“Ghost in the Shell” (2017) is not a movie for fans of the 1995 anime film, adapted from the manga of the same name, but that doesn’t mean that it’s poorly made either. There’s still the Major, Bateau and Section 9 chasing some rogue intelligence, but these elements all serve a different purpose. They provide clear structure over a thematic, conceptually driven experience.
The original “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) is a film where the characters and plot structure inform its exploration of alienation and loss of humanity. The action scenes and dialogue do come off a bit stiff in comparison with its 2017 counterpart. But more than the remake, “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) has quiet, introspective scenes of characters just walking or being out in its world. The power of this film comes from seeing its claustrophobic slums, gleaming corporate spires and the Major’s somber eyes. The Major gets more screen time than the other characters, but not because the film is all about her story. Her personal struggle is less important than how it represents the film’s ideas.
The purpose of the 1995 adaptation is about trying to reconcile one’s humanity in an ever more computerized age. It isn’t interested in clear answers. Can an augmented person be truly human? What is the line between human and machine? What if humanity can be found in something completely synthetic?
The 2017 remake, however, is all about the Major. It recreates many of the 1996 adaptation’s iconic visuals, but rearranges them to serve the Major’s search for her true self. It feels quite similar to a superhero origin story. Within the first 20 minutes, the film’s pieces are all in play to move into the second and third act. The Major is created. We see her out on a mission. An antagonist is introduced. The Major is told lies. And the movie spends the rest of its time tying this all up neatly.
To be fair to the 2017 version, some of the bigger ideas still bubble underneath. In one scene the Major asks a prostitute she’s hired to remove the mask she’s wearing. The Major then traces the curves of the woman’s actual face. Here we see the Major (a cyborg) trying to remember the warmth of a real face, a real human. But this is one of the only times this version indulges its larger ideas. And no amount of the succinct narrative, rich cyber-punk aesthetic and fun of Takeshi Kitano can make up for the departure from its predecessor.
“Ghost in the Shell” (2017) misses the point of “Ghost in the Shell.” It is a competent, well made movie that feels triumphant at its the end, but is a ghost of its former self. It is a reflection of business in Hollywood, when it needs to be a reflection of our fears in the digital age.