‘Humanity is our virtue,’ says a character in Ghost in the Shell — but you don’t get that feeling from the film, which is a slick, overly-digitised piece of weightless future schlock. It’s a remake of a 1995 Japanese anime, which itself was mainly a chance to ogle a bodacious female android who blows stuff up in a story similar to Blade Runner. This new live-action version plays like animation redone as yet more animation: a computer-rendered skyline swarming with fake Godzilla-size holograms is patrolled by teams of tech-implanted detectives who act like plastic robots because that’s basically what they are.
A stink has been made about the casting of Scarlett Johansson as our ostensibly Asian hero, the Major, a commando prone to swan-diving off buildings while hunting down corporate evil. That’s like opening a can of worms when you’re in a vat of pythons. There’s much more to worry about: Johansson is trapped in a role that requires little of her than to fill the contours of a flesh-coloured bodysuit. The soulfulness Johansson explored as an alien in Under the Skin is absent; her action scenes are too few and too tame. When stone-faced Japanese actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano is the most human element in your movie, something’s wrong.
Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) serves up imagery from the original: briefcases that convert into machine guns; a pool of white goo that hatches Johansson’s sleek, nude form; weirdly empty city streets (who are all the hologram ads for?); wedge-shaped cars that date the concept back to Miami Vice. The script shoehorns in more identity-grappling this time and the squelchy synth score supplies a playfulness unearned by the visuals. Find a handy film geek to tell you all about how the first Ghost in the Shell was a massive influence on The Matrix. Or you could just rewatch The Matrix.
By Joshua Rothkopf