Ghost in the Shell

Girl power: Major emerges from the water to kick some robot ass
6/10 - A visually stunning movie that has a broad message about humanity, but like the void felt by Johansson, it’s lacking a beating heart.
Release Date: 
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Written by: 

A cyber-enhanced human becomes the perfect soldier, but soon discovers her whole life is a lie.


If you weren't a fan of the cult 1995 original, your first exposure to Ghost in the Shell may have been via the 'whitewashing' row that surrounded Scarlett Johansson's casting.

The Avengers star snatched the juicy role of The Major - originally a Japanese character called Motoko Kusanagi, in the live-action remake of the of the Japanese anime classic.

Johansson was forced to defend her casting, and just in time for the movie's release, even the film's original writer and director Mamoru Oshii waved away suggestions that she was miscast in a role that could have been groundbreaking for an Asian actress, stating, "There is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her.”

And with Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders at the helm of his comeback movie after his well-publicised affair with Kristen Stewart, there has been plenty for the rumour mill to digest.

Set in a world where humans can be technologically enhanced, Ghost in the Shell sees Johansson as Major, the first of her kind; a human who is cyber-enhanced by scientist Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals.

Her brain is transplanted by a secretive government organisation into a sleek robotic body after a near-fatal accident.

While she vaguely recalls being a refugee and seeing her parents perish on a boat, the rest of her memory is foggy.

When terrorism reaches a new level, that includes the ability to hack into people's minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it.

But as she prepares to face a new enemy, she discovers that she has been lied to, and sets out on a quest to work out who she is.

It's no secret which audience the movie is targeted at, with Johansson’s barely there, nude-toned costume making it pretty obvious - and there's plenty for the fanboys to enjoy here.

Following her roles in Under the Skin and The Avengers the actress has established herself as a bonafide action heroine, which she proves again in the film's set-pieces, including Sanders' rendering of Oshii's iconic fight sequence set in ankle-deep water.

Other high points include an excellent, and diverse support cast, including Japanese comic and film actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi) and Pilou Asbaek, who starred opposite Johansson in Lucy, as Major's sidekick Batou, and Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt as Kuze.

The last word on the casting quibbles is that while Johansson makes the most of the opportunity to represent a strong female lead in a sci-fi film, she’s had plenty of them before, and this could have been a career-making role for an Asian actress.

Ghost in the Shell is an enjoyable blockbuster, but it won’t go down in the sci-fi annals as a Matrix-style classic.

There’s a great story in there, but it’s somewhat let down by the fact that the movie glosses over Major’s awakening and subsequent journey to full realisation.

It’s an enjoyable, visually stunning popcorn romp that has a broad message about humanity, but like the void felt by The Major when she awakes, it’s definitely lacking a beating heart.

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