When it was first announced two years ago that Scarlett Johansson had been cast as the killer cyborg in the live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Japanimation classic “Ghost in the Shell,” the choice was loudly condemned by those who felt the role should have gone to an Asian actress. Now that we have the redo, directed by Rupert Sanders, it’s clear that her casting is the least of the movie’s problems.
As classic dystopian visions go, the Japanese "Ghost in the Shell" film is on a short list that includes “Metropolis,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Matrix.” Sanders’s version dispenses with most of the humans versus bots philosophical speculations that characterized its precursor and instead rapidly morphs into a CGI-heavy pulp-action splatterfest about Major (Johansson), who has a human brain and bot body and is tasked by Section 9 security with eliminating cyber terrorists from a world that looks like a super-steroidal, futuristic mashup of Hong Kong and Tokyo. The depiction of this world, at least in visual terms, is easily the movie’s most impressive aspect. But saying this is a bit like praising a restaurant for its décor.
It’s unfortunate, if predictable, that Hollywood found it necessary to almost entirely eliminate deep think in favor of deep action. As for Johansson, I have no big problem with cross-racial casting, but she’s so glum and seemingly uncomfortable here that you wonder if maybe she didn’t harbor the same misgivings as her detractors. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content, and some disturbing images.)