Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie
In the year 2029 a group of cyborg ex-soldiers has taken numerous hostages in protest of what they see as detrimental changes in Japan's military structure. When the outgunned police struggle to manage the incident, Motoko Kusanagi and her newly-sanctioned and budgeted unit step in, accomplishing with only seven carefully-chosen specialists what 200 officers could not. When the incident takes an unexpected twist, a long-standing problem surfaces again: the Firestarter virus, which can rewrite victims' ghosts with fake memories in order to manipulate their actions. Things get more complicated when the Prime Minister is assassinated in a bombing during a secret meeting. In the ensuing investigation, Motoko and her team turn up not only disturbing implications of shifty business practices involving potentially hundreds of billions of dollars but also a foe of surprising nature. Former members of Section 501 are also involved, as are references to something called Third World – and that does not appear to refer to less developed countries. For Motoko, Batou, and the gang, it is a trial by fire in a sometimes-literal sense, and one which ultimately becomes very personal for Motoko.
20 years ago this month the original Ghost in the Shell movie debuted in theaters, offering what would quickly become the defining animated cyberpunk work. Rather than being an innovator, The New Movie is a workmanlike project which offers a solid but definitely not ground-breaking continuation of the franchise as a whole. It is also a wrap-up for the storyline which has run through the Arise OVA series (or the Alternative Architecture TV series, which is just the five OVAs split into two regular-length episodes each) rather than a stand-alone project. As such, while someone familiar only with earlier installments of the franchise could make at least basic sense of the movie, watching Arise/Alternative Architecture first makes for a much better experience. It is most definitely not fare for franchise newcomers.
Like earlier installments in the franchise, New Movie delivers a complicated plot with all manner of twists and turns, ones which take some mental effort to keep up with. Unlike the earlier OVA episodes (other than the fifth) that the movie spins off from, the revelations and events progress very methodically; viewers who pay careful attention will generally not be left scratching their heads about why things are happening the way they are or how the protagonists are getting from one point to another. That still leaves plenty of room for surprises and twists and does not always mean that all points will be fully laid out to viewers' satisfaction (for instance, the business with the Firestarter virus does not feel like it has been fully and properly resolved at the end of the movie), but it does make for much more cohesive storytelling.
The intricacy and thoughtfulness of the machinations in the movie are a standard feature of the best parts of the franchise, but arguably the juiciest parts of the movie are the interactions between characters. More so than anywhere else in the franchise, Motoko is shown to be proud and acerbic, which results in prickly interactions with Aramaki and other officials in particular and, to a lesser extent, with the members of her team; certainly she does not hesitate to dictate what she expects and verbally slap around anyone who grumbles about it. As much as her subordinates gripe about this, the writing also shows that they clearly grudgingly respect her and, despite what they might say, are not averse to what they have signed on for. After all, this version of Motoko is the most charismatic one yet. Watching Togusa get teased about how he's the only one who isn't a full cyborg makes for the one amusing part which is not associated with how the Logicomas respond to certain things, but even this is rough-edged; neither the team members nor the people they deal with are “nice” people, after all.
One aspect which defined the earlier movies as much as anything else was their deeply philosophical underpinnings. That is somewhat present here, too, albeit in an entirely different fashion. Whereas the first two movies had broader, unified philosophical bases, this movie instead takes a more piecemeal approach. All of the business with false memory implantation, multiple body use, and even at one point exchanging faces opens a wide door for further exploration of earlier themes about what constituted humanity for a cyborg and how personal identity could be defined, but instead the movie aims more for philosophizing about various aspects of advanced technology. When technology advances to the point where it becomes inextricably linked to the human body, what happens to individuals whose cybernetic components become obsolete in such a way that upgrades are functionally impossible? Parallels could be drawn here to workers whose jobs are made obsolete by the advance of technology, but this is a more extreme case, as those on the short end of the stick are left incapable of improving their lot even if they try. It also posits that international boundaries functionally become useless in a world where information exchange rules all, and that conventional law enforcement in that environment might become intractable; in effect, it is suggesting that beyond a certain level of development in information exchange, barbaric principles of “might makes right” might once again become the natural order. These are all interesting notions worthy of further exploration, but Tow Ubukata's script seems more inclined to bring them up as talking points than analyze them fully. (That is not necessarily a bad thing, though, as going overboard on the latter is precisely where the second movie, Innocence, went wrong.)
The technical merits of the OVA episodes were already pretty high, so it should be no surprise that movie is not a substantial jump up from that level. Action scenes, cybernetic actions, and even just normal movements are still richly-animated, to the point of providing many satisfying thrills, and weapon designs, tank designs, cityscapes, and rooms full of tech are as sharp as ever. CG elements are as well-integrated as anything you will see anywhere in anime these days, and quality control is very high; if there is one distinct place where the movie stands above the OVA episodes in a technical sense, it is on this point. Content can get quite graphic, but there is no nudity or sexual content or even anything close to it. Motoko is still as sexy as she's ever been, though.
The techno-dominated musical score by Cornelius is what it is at this point: basically the same sound heard throughout the Arise/Alternative Architecture episodes, so whatever your reaction was to it there, you should have the same reaction to it in the movie. It does hit the tension satisfyingly well in some scenes (especially late one) but has other places where it is largely ineffective. The ending theme is wholly unremarkable and unmemorable.
Only the dubbed version of the movie was available for viewing, so comparisons cannot be made to the subtitled version. Unsurprisingly, the cast from the OVA episodes has been fully retained, and for the most part the performances are solid; in a couple of places the delivery is just a little stiff as the voice actors struggle to get the timing right with the lip-synching, but that was only a very minor flaw. Most importantly, the dub further reinforces that Motoko is now Elizabeth Maxwell's role, and she fully owns it. Given that her other major work is pretty limited so far (her only other substantial roles are Bishamon in Noragami and Shaula Gorgan in Soul Eater NOT), this is her career-defining role.
Since this is the 20th anniversary of the original, New Movie does not fail to toss in a couple of shout-outs to the original movie; in fact, its final scene is an almost exact redo of the first scene from the original movie. That is a cool nod to longtime fans, but even beyond that this retains enough of the spirit of the original that it should be largely satisfying to franchise fans. It does not deliver quite the strong summative impression that the original did – and the less focused philosophy and weaker musical score are largely to blame for that – but is still an effective balance of cerebral content and intense sci fi action.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : n/a
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C+
+ Well-animated, high-concept, excels at action, intricacy of plotting, and developing Motoko as a character.
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