I would summarize this movie as a blend of Stand Alone Complex and and an 80's detective movie. It's essentially a stand alone episode you might find in the series with alot more color and the new style that comes with the reboot. In this review I am going to talk of what I think about the first episode of this new GiTS film series, and the direction the reboot is taking.
Ghost in the Shell is not a series that is new to reboots. Almost every other installment in the franchise is in someway a retcon of the original work, or a work based on the original work. Because of this, saying "I like Ghost in the Shell" is no longer a very specific statement, the series is very wide reaching in its themes as well as general content. Although both very well done in my opinion, the stand alone complex series and the original film are almost black and white, not even going into the much different manga. When I heard that GiTS was being rebooted into another installment, and I saw the Major's redesign, right away my hipster sense had activated and I passed it off as another modernized money grab and a waste of time. Luckily for me, my quick judgment was quite off from reality.
You can think of this reboot as somewhat of a prequel to Stand Alone Complex. It has been confirmed both internally and externally that is not the same canon, but they are both very similar in presentation and general state of affairs. Due to this, Arise has much more in common with the cop mystery in episodes of SAC then the film series. That is to say, you will not find existential science fiction philosophy and the deep boots nature of the original film. Arise is done under the pretense of a look at the characters of SAC and what they did before they became the elite unit of Section 9. Arise stars the younger, redesigned Motoko revolves around her solving a mystery around the same time that she first meets Section 9. Significant changes to the Major's character became apparent directly and indirectly. Upon starting this film, the first thing viewers will notice is that the Motoko that stars this movie not only looks younger, she also sounds much younger than her previous iterations. The younger voice and stuff is an obvious hint that Motoko is not as strong or as in control as she was in the other mediums, that she is not quite as mature or dominant as an investigator either. This is the first spin on things that makes Arise stand out from what would basically just be a stand alone episode of SAC. At first I didn't particularly enjoy the more girly Major, but 15 minutes in you accept it as the character dynamic the film under its new direction is going for.
The first episode of Arise's plot is something like this. A Lt. Col who was the leader of a special unit has been blown up by a bot, and oddly enough Motoko is part of this "Unit 501." She goes off trying to solve the case, running into Section 9's Daisuke Amaragi for the first time in the process. In lieu of a typical SAC subplot, things are definitely not as simple as they look on the surface. The Major starts to uncover a huge military conspiracy related to herself in the process of the investigation, and the film visits the recurring theme of Motoko's cyborg issues with that. Not going to go into too much more detail with the plot. The story of Ghost Pain left a good impression on me. It was interesting, short enough, and rife with unexpected plot twists, but not deus ex machinas like in Solid State Society. Although interesting, and interesting from the get go to long term GiTS fans, it really isnt much more than a typical mystery. There are mysteries that go beyond what is typical, we've seen this in other entries of GiTS such as GiTS 2: Innocence. It's not a bad plot by any means, its not even really average considering what the average plot is. I just think that, taken at face value, there are some SAC episodes that are more creative. This is just one part of what Arise is though, its not just about what the story was, but how its executed with this rebuilt style, and that was the best part about Ghost Pain. Ghost Pain felt like a super high budget SAC episode. Everything was colorful, action packed, and generally really cool. I want people to know that Ghost in the Shell has not been dumped down from anything Solid State Society was, so if you think there will be vast infodumps, you will not find them. The action in particular was very good in this installment. Cyborg combat has always been fast and heavy in GiTS series, and the animators took it to town.
Its unfortunate that we saw almost nothing of the rest of Section 9. Ghost Pain basically stars Motoko and only Motoko. Other members of Section 9, even the major ones like Batou and Togusa, their appearances can hardly be called anything but cameos. They offer almost nothing to the overall story, and see no character development at all. There is so little screentime to Batou and Togusa I could not even confirm if there were any changes in their personalities over their original incarnations. You would think that a reboot with an emphasis on redesigned and differently presented characters would have an emphasis on said characters, but that does no occur. All attention is on The Major, and unfortunately this doesn't really work out in the character department. We see some bits of subplot over the Major's tragic past that leads into a complex about her cyborg body, but no this is nothing new to the Ghost in the Shell series. Compared to the character dynamics of the Major you see in the latter parts of 2nd Gig, SSS, and of course the original film, Ghost Pain achieves so little it can hardly hold a candle to them in this category. I however, do keep in mind that theres only so much a 1 hour introduction film can do, so there is some degree of holding out you should have before you start to see these things.
Yoko Kano and Kenji Kawai are out, and the film suffers because of it. No memorable music in this film.
GiTS Arise: Ghost Pain is 7/10 introduction to this new GiTS series. Great action, a good story, and alright characters await new and old Ghost in the Shell fans who watch this rather shiny but not superficial entry. I am looking forward to the next film in the series and have high expectations.