It’s a question we ask time and again: Why does Hollywood insist on revisiting, and often ruining, the classics? It’s certainly a pertinent question when it comes to Ghost In The Shell, because while Scarlett Johansson and co don’t quite ruin it, they certainly leave you wondering just what the point of such a controversial remake was.
Set in the not-too-distant future where cybernetic enhancements to the human body are the norm, Ghost In The Shell follows the exploits of Section 9, a special counter-cyberterrorism task force led by The Major (Johansson). Born human, she’s now fully cyborg after her human body was damaged beyond repair in a terrible accident. Cue a very familiar Westworld vibe as we watch her brain being inserted into a cybernetic body.
Section 9 faces a new threat in the shape of Kuze (Michael Pitt), who’s out to take down Hanka Robotics. It’s up to The Major and her team to
explore her convoluted and revamped origin story take out Kuze before he kills more people.
First off – this live-action remake of the Japanese science fiction classic by Masamune Shirow is visually stunning. The backdrop is the equivalent of Hong Kong/Tokyo on steroids, complete with colourful, larger-than-life holograms. It feels like Blade Runner‘s millenial grandson, minus the mist and noirish feel, and there is an uneasy sense that such a world isn’t too far away in real life.
While some sequences are lifted directly from the original anime, the action is decent at best. There’s nothing to wow audiences the way the fight sequences in The Matrix (1999) – which happily ripped off the original GITS, by the way – did all those years ago, even as it explored complex themes in a way that was accessible to the audience.
But perhaps the greatest failing of Ghost In The Shell is that the complexity of the themes it purports to explore – what is the soul? is the sum total of our identity a collection of ones and zeros? – simply does not come through. Other sci-fi shows have done a far better job of exploring these issues, whether Westworld, Battlestar Galactica and, dare I say it, the original GITS.
The original GITS was, to use the well-worn cliche, cool on so many levels, with ideas that were still fresh at the time. The cyberpunk vibe, the notion of transferring your consciousness to a machine, the idea that a person could transcend human existence. Many of these ideas are lost in the remake, which ends up being a by-the-numbers kind of action movie.
There is also a significant – and eye-rolling – revision of The Major’s origin story, presumably to justify why she now looks Caucasian in the remake. ScarJo does her level best, but it’s difficult to feel for her character. Even in animated form, the original Major Motoko Kusanagi was complex and intriguing, with a simmering internal conflict that she was barely able to express. ScarJo, fine actress that she is, struggles to match her.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s Chin Han (check out our interview with him) barely gets 10 minutes of screen team as Togusa, the only fully human member of Section 9. Much of the story is centred on the relationship between The Major and her number two Batou (Pilou Asbaek), but the story could have been well served by exploring more of Togusa’s story and why he chooses not to get enhancements.
All in all, it’s yet another unnecessary Hollywood remake of a timeless classic.
Ghost In The Shell opens in Singapore today. Tell us what you think of the movie!