With the sound of a whitewashing scandal ringing in its ears, Rupert Sanders’ update of the 1995 anime classic Ghost in the Shell drops into cinemas like a robotic female assassin smashing through a skylight and popping a cap in a Swiss Tony lookalike’s ass.
The movie began hoovering up criticism months in advance of its release with the news that the obviously non-Japanese Scarlett Johansson would play the leading role. The furore has largely overshadowed the release of a picture that, as it turns out, is a more than competent re-tread of the original. Its principal failing lies probably in the fact that it adheres perhaps too closely to the original in terms of look, sound and feel. This new edition of Ghost in the Shell is a handsome and enjoyable offering, but its existential reflection feels somewhat less developed than the original and you can’t help but feel the unfortunate “what was the point” question rearing its head from time to time.
Taking place in a not-too-distant high-tech future in which most humans have “upgraded” their bodies with the addition of robotic implants, a very-nearly deceased Johansson has her brain saved from its shattered body and placed in a cutting-edge robotic shell, taking on the moniker Major Killian; the purpose being to mould her into the world’s first fully robotic weapon, a counter-terrorism genius capable of infiltrating and sabotaging the most dangerous individuals inhabiting the advanced cityscape.
Her unique set of skills is very much in demand it would seem, as a cyber terrorist is at work hacking into the minds of influential individuals through their bionic implants, targeting the top brass at the Killian’s employers. Leading her team of counter-insurgent Special Forces, Killian is on the case tracking down a mysterious extremist on a mission that unravels shadowy details about her own origin and the motivation of her employers.
The original was a hugely influential, genre-defining classic. Its tech-noir aesthetic famously inspired The Matrix and, despite its somewhat undercooked philosophical contemplations, remains a massively watchable thrill ride. In many ways, this newer version distils all that is good and some of what is less appealing about the original. Visually, It’s stunning, if somewhat (understandably) derivative of the original with Sanders creating an immersive, captivating and credible universe. Johansson’s casting sparked intense debate and, while her performance will not halt the complaints, it will earn some praise for its intensity and mechanical sense of physicality.
As with its predecessor, this Ghost in the Shell seeks to reflect on those questions that deal with humanity and individuality. Like its predecessor, the answers seem somewhat lost in the atmosphere, with a focus rather on the visceral rather than the philosophical. Unlike its predecessor it fizzles out somewhat and, rather strangely for a movie that is so beholden to its forerunner, ends with on an underwhelming and somewhat joyless note. A decent-enough update of a still very important anime, but not much more than that.
★★★1/2| Chris Banks
Sci-fi, Action, Thriller | UK, Japan, 2017 | 12A |30th March 2017 (UK) |Paramount Pictures | Dir.Rupert Sanders | Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Juliet Binoche