Unlike the previous two “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” films, this isn’t a compilation of television episodes, it’s a film first and foremost, meaning many of the pacing issues present in the previous films aren’t present here.
Like “Individual Eleven”, this film embraces the more action-packed approach, instead of trying to ape the more philosophical stylings of the 1995 and 2008 films the way that “The Laughing Man” sometimes did. Also like “Individual Eleven”, there’s a heightened focus on the characters, this film continuing to explore the Major’s psyche more than usual. The whole film revolves around that really, and it works quite well, especially as some of the third act surprises come into play.
In many ways, this is a reinterpretation of the 1995 film in the context of the “Stand Alone Complex” continuity. The villain is “the Puppeteer”, recalling “the Puppetmaster” from the first film. A lot of the events and ideas of that 1995 film are inverted here though, the same way that “Individual Eleven” flipped the idea of the digital becoming physical. I particularly like the way the villain was handled here, it was a clever and meaningful subversion of expectations that played well into the Major’s character arc.
Definitely the strongest of the three “Stand Alone Complex” films in my opinions, perhaps because it was always intended as a film. Still nowhere near as impactful or well-crafted as the 1995 and 2008 films, but still an interesting cyberpunk story. I give it three cyberbrains, and a puppet.