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Film Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Updated on April 2, 2017

At first, I was thinking this would just be a shot-for-shot remake of the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie. And it does borrow some scenes from that, but it changes the plot significantly. In it, Major (a name, not a title in this) is shown being made and pulled up through the sci-fi goop like in the first movie. They do the "robot geishas turn on their masters and there's a shootout" thing from before. Major tries to "deep dive" into one surviving geisha's memory, to find the identity of the person behind this, but has to pull out when her brain is hacked. There is a lot borrowed from the original, from Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and even a touch of Stand Alone Complex.

But, I didn't feel like the movie was derivative or just copying. It has a new story to tell, a new conflict, a new resolution, and,without giving too much away, it's all a lot more focused on Motoko as an individual and her past.

Plot Summary With Spoilers Below:

In this movie, Motoko was made by people who erased her memory and told her mother she was dead. They implanted false memories in her brain, so she would be motivated to do what they built her to do; fight terrorists. And before their success in making Motoko, the company that made her had terminated numerous failed experiments at implanting human brains into cybernetic bodies, and one such failure escaped and became the apparent Big Bad of the movie. He turns out to be a friend of Motoko's from the past when she had been an anarchist rebel hiding out in slums, protesting technology ruling over everyone's lives. This makes it ironic in a cruel, chilling way that she would then get manipulated into working for The Man.

Note: This "bad guy" is Kuze, who was a member of revolutionary group Individual Eleven in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but in this movie, he takes actions that are similar to those taken by the Puppet Master hacker from the original 90's movie. Thanks, Wikipedia!

The odd thing is, they make sure Section 9 are still the good guys, making the true bad guys the robotics corporation that made and trained Motoko, manipulating her mind to get the results they wanted. After all the dust settles, Motoko is back doing exactly what she started doing, fighting terrorists. Hopefully, this time, she'll be fighting people worth targeting, not more old friends who are simply victims of corrupt corporations.

Themes and Motifs:

Like the original, this film takes place in a "cyberpunk Hong Kong" type city, inspired by the movie Blade Runner (although the book takes place in San Fransisco). It's a city with a globalist, but somewhat grim look to it.

Huge apartment buildings seem to dwarf human individuality. Huge holographic advertisements feature people who are much larger than life, showing how technology has created artificial people as god-like beings who rule over real humans. Like in many works of dystopian science fiction, Ghost in the Shell shows the opulent pleasures of technology as lures for a kind of trap. Society is all shiny on the surface, but that surface hides a grim reality. Similarly, Motoko herself is beautiful, but her past life and the circumstances of her rebirth as a cyborg are dark. This is represented as it is in the original through the idea of the robot geishas going rogue and attacking their master. This scene represents how technological things we enjoy and use for entertainment, like those robot geishas, can turn against us.

Feminism and consent are issues the movie delves into to. The robot geishas and Motoko both represent the concept of liberating oneself from being an object or a tool to be used by others. It's not just a female-focused freedom though, as Batou, Togusa, and Kuze have struggles in life that embody this as well. Togusa for example refuses any kind of cybernetic enhancement, even as Batou gets his cyber eyes to help him do his job better. This shows real tension between the need to adopt technology to survive and the unease we have with letting technology rule us.

The movie ending the way it began could be seen as symbolic too. Does it mean she has been brainwashed and is now complacent with working for The Man, like the ending of 1984? More likely, it simply shows that now that she got her past and identity all sorted out, she can go on fighting crime for her own reasons, not because she is being manipulated or tricked.

What I said to a friend when talking about this movie was, it really shows us how revolutionary Ghost in the Shell was in its 1995. In that time, the movie read more as taking place in the distant future, but now, this movie seems like it could be taking place in 30 seconds. I think everyone should see this movie, because the issues it brings up are becoming more and more relevant than ever.


Review:

I think this is a good movie and people should see it, because I think movies (and other fictional works) that explore the theme of human-computer interaction will be increasingly important to pay attention to as we become more and more integrated with technology in our daily lives.

I was a huge fan of original Ghost in the Shell, both the movies and Stand Alone Complex. I love Motoko, not in a body-pillow or sex-doll way, but in I see her as a real person whose feelings I feel when I watch her. She's like someone I admire, relate to, feel for, and care about so deeply. That's why this movie could have been a disaster for me. Many fans were worried that this movie would not get it right, and I was worried that it would lazily copy the source material so much without saying anything new. But in my opinion, it manages enough clever little nods to the source material and original stories, while maintaining its own separate identity and being an original movie with something new to say.

The original 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie was about Motoko and Puppet Master merging consciousness and her being changed in a profound way by this encounter. The original movie was brooding and introspective and calm, except for a few action scenes. This one was much more fast-paced and fun to look at, kind of more like a prolonged episode of Stand Alone Complex. Some people didn't like this change but I see it as a good thing. I really did like the original movie, but I had a problem with it being a bit too contemplative at times. This movie pulls off what I think is an awesome trick of being nearly every bit as cerebral as the original material and being a more exciting "blockbuster action" movie at the same time. This movie is different than 1995's Ghost in the Shell, but it kept in some of the cleverer things, and I don't think different means worse. Like I said, I think everyone should see this. Everyone will get something out of it they can appreciate.

Rating for Ghost in the Shell: 9/10

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