Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Major's the first of her kind.
It's cold and snowy, so that signifies it's roughly the season of giving - as though that's something that should only happen one time of the year right? Followers of this site will already know that I'm not big on Christmas movies, but love doing side-line things that I pawn off as "holiday spirit" - like Die Hard. Well, this time around, we are gonna push our giving spirit by giving Ghost in the Shell a chance. I'm inclined to think I'll like this one - largely because it wasn't met with a whole lot of positive input from most the sources I would hear about it from which tells me chances are it'll be fun. Let's ignore out the outcries for a little bit and boot up our augments for some cybernetic fun and see if this one's the good cop or bad cop.
Start it off - we'll get into the adaptation stuff later. I've seen a bunch of Stand Alone Complex, the first two movies, as well as all but on of the newer movies/series (whatever you'd like to refer to the Arise batch as). For the main gruff of the review bits though, we aren't going to care about this. It's a movie, and we are going to look at it as a movie - does it entertain? Does it look good? Does it have fun characters? These are all things that can exist despite it being a carbon copy or title only draw, and I don't care about things like "Scarlett's not Japanese!" because it has no bearing on my enjoyment of the movie as a movie. I'm hear to be entertained, and although that might not be asking much there are movies out there that can fail to do that - so it's not like everything gets a pass just because.
Effect-wise, this movie is largely a stunner. Holograms and robotic parts (or full on robots) all look great, but the costumes and props all like to keep touch on that base. There's a good mix of CG and practical here - even though most probably won't tell the difference between the two every time it's on screen. Characters all have their own distinct looks, so you never have an issue with telling just whose who visually - something that plenty of movies can have issues with. Some of that is due to the cybernetic augments, for sure - it's hard to mistake a dude with little lens-eyes from a dude with a big metal chin for example - but it also boils down to things as simple as hairstyles. This doesn't even take into account some of the other pleasing effects - such as the optic camouflage, the finale boss, or little details like molded interior car doors to hold a more dangerous gun.
It's not all just eyeball spectacle though. Audio is balanced great, and a good number of the entries on the soundtrack cater to my current musical hankerings. There's also that great little nod to anime of yesteryear like where this film gets it's name and other films such as Akira, where you add in those great vocal notes as well. It allows some of the songs to do the standard thing an sink into the background, but it certainly has some that pop straight into the foreground without resorting to "that one awesome 80's rock anthem" or "annoyingly upbeat super-popular pop song number 3." Actors also do a good job with line delivery, although honestly I do find the choice of having a single character talk Japanese and being subtitled to be a bit strange. It doesn't bother me, and it doesn't seem totally unnecessary, but it also doesn't add anything to the character unless a watcher really feels like digging into it.
On the subject of actors though, I have to admit there was a time or two where our main comes off a little dry - although I question how much of that is a bad thing in this case. It's very fitting of the character to be that stable flat-line of emotion and have such dry deliveries, but it's also something where it can be made to feel less well done when there are scenes where that emotional undertone can come through much nicer. Despite that, the actors do a great job of their roles, with some little banter here and there to help move their character along - although largely the Section 9 crew are left on the wayside beyond our main and her main partner as well as their boss. Considering he's at times the equivalent of an acting Microsoft Sam, they do a good job with our proposed villain as well, allowing him a nice range of emotion in a more precise package than we receive from our main.
Our plot offers up a good chunk of things for the thought-inclined to dive into as well. Some moral quandaries, some self-though, and even some owning up to your own responsibilities for your actions are spattered about in there. Some is much less blunt and in your face than others - if you walk away from this without noting that "what's it mean to be human" thread or the "I'm different" thread than you probably saw a different movie. It's also not all straight-up action, and gives you some of those quiet moments to catch your breath - while usually keeping it low-key that it's probably something to tie into the story later on ala most good mystery flicks where they drop you those little breadcrumbs. Of course, the action is still there to keep me happy, with some nice little gunfights and some fancy fisticuffs to round it off. They aren't generally all that drawn out, and in honesty some of them could have benefited a little bit from some cleanup and a bit brighter lighting in my opinion, but largely it feels like it's avoiding chopping all the action scenes to the point or nausea.
Now, as I said, we can get to the adaptation part. This honestly doesn't feel that off from what I recall in all those things I've listed before. It certainly isn't a straight lift of the first movie, and incorporates a bunch of little things here and there while putting it's own spin on others. It's well enough in my opinion that it keeps in following with a lot of the thought-points, and it does give me some scenes that are pretty darn close to a concise version of scenes I saw in all those anime, but largely the scenes allow themselves to do their own thing - which is nice, because I've already seen the original Ghost in the Shell movie, and if I wanted to see it I'd just go and watch that. There are some bits that are toned down - like you won't be finding any nipples floating about exposed on ladies in this one - and some bits that somehow don't feel quite as meaty as they did when animated (like the finale), but largely I don't feel that any of this is a guaranteed bad thing.
When it comes to it, I enjoyed this. It hit all the main points I expected out of this movie, and wasn't nearly as unpleasant as some of the opinions I'd heard made me believe it would be. It works fine as a stand alone (har har) movie for those who know nothing about the already existing material, but also includes some of the things that - at least in my opinion - are the most iconic parts of (in particular) the first movie it's based off of. It's put together from parts that all work well, and outside of a few shots where the effects leave a little to be desired or are otherwise a bit dark, the thing runs like clockwork. Worth a rental for most I'd think, although realize that there are a ton of category tags on this thing - so don't go in expecting full on Arnold-grade action or you'll probably be a bit disapointed in that regard.