Information is a fascinating thing. By its very definition, it allows us to understand the world around us, as well as ourselves. But information gets tricky when you try and classify its various forms. And it gets even trickier when you try and set boundaries for what those various forms mean to us, in terms of everyday life. Ghost in the Shell, as a franchise, concerns itself with information most specifically insofar as it questions and discusses what kinds of information actually make us who we are.
Is it physical information that defines us, or is it a more nebulous type? Are we defined by the bodies that we live in, or are we defined by the memories that tell us where we've been, who we've known, and what we've experienced? 1995's groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell anime confronts these questions directly and without hesitation, specifically interrogating these ideas against a backdrop in which memory has been externalized and made physical. The importance of memory and its role in defining our humanity is central to Ghost in the Shell, which is what makes this year's live-action adaptation that much more of a bummer.
1995's deep-dive philosophical conversation about what it truly means to be human in an age where technology has not only permeated but fundamentally shifted the definition of humanity has finally made its way to the big screen in the form of a live-action adaptation. It would maybe be a surprise that this property hasn't made its way to the big screen yet, except that it has: piecemeal, in the form of moments, motifs, and ideas in a laundry list of science fiction movies that have come out since the original's release, from AI to The Matrix. So while this year's Ghost in the Shell certainly looks incredible, none of it looks new. In fact, the most visually engaging aspect of the film weren't its incredible colors or fantastic visual effects, but rather seeing iconic moments from the original anime recreated in loving high definition.
Problematically, though, none of those moments are attached to the original film's fascinating plot. 2017's Ghost in the Shell features a mostly-retooled storyline, involving the hunt for a serial killer instead of elite hacker the Puppet Master. ScarJo plays Mira Killian, a person whose soul (or "ghost" — unlike the original, in which context is necessary to understand the film's unique vernacular, 2017's update simply has characters awkwardly say "You soul...your ghost," pretty much any time the idea is brough up) lives in a completely cybernetic body. Having been saved when her brain was all that was left from a terrorist attack that killed her refuge family, Killian works with the government's Section 9 and devotes herself to fighting terrorists. In the meantime, she gets regular maintenance and exposition dumps from her handlers/developers at Anka robotics, the massive corporation responsible for developing her technology.
On the trail of said serial killer, Mira starts to realize that her origins are — surprise, surprise — not at all what they seem. Turns out she wasn't rescued from a terrorist attack, and the real answer is about what you'd expect, only with an added layer of shockingly tone-deaf racial insensitivity that will make ScarJo's casting controversy just pale in comparison. This is more procedural/origin story than it is anything else, with the franchise's deeper themes being paid lip service, but never being properly developed, or discussed in any kind of substantial way. Among the film's numerous missed opportunities is the one change that actually works for the better: rather than having them from the get-go, Ghost in the Shell shows us how Batou gets his iconic cybernetic eyes. The storytelling choice is a smart one, and feeds nicely into the film's themes...except the opportunity to make this happen or dramatize it onscreen is completely missed.
It's a small, but telling example of Ghost in the Shell's central problem: it's just a series of badly-missed opportunities.