Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a great movie without a target audience. The plot was a bit too odd for general Sci-Fi audiences, and while that plot fit well in the Final Fantasy 7 & 8 mold, the rest of the film lacked too many Final Fantasy staples for a lot of the fans to be happy with it (ex: no Chocobos, Moogles, or even Magic). And that’s before we even start to mention the uncanny valley issue with the animation. Thus, too few people appreciated the film, and that financial flop nearly bankrupted Squaresoft.
Fortunately, Ghost in the Shell looks to be doing okay over seas, but the critical reception of the film looks very similar to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Their critics’ Rotten Tomatoes ratings are 2 percentage points away from each other. As someone who genuinely enjoyed the film, I’m disappointed by that reception. It looks to me like this is yet another film that has fallen victim to unreasonable expectations.
Those going into the film expecting a cool Sci-Fi action film are instead getting a slower paced contemplation on the question of Self, with sweeping and beautiful cinematography. And while there is some good action, that’s not what drives this film. This isn’t Robocop, like one of the trailers made it look, and people expecting that are going to be disappointed.
On the other hand, those going into the film expecting a live action remake of the Mamoru Oshii Anime film of the same name from 1995… Well, that’s just not what this is either. There are similarities, but they aren’t the same story. I can understand why people would be disappointed, but I honestly feel expecting a live action remake was just an unfortunate and unreasonable expectation to begin with.
The Ghost in the Shell property is more than just that one Anime movie. One need only compare the artwork in the original manga to the 1995 film to see that a significant reimagining took place. There was a TV show called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex that ran for 52 episodes, and took place in its own canon. Then there’s Ghost in the Shell: Arise… Every adaptation of the property has had a significant reimagined take on it.
My point is that expecting a Ghost in the Shell live action adaption to rigidly restrict itself to the content of a single Anime film from 1995… I feel that’s an unreasonable expectation, given that nothing else in the Ghost in the Shell franchise has done that.
I have a similar critique of fans who criticize Man of Steel and Batman V Superman because ‘that’s not the real Superman!’. There’s more than one adaptation of that character. You may not like this adaptation, but there is no singular version of the character that is somehow more real than any other. There have been many different adaptations, and they’re all fiction.
That said, there are significant nostalgic nods in Ghost in the Shell to the fans of the 1995 film, as well as its 2004 sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. In fact, one might even have a similar issue as with Final Fantasy, in that if you have too little experience with the prior content, then you might be missing out on too much to really appreciate this adaptation.
That’s a problem, because while it does provide cool nods to the 1995 and 2004 films, the story is very different, and depending on how much reverence you hold for those films will likely determine how much you appreciate those nods.
A similar situation arose with Batman V Superman, in that the film made a lot of nods to The Dark Knight Returns, but because the film very much was not an adaptation of that comic, true die hard fans were mostly just annoyed by it.
I want to emphasize that personally I like all of these films.
I’d argue that Man of Steel is, at worst, the second best Superman movie ever made. Christopher Reeve was great, but of the 4 movies he was in, only the first was actually great. The second was okay, if you ignore a lot of the ridiculous parts, and 3 & 4 were just bad. We won’t talk about Superman Returns.
Batman V Superman had a few more problems, but I still liked it a lot. Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor was horrendous, but the character was at least written better than in any other live action Superman film. The man quoted the monotheistic conundrum of Theodicy, for Zeus’s sake. That’s nerdgasm levels of awesome.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within came around when my take on Final Fantasy was very Sci-Fi inspired, having only played FF7-9 at that point, so a Sci-Fi Final Fantasy felt totally right to me. Most importantly, though, was that the biggest lesson I’d taken from playing the games was that every Final Fantasy was significantly different from the last. Spirits Within didn’t feel like a radical departure to me.
And finally, I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell a lot. I’m not doing backflips over it, but the direction they went with the plot, honestly, made it a lot easier to follow than the 1995 film. I’m not a fan of dumbing down content to pander to stupid audiences, but I am a fan of making complex content more approachable. I think they walked that line well here. The character of Major was also well portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, which surprised me, since I haven’t been a particular fan of her as Black Widow.
I’m not immune to having unreasonable expectations of my own, though. I didn’t like The Force Awakens because of my over abundant attachment to the old Expanded Universe. I understand the hazards of such expectations, and I suffer from them like anyone else. I just think it’s good to be self-aware of such things.