Director: Rupert Sanders

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Takeshi Kitano

Classification: M (Science Fiction Themes, Violence and Stylised Nudity)

Review by Peter Gray

The notion of an American adaptation of a Japanese animated film was always going to be met with considerable criticism, so before the 2017 incarnate of ‘Ghost In The Shell’ even has a chance to prove itself, it’s arriving with purists all ready to deconstruct it beyond repair.

It doesn’t seem to matter that both Mamoru Oshii, the director of the original animated film, and lead star Scarlett Johansson have defended the latter’s casting when cries of “Hollywood whitewashing” ran foul either; the actress stated her decision in playing an Asian-based character was more about feminism than race.

With its own defences up, ‘Ghost In The Shell’ arguably has a lot more to prove to its intended audience than the average blockbuster does, so it’s likely to come simultaneously as a shock and surprise that the film is a suitably faithful take on the original Anime material, and far from the action-heavy/intelligent-lite feature the trailers have alluded to.

That’s not to say that director Rupert Sanders (‘Snow White and the Huntsman’) hasn’t staged enough athletic set-pieces throughout but the quest Johansson’s titular heroine takes – the “ghost” referring to her human consciousness and the “shell” being her lab-created body – is a little more philosophical than one might expect. Her character, often referred to as Major, is an asset of the Hanka Corporation, and it is her duty to weed out those who pose a threat to the company’s figurative well-being.

Given how much of a disconnect Major feels towards her own body plate (we witness her being built in the opening credit sequence set only a year prior to the film’s current status) it comes as no surprise that the very company that built her contains the true threats she should be pursuing. Regardless of the plot’s familiarity however, ‘Ghost In The Shell’ still proves a fascinating watch, if simply just for the stunning visuals Sanders has crafted for his richly conceptualised dystopia.

As for Johansson, her ultimate performance should prove the naysayers wrong as her blend of emotional detachment and physical presentness brings to mind both the signature stamina she brings to the Marvel universe and the understated vulnerability displayed in the little-seen sci-fi chiller ‘Under The Skin’.

If puritans can throw caution to the wind and view Sanders’s film on its own merits, and if popcorn-ready audiences can skewer their own expectations and accept intelligence over action than ‘Ghost In The Shell’ may earn the respect and attention it deserves.

My rating: 3.5/5

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