In the twenty-eight years since Masamune Shirow first published his manga Ghost In The Shell, this cyberpunk story has been adapted into an animated movie (also called Ghost In The Shell) that inspired a sequel (Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence), an anime TV series (Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex) that got its own movie (Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society), and a second animated series (Ghost In The Shell: Arise) that, of course, had a movie of its own as well (Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie). But what makes the new live action version of Ghost In The Shell unique is not just that it’s the first adaptation that wasn’t drawn (obviously), but how it remixes elements from the animated adaptations into something new and cool.
Set in a not-so-distant future where cybernetic enhancements are the norm, Ghost In The Shell introduces us to The Major (The Avengers‘ Scarlett Johansson), a woman whose entire body, save her brain, was damaged in a terrorist attack and replaced with the latest mechanical parts. As a result, she has super human strength and agility, as well as built-in Wi-Fi, though she still looks completely human. All of which comes in handy now that she’s a member of Section 9, a counter-terrorism squad tasked with fighting cyberterrorism. But when they start chasing after a murderous hacker, and deep dive into his motivations, The Major comes to realize that her life story may have been augmented as well.
Directed by Rupert Sanders, who did a decent job with Snow White And The Huntsman, Ghost In The Shell is an action-packed cyberpunk movie that shares the spirit of the animated movies and TV shows that inspired it. And not just in how this visually-stimulating movie cultivates a similar version of the future as Blade Runner, the Deus Ex games, and The Matrix. Not only does The Major kick ass like, oh, Black Widow in the Marvel movies, but her reasons for doing so make for a smartly crafted action movie. Granted, there are story elements we’ve seen before — What, a corporation did something bad? I’m shock, shocked I tell you. — but it still makes for an interesting reason to watch Johansson kick butt in a cyberpunk world.
That Johansson does this well is no surprise. She’s already shown that she can handle action in The Avengers movies as well as in both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. But she really outdoes herself here, even when she’s physically constrained and has to get creatively acrobatic.
Though it does help that The Major is joined in Ghost In The Shell by a support system that includes sympathetic medical practitioner-slash-mechanic Dr. Ouelet (Godzilla‘s Juliette Binoche), her ever-steady partner Batou (Game Of Thrones‘ Pilou Asbaek), and her Yoda-like boss Aramaki (Battle Royale‘s Beat Takeshi).
That said, this version of Ghost In The Shell does have some flaws. There’s way too much cheesy slo-mo for my tastes, while one rather explosive battle momentarily change this from a smart sci-fi action movie into a big dumb action movie. The movie also isn’t as philosophical as this series sometimes gets, though that’s understandable given that it’s a two-hour-long movie, not a twelve, thirteen-hour-long TV show.
But the biggest issue with Ghost In The Shell is that there are times when the story makes some illogical leaps. One instance is rather spoilery, so I won’t discuss it, but there’s another scene in which The Major spends time with a young woman in such a way that it seems like someone accidentally cut a bit of dialog that would’ve put this interaction in context.
As for how this live action version of Ghost In The Shell compares to previous adaptations of the manga, while it’s my least favorite of the bunch, I still really enjoyed it and found it interesting. In part because it’s a new story set in a world I still find rife with possibility, and in part because, in essence, it’s The Major’s origin story, which is something they’ve not explored as much (though it doesn’t work as an origin story for the character in the mangas or animes).
Ghost In The Shell is also intriguing in how it reuses and remixes pieces of the animes in interesting ways. Though the story is different from anything we’ve seen before, there are times when Sanders took whole scenes from the original anime and repurposed them to fit this movie’s very different plot. The result is not so much a loose remake — this isn’t like what they did with Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Star Trek Into Darkness — but rather like someone filmed a live action version of the original anime’s most iconic scenes, but then completely mixed them up, reworked them, added some new scenes, and concocted a totally new story from this mix of the old and new.
In the end, though, the live action version of Ghost In The Shell isn’t as good as any of the drawn or animated versions of Masamune Shirow iconic saga. But by putting a new but somewhat still familiar twist on this world, essentially remixing what’s been done before, it manages to make a version of this story that stands on its own.