The live action Ghost in the Shell has passed on.
I memorialized the occasion of its demise by attending the final screening at my local Alamo Drafthouse. It was a small funeral, but surprisingly well attended for a work night. The guy sitting next to me gave the eulogy. It was short, to the point, but expressed a sentiment I believe every soul in the theater shared.
"Well...I liked it."
Somewhere in the distance, I heard a youtube reviewer's mocking laugh. Or maybe it was the audience watching Boss Baby in the theater next door.
I dunno. So, anyway, why was this movie so unloved?
On second thought, scrap that question. I think its been fairly well covered. I'm not going to get into countering the list of this movie's sins. Let the dead rest in peace, and speak no more ill of them. So let me, as one of the seemingly few who loved this version, extol upon its virtues.
It's a strange time for film. Movies never had such power to bore the shit out of us with overloaded crap. CGI it has made it so easy to create magnificent visions of otherworldly cities teeming with armies fighting to save worlds from being vaporized by big sky lasers tuned to Hans Zimmer bass throbs. So, with that in mind, the grudging respect for this film's visual accomplishments is completely mystifying to me.
I'm not going to get into examples, the images speak for themselves. So let me just justify my love by stating the look and environments of the film impressed me to an extent I no longer thought possible. I was hooked from the first frame, and at no point did I ever get numb to it. Nor did I get Blade Runner flashbacks. The world was so detailed and realized (yes, thanks to the anime) and yet at no point did I feel it was screaming for my attention away from what was happening to the characters.
Film is a visual medium, so why is such a visually stunning film considered shallow for its success at building the world of GITS?
"Characterization and story" comes the response. Well, lets get into that.
I thought Scarlett Johanson did a serviceable job as the Major. She really captured her physicality, especially in her walk and the awkward, doll-like poses. But, lets face it, in the film and the anime the Major is more of a plot device than a character (I'd argue that she is most "human" in the manga, where she is sometimes downright zany). The Major embodies the questions about the nature of life and consciousness, but is not the beating, human heart of the movie. It is not through her "eyes" that we see the effect of this world on humanity. That role goes to her partner Batou, and Pilou Asbeak nailed it.
There has been complaints that ScarJo's Major is not asking the right questions, that her complicated dilemma about the nature of her existence has been reduced to a search for her past. Well, yeah, OK. But I'm totally fine with that. It works for me. Batou is the one who alludes to the bigger themes of the film, and Asbeak delivers what could be clunky dialogue in such a natural, authentic way that I think it may have been overlooked by those who accuse this version of ignoring the themes.
Batou's pivotal role in how the viewer identifies with the GITS characters was made even more apparent to me in a recent re-watch of GITS 2:Innocence. Batou is a hard ass, but we feel his loss, both of of his physical humanity and the spiritual humanity of the Major. Yes, the other characters didn't get much screen time, but the relationship between Batou and the Major is the important one, and the film did it justice. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the boat-scene and the final scene. Yes, as it was in the anime. They were executed differently, but no less successfully.
When Batou asks the Major "if she is still in there" at the end he is addressing the theme of identity, but without the minutes of pontificating the anime is so fond of. It was a question, delivered by someone who cares deeply for his partner and friend.
Of the rest of the Section 9 team, Beat Takeshi's Aramaki and Chin Han's Togusa get the most time, which if you have only seen the original anime, is completely appropriate. It is interesting to note that in Japan ScarJo has been getting good reviews, but Takeshi's Aramaki has been largely panned as too thuggish. Here in the States most reviewers have commented that he is the only relate-able character. Will the mixed reviews, combined with the disparate cultural perceptions of this film serve it over time? Possibly. All I know is that It has created an interesting extra element for me.
OK, about the story. Let me just say one bad thing. I hated how it was so neatly wrapped up at the end with the voiceover. That smacked of a studio concerned us dummies wouldn't' get it. Probably would have been necessary if the the story was lifted from the original or from the manga, but not for this very direct and accessible plot. But I was one of the few (apparently) who didn't want to see a retread of the original plotline. I like how this film could exist as a companion piece to the anime, a version for those who want a more linear, character based storyline. I am happy to have both in this world (the real one I mean).
In some ways the storyline was more comparable to the manga than the original anime was. I am referring to the Major's run from the law. Now the triggering incident was different, but in the end the Major is being chased down by the government she once served. But would the movie have worked if Batou drove her brain to a secure location? I don't know, maybe someone could've pulled that off, but I think the Major's motivations and decision making is more understandable in this version. My point being in the logic of the film the plot and character motivations are clear, a virtue in a film that could have easily been a convoluted mess of "its like Ex-Machina meets Suicide Squad."
So, farewell, GITS. I miss you already. But the net is vast, and I'm sure you will find a home in more hearts over time. I can't say this was the most persuasive defense, I still had things to say that sounded great in my head but couldn't find their way to the keyboard so I welcome a discussion with any supporters or detractors.
One last thing. To those of you who said the bad guy was bland, well, he shot Juliette Binoche just after she pronounced "data" as "day-tah" and he used the certifiably more pretentious pronunciation of "dah-tah". So, in my mind, he was truly a bad dude. But I have a thing about that. Again, like my love for this film, maybe it's just me.