Yeah this one took a long time to show up, didn’t it? I actually watched the new Ghost in the Shell film months ago, but I never got the chance to review it until now because something more interesting to review would always be around that week. And then the next. And the next. So yeah, I think my lack of enthusiasm gives the whole game away regarding my feelings on Ghost in the Shell: Let’s Give It The Same Title As The Fucking First One Like We’re A Video Game Franchise Reboot.
I didn’t even know there was a new movie coming out until a friend who pays a lot more attention to upcoming stuff informed me of its existence, and then it took another friend to inform me that it was coming out to American theatres for a limited time. Maybe I missed a news segment somewhere, but it just got lost in the anime announcement shuffle and despite the theatre I watched it in being relatively packed, there’s not a whole lot of fanfare about it either. It’s a sequel to the Arise OVAs, which I remember being kind to when I first saw them, but I honestly can’t remember what happened in the things other than it serving as an origin story for Section 9 and that the Major was a whiny prima-donna in her youth. Or at least as whiny as you can be when you’re a cyborg with restrained emotions. Thankfully, the film is stand-alone enough so that you don’t need to see those OVAs, if only because its story is about as non-existent as its reputation.
So after forming the gang of cyborgs along with one token human who never hears the end of his role in this film, Motoko Kusanagi is tasked with stopping a terrorist group led by a female cyborg that looks exactly like her. When her team fails to prevent the death of a powerful figure, the team goes through numerous procedural investigations, pseudo-philosophy, and loyalty tests in their search for the truth regarding who this Major copycat is and how they could possibly take down someone who’s as skilled as the genuine article. It’s basically The Perfect Insider with guns, and there’s only so much explosions can do to snap me out of the fact that everything that happens puts me under an eye-shutting trance. Apparently in the past, Section 9 cyborgs had the ability to induce comas with their robotic voices.
One of Ghost in the Shell’s biggest problems is that its presentation is a chore to get through in order to appreciate its big ideas, because the main characters are all stone-cold professionals with no real flaws and very little personal story. That’s fine when playing a video game like Metroid Prime, especially since nobody actually talks in that series, but in an anime full of dialogue, it feels more like a lecture rather than entertainment. And whilst the new Arise timeline has tried to make the stories more personal, it takes a bit of the Other M approach in regards to characterizing the Major, making her out to be a whiny teenage rebel who somehow has control over a bunch of professionals that complain about the most obvious things (Togusa really doesn’t shut up about being the only human in the group). This aspect is not helped by the fact that the version I watched was dubbed by Funimation and all the voices were different from the Stand Alone Complex series, usually not for the better. Mary Elizabeth Glynn even voices a woman who confronts the Major in an early scene, which just made me wish even more that she had been voicing the latter in this film.
Unfortunately, Ghost in the Shell’s problems go far beyond how the characters behave and into the simple fact that the people behind this Arise thing simply don’t know what to do with them or the universe in general. I’m not kidding around when I say that there is practically nothing in this film you haven’t seen before in any other iteration of the franchise ever. The artificial children? The internal conspiracies? They’re all the fucking same stuff from the other adaptations! Why exactly would I want to see the same thing – even if it’s good – repeat itself over and over again with each installation? You know why the new James Bond movie sucked balls? Because it didn’t have a single original thought in its head, hitting every expected beat for the purpose of milking the audience’s wallets rather than because the creators genuinely believed there was more story they could extract from the franchise. I’m not even a fan of Bond or Ghost in the Shell as a whole, and even I can see that they’re going through the same thing Terminator went through after Judgment Day blew our minds.
And it doesn’t even execute its repeated elements very well. Characters bring up problems and then resolve them anticlimactically all over the place, whether they be personal or plot-related, in order to spout more obtuse jargon that never really goes anywhere or contributes to anything. Togusa’s inferiority complex regarding being flesh and blood ends up getting the “angst, what angst” treatment in the final act because he realized himself just how unimportant it was in regards to what was going on and drops it entirely. Just about the only conflict that stays a constant presence is the Major and her team acting against the rules of Section 9 and doing things on their own terms. Okay, it’s a little weird to see that given how even when she no longer abided by Section 9’s rules in the less popular movie iterations of the franchise, she still respected them, but that could lead to some unique takes on the GiTS mythos if done well. But what I wanted from that conflict is the same thing I wanted from every other conflict that was brought up in this movie: some fucking payoff!
It’s been a while since I’ve seen this film so I don’t quite remember the exact details – and even if I did, Ghost in the Shell is bloody hard to take in in one go anyways – but I do remember that after so much talking up regarding the false Major’s skills, she gets defeated with a plan that was executed with as much enthusiasm as a routine office job and nobody cares about her after she’s gone. And then after that, the Major shows up at Section 9’s office to reaffirm that she doesn’t play by their rules, even though she needed their cooperation to take down the terrorists in the first place, before re-enacting the opening scene of the first movie so that we can get a cool transition to the end credits. So in other words, aside from a few people we don’t really care about being dead, nothing consequential happened in this film. Nobody grew up. Nobody learned anything. The audience sure as hell didn’t learn anything new. And our leads just get to continue doing whatever they want, just like how they started.
You know what I say? I say screw this Arise revival, fuck the live-action film, re-release Stand Alone Complex and 2nd Gig on Blu-ray, and let this franchise jump off a building like the Major, only it doesn’t survive the fall. Then maybe we can move on to reviving something that actually could benefit from a revival. Like Bubblegum Crisis. Or Kimba the White Lion.