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Review: Ghost In The Shell – “Scarlett Johansson is incredible”

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Based on the acclaimed anime of the same name, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is directed by Rupert Sanders (‘Snow White and the Huntsman’) and has been adapted by Jamie Moss (‘Street Kings’). The film stars Scarlett Johansson (‘Captain America: Civil War’), one of her ‘Lucy’ co-stars – Pilou Asbæk (‘A Hijacking’) – ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano (‘Battle Royal’), Juliette Binoche (‘The English Patient’) and Michael Pitt (‘Funny Games’).

Major (Johansson) is a cyborg soldier, with a robot body – her “shell” – and a human brain and soul – her “ghost”. No one has seen ‘Robocop’, so they all think this is cool, and going to work out fine. As soon as she is functional, she is partnered up with Batou (Asbæk), and sent out into the futuristic world to combat terrorism as part of “Section 9”: an elite unit led by Aramaki (Kitano).

A cyber-terrorist, Kuze (Pitt), is hacking robots and people with enhancements to puppeteer them into offing high-ranking members of a cybernetics company, and Section 9 are tasked with tracking him down and eliminating him. Things get personal fast when Major discovers that Kuze’s next target is her friend and maker, Doctor Oulet (Binoche), and that she has been lied to about her past.

Scarlett Johansson is incredible at action, throwing herself into an array of awesome set pieces, but also conveying the tragedy of losing herself. The character’s “whitewashing” worries are also allayed by actually being a rather important plot point that I will not spoil. Pitt’s performance is great too. An angry and confused supervillain who becomes obsessed with Major, taunting her into a “deep dive” hacking sequence that would give cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson a boner.

The support is mostly wonderful with Asbæk’ Batou a sweet but tough counterpoint to Major’s emotional deadbolts. Kitano’s role is fairly small but plum and pivotal. He is ice cold here, and on the receiving end of some kick ass scenes – mentally and physically sparring with just as much intensity, and doing more with his steely gaze and single eye blinks than most actors can muster in their best performances. Unfortunately, the team is let down by a truly awful cockernee character whose only contributions to the film are inflicting theatre-wide cringes with a single utterance.

Sanders visuals are outstanding with Blade Runner-beating cityscapes infested with fifty-foot holographic adverts and a decrepit dystopian ground level. The director’s handle on the film’s rad action is tight too. Shoot outs, chases, scraps and gawp-inducing free falls are bright and colourful with clear choreography and muscle straining physicality.

There is some watering down of the anime’s complex politics, thematics and ponderings on humanity to easily digestible heard-before sound bites, and there is also a constant repetition of the explanation of what the “ghost” and the “shell” are which grates at times. However, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is an eye frying, mind-blowing cyber-fi, that should be seen on the biggest, 3D-est screen you can find.

Ghost in the Shell is released in the UK on the 30th March, the US on 31st March and Japan on 7th April 2017.

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