I’m sort of curious why Dreamworks even wanted to pay for the rights to make a Ghost in the Shell movie if they weren’t particularly interested in doing anything with the property they acquired. They seemed interested in making a cyberpunk movie, a cyberpunk movie about a badass lady android with some identity issues. I’m pretty sure you could just make an original one of those, no one owns cyberpunk or androids. If you’re going to pay for a beloved property you could try and tell a story they’ve already told, or at the very least not one that’s just like one they’ve told but much simpler and with a healthy dose of cliche. I don’t understand why you would buy a Japanese franchise and decide that you only want the Japanese-ness to be set dressing. If this was an original property it would be a dull movie with a draggy second act; as Ghost in the Shell it’s a colossal failure.
For the movie adaptation they decided to make Ghost in the Shell an awful lot like Blade II. The Major is the first of her kind and her special forces team needs to take out a mysterious terrorist who turns out to be a failed attempt to create the same thing that The Major is. if you replace “terrorist” with “vampire” and “The Major” with “Blade” that is a perfectly apt description of Blade II. I happen to believe that Blade II is a terribly under-appreciated movie; it isn’t because it has the world’s most compelling plot. In things it does worse than Blade II the bad guy i always talking about having his own neural network and there’s a location with a bunch of what look like religious types plugged in to some machines but they never even attempt to define any of that stuff. It appears to be an artifact from when the plot more closely resembled the animated movie from the 90s and they didn’t want to throw away any of the imagery.
There’s some fantastic visual design in this movie. The city sequences look a little like Blade Runner turned way way up. There are these recurring holographic fish through the advertising in the movie, and there’s a certain sense of high tech whimsy inherent in seeing insubstantial fish float all over the place. There’s a sequence where the robot design becomes absolutely chilling as a robot clearly designed to appear normal and non-threatening becomes less and less tethered to human form as it experiences more and more distress, showing off the horror of inhumanity. I also enjoyed the cloaking device effect when they let it shimmer and fade and much less when it felt like an excuse to not actually film some action sequence or another. It’s also an exceptionally well scored movie if you’re as into this vaguely pulsating cyberpunk-style of music as I am.
None of this is super important though, because the biggest problem with Ghost in the Shell is that it’s profoundly racist. The central plot is all about how to make the next step in human evolution the brains have to be taken out of Japanese people and put in to more perfect robotic bodies, robotic bodies that happen to be Caucasian. Despite taking place in a clearly Asian city (filmed in Hong Kong but seemingly trying to invoke Tokyo) none of the starring roles are played by Asian people. There are two Asians in Section Nine but neither has an incredible number of lines. The evil corporation is seemingly exclusively staffed by white people. It’s like Dreamworks wanted the Japaneseness of the story but didn’t want to use any Japanese people as anything but small parts and set dressing. Asian writing can be in the background, Asian people can be the majority of the extras, but if anyone needs to do a bunch of talking this movie would just prefer if they were white.
Ghost in the Shell would be a bad movie even if it had perfect racial politics, but instead it gets dragged down in to being a dreadful slog of a movie. It’s poorly paced, the action sequences run hot and cold, and there’s just too much unexplained nonsense to let the movie work even at all. This is a movie that will look great on the resume of a visual effects artist and everyone else will spend the rest of their careers trying to gloss over it. Ghost in the Shell is a lousy movie and a repugnant adaptation of a beloved property.