The original Ghost in the Shell was one of the key anime films to break through to a western audience in the '90s. This new film is a decidedly dark and murky imitation with annoyingly cheap 3-D and its protagonist transformed from an animated, Japanese, female cyborg-assassin to raven-haired Scarlett Johansson in a digitized, flesh-colored body suit. Fervent fans of the thing in that country always knew that any big American version was going to feature a big American star, and they also probably appreciate the fact that nothing here has any connection to anything even remotely approaching "reality".
Devoted to stopping the most risky criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotic's advancements in cyber technology. The Major and her big, burly, wise-cracking partner Batou (Danish actor Pilou Asbaek) find themselves facing a ghostly masked terrorist calling himself Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt, "Boardwalk Empire"), who is bent upon destroying anyone and anything in league with Hanka. Trying to make a global blockbuster out of a legendary Japanese manga is no easy feat (Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks has had the U.S. rights since 2008), not to mention the 1995 animated movie that's considered a classic.
Ghost in the Shell gets 3/10. Johansson tries hard to make Major seem sad and tragic, but the whole thing is so incoherent, chilly and nearly anti-emotional that it's tough to feel anything much. Directed by Rupert Sanders ("Snow White and the Huntsman"), this live-action iteration of "Ghost in the Shell" streamlines the original story, about a crime-fighting cyborg whose human soul - or "ghost" - begins to flutter to life with unsettling fragments of past memories. Sure it's arguable that the likes of The Matrix and TV's Westworld were in fact influenced by the original Ghost, but to come so hard on the heels of Westworld and boast such a thin veneer of story and character (somewhat necessarily given its comparatively short running time) leaves one feeling a little short-changed. The plodding second act tries to get deeper into these problems and glitches Major is contending with, and you feel every minute of its two-hour runtime. It's all sort of vaguely familiar, in a Blade Runner-ish sort of way, but never mind. She's often wrapped in a glimmery, iridescent sheen, and she has the ability to turn invisible when needed.
Set in a world in which the gap between humanity and technology is shrinking all the time, Mamoru Oshii's beloved 1995 anime gets a respectable if belated live-action reboot here courtesy of British director Rupert Sanders and star Scarlett Johansson.
Major encounters robotic geisha killers, yakuza perverts and masked assassins, but the most intriguing encounter happens closer to home, with the scientist who built her (Juliette Binoche).
Ghost in the Shell unfolds in the futuristic New Port City, a chaotic place full of noise and bright colours - skyscrapers and massive holographic commercials. At least that is the story she has been told.
"Ghost in the Shell", a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images". This is indispensable journalism, brought to you by the largest, most experienced newsroom in the region.
Even if you manage to put racial politics aside, though, Sanders and his team present insurmountable challenges to good taste. If you already subscribe, thank you.