“How come you’re the one sweating?”
Marvel fans rejoice – Scarlett Johansson has finally got her own superhero film! This isn’t Marvel though, and she isn’t playing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ex-Soviet spy. This time, she’s a terrorist-hunting cyborg.
As with most well funded, star-powered projects of late, Ghost in the Shell has a storied history. GitS first came to life in 1989 as a manga comic, and developed a passionate following six years later with the release of an anime film of the same name. This audience has revelled in lauding the original “masterpiece” in the face of the new adaptation; so selling GitS 2.0 was always going to be a challenge.
Though Rupert Sanders’ live-action adaptation will have less than a shred of the originals’ influence or staying power, GitS 2.0 should have enough to silence its skeptics. Sanders has done an impressive job ensuring he hasn’t made, in his words, a “shitty Hollywood version” of the Japanese classic. He has kept the most transferable properties from the anime, and built a new world in the original’s fluorescent image.
The premise is the same – the human world has upgraded, cyber-enhancements are par for the course and crime has moved online. Government agency Section 9 leads the chase of a dangerous and elusive cyber-terrorist, with cyborg Major (Johansson) leading the charge.
The world is just as immersive, and exceedingly stunning as it has ever been before. Huge, looming Blade Runner-esque advertising animations fight for space on every building, roof and skyline, reflecting the increasingly invasive nature advertising plays in our day-to-day lives. Major and her back-up Batou (Pilou Asbæk) practically shimmer under the flashing lights. Smartphones have been replaced by telepathic communications and wires now feed directly into human bodies, removing any semblance of separation between human and machine. This world frames the action in a tangible future, not too close, but not too far away – even after countless improvements to the human form, people still fill their frames with alcohol and cigarette smoke.
A huge weight sits on GitS’ design team, but they have shouldered it with a quite remarkable aplomb. Masks, jackets, jumpsuits, hair, cars, covers and even teapots have been sculpted with impeccable detail, all fitting in the future-modern world like slices of a billion-piece jigsaw. Humanity’s upgrades sit comfortably on top of their fleshy bodies and Japan’s traditions have been respected and regenerated. These designs, however, have a touch of familiarity – the Wachowski’s may have used Ghost in the Shell for inspiration, but Sanders’ designers certainly watched The Matrix before stepping into 2029 Japan.
Whilst this world has expanded from previous incarnations, Ghost in the Shell’s story has been reduced down to a fine line. Section 9 has grown to hold a smorgasbord of characters, from an English ruffian to a human purist. These characters are kept in two-dimension, with little room afforded to fleshing out these characters beyond role and quirk. The conspiracy being chased takes on a more frenetic pace, with violence amped up in almost every arena – no development drops without bullets to bookend.
These additions, of faces and weapons, leave no space for the any of the wonderfully complex thoughts posed by the original. Philosophical contemplations don’t get bums on seats, and Sanders has been quick to provide a more immediate product for his assumedly less patient audience. Major is afforded little time for thought, but plenty of time to grapple and glare. The depth that enamoured fans to the anime has been sacrificed for quick-hitting action and a bigger chance of bearing a new franchise.
Even before release, talk has been rife about a franchise being born. ScarJo has said that the prospect is “very exciting”, but it’s very real possibility holds Ghost in the Shell back. It misses its depth and lets down its characters in the hope that it’s action-heavy progression will see GitS through.
There should little doubt that it will. Its story is still comparatively intelligent when seen alongside much of the yarn it is competing with, its world of unlimited upgrades is endlessly intriguing and Johansson is well suited to her role. Criticisms of whitewashing aside, though there will rightly be more after audiences see the film, the Hollywood favourite balances her detachment and emotional well – she is just robotic enough.
Devotees to the original anime may not become converts to the Scarlett church, but Sanders has taken a tricky property and made it into something worth caring about. He has kept the anime’s heart, enhanced its aesthetics and taken us on a voyage of discovery past the bright lights.
It’s just a shame that twenty minutes after the lights come up, Marvelites will again be wondering when they’ll see a Black Widow break-out.
Images courtesy of ign, comicbook.com and screenrant respectively.