like the screenwriter felt the need to hold your hand while introducing you to the world. It made the dialogue come across completely unnatural. As an introduction, this was pretty bad.
That doesn’t mean the entire movie was bad though. Around the 2nd act is where the movie starts to hit its stride with its writing. While it never tries to delve as deep into the themes as the movie it’s based on, it retains those themes as central points of the film. I was actually shocked that it didn’t turn into a generic action movie. Actually, a lot of people have said that the lack of action was a negative. I disagree there completely. While I don’t hold adaptations to be too much like their source, in essence Ghost in the Shell is way less about the action than it is about these themes.
To carry these these themes you need good characters, and I thought the cast in Ghost in the Shell was solid. A lot of the cast retain their original motivations and quirks. The Major is still questioning her existence and feels very disconnected from the world around her. Batou is pretty much completely ripped from the anime. They even kept his obsession with basset hounds in the movie. He’s the most faithfully adapted character of the bunch. Aramaki is still the badass old guy in charge of section 9. Kuze is the most interesting of the characters though. Coming into the film I thought the villain was going to be the Puppet Master (the antagonist from the original anime film), but Kuze is more of an amalgamation of several villains of the franchise. He’s actually pretty cool because he’s able to blur the lines a bit between good and evil, though they don’t really push that idea far enough.
Something that definitely needs to be mentioned is the cinematography. Holy crap is this movie shot beautifully. Even the people who believe this movie is a pile of shit will tell you how visually stunning it is. That isn’t just because of the CG either, the shots are fantastic. It’s so easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and the world that was created here. It also looked like during the story boarding for the movie they decided to copy and paste exact scenes from the anime into this live action film. While the context of each of these scenes are different, they were translated flawlessly. I have to hand it to them for being able to do with so much success.
In regards to the world elements of Ghost in the Shell, there are going to be a lot of things that look similar to other sci-fi movies of the past. A lot of those movies were actually heavily inspired by Ghost in the Shell though. It’s easy to see how someone who isn’t familiar with this property could say it’s trying to rip off of movies like The Matrix. That movie was just fortunate enough to make it to the big screen way earlier than Ghost in the Shell.
The score also really surprised me. There were definitely some inspired tracks that really felt like music that should be used in this type of movie. The combination of Clint Mansell (The Fountain, Black Swan, Mass Effect 3) and Lorne Balfe (The Lego Batman Movie, Crysis 2, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations) proved to be exactly what the film needed. They channeled some magic from Kenji Kawai (composer for the 1995 film) and even played the original “Making of a Cyborg” as the song that plays during the end credits.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell landed up being a pretty solid film. It definitely had a rough start, but as the movie progressed it got better. From a technical stand point it’s fantastic and the acting was also solid all around. The writing is a bit inconsistent, but managed to retain the qualities that made it Ghost in the Shell. I get the feeling that if they had a better screenwriter they could have made something special here, but i’m fine with it being just good. Despite what’s looking to be a big box office flop I think this movie was a success. It proved that an anime adaptation can work.
Ghost in the Shell gets a 75/100