Ghost in the Shell

Starring as Major, Scarlett Johansson lends as an ethereal a quality to a kickass cyborg as is humanly possible.

Indeed, that conundrum is the film’s heart and enough to propel the non-stop action along for an hour or so. Johansson seems to wrestle with her soul, encased as it is in a curvaceous polymer body that is sort of sexy, in the way a blow-up doll might be.

Major becomes a canvas for fantasies, as does the cinema screen in Rupert Sanders’ live action take on the Japanese anime genre. The audience – certainly in the 3D version I saw – feels immersed in the Blade Runner -meets- Fifth Element style dystopia and there’s plenty to distract in the flickering hologram commercials and displays that decorate the sky scrapers.

Johansson’s blank stare signals her human conscience wrestling with itself before she launches her own weapon of a body into yet another murderous spree of violence, gunning down robots or kicking replicant butt.

She’s been over this territory before, in Luc Besson’s Lucy, in Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, in The Avengers and as the voice in Her. And amid the Asian urban futurescape, there’s also something of her ingenue in Lost in Translation. However, all those characters had something more sexual and challenging, more inherently and intelligently female about them. Now, the biggest movie star in the world has grown, as if from a Hollywood petri dish, groomed to carry the weight of this blockbuster, which she hauls single robot-handedly into the realms of not just the watchable but the coolly enjoyable – but I fear even she loses some of her feminist power in doing so.

For all the visual pop and Scarlett whizz, our emotional engagement does peter out before the end – it’s hard to root for a robot, unless it’s Wall-E – and the plot here, despite being peremptory, still manages to tie itself up in knots.

Juliette Binoche looks baleful as a kindly scientist (she wears that slightly condescending expression that French actresses have perfected for just such occasions, one that hints she’s really too good for this) and Danish star Pilou Asbaek (who was briefly in Lucy, too) does cool stuff as Major’s assistant, slightly channelling Rutger Hauer, if you ask me. Japanese auteur and comedian Takeshi Kitano sports miraculous hair as the boss of Major’s secret division while his tics and winces provide a sideshow of their own, as if there were loose wires in his face.

I liked the music from Clint Mansell though kept thinking the Chemical Brothers might have done it better; and I liked the outfits by costume designers Kurt and Bart, especially the cyborg Geishas.

So, yes, I liked it, but the sugar rush does wear off and I was numb by the end, unexcited by the  prospect of this film’s success leading to an inevitable franchise.

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