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Film review: Ghost in the Shell

Film

Sci-fi thriller Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning, but it lacks the depth and intricacy of the 1990s Japanese aime film on which it is based.

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Scarlett Johansson stars as Major, whose brain is implanted into a cybernetic body after a crash. The first of her kind, she is a product of the weapons division of giant corporation Hanka Robotics and its lead designer Dr Ouélet (Juliette Binoche).

A year later, living in an unnamed Asian city where cybernetic enhancements are commonplace, Major heads up a government-backed militarised taskforce charged with protecting the city from cyber terrorism. While tracking a particularly elusive hacker known only as Kuze, she discovers more about herself and more about her past than intended.

Johansson’s reinvented Major Motoko Kusanagi is sleek and sexy. Her portrayal of the cyborg security agent is disconnected yet vulnerable, which is spot-on for someone perched on the precipice of humanity.

Major’s curious relationships with her second-in-command, Batou (played admirably by Danish actor Pilou Asbæk), her commanding officer Chief Aramaki (veteran Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano) and her mother figure Dr Ouelét keep her tied to humanity even as her search for Kuze pulls her away.

The opening stanza – a jaw-dropping sequence detailing Major’s construction within the Hanka factory – provides audiences with the first taste of the beauty of director Rupert Sanders’ film. Cinematography by Jess Hall (Hot Fuzz, Transcendence), combined with an eerie, hyper-modern score by Clint Mansell (Requiem For a Dream) and Lorne Balfe (Terminator Genisys), provides a memorable visual and aural experience.

Attempts to honour the film’s origins in manga are subtle, with angling and single shots that look like the panels of a comic book page. Other delightful throwbacks to the story’s ’80s comic origins are seen in the cyber-punk costuming and make-up and the old-school vehicles.

But while heavy on blockbuster moments, Ghost in the Shell lacks any real substance. The plot is unsophisticated, with a twist you can see from a mile away. This is particularly disappointing considering the depth and intricacy of the anime version.

While the main theme of the original Ghost in the Shell is the over-dependence on technology, here it feels like a minor element that gets in the way of what is essentially a gritty action movie.

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