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D: Rupert Sanders / 107m

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Peter Ferdinando, Anamaria Marinca, Chin Han, Kaori Momoi

While watching Ghost in the Shell, the latest animation to live action remake to reach our screens, it’s not too long before the question, Why? pops up. As in, why has this movie been made in the first place? Visually stunning but emotionally stagnant, this close proximity adaptation of the manga original (released in 1995) looks impressive, but soon reveals a heart that is as non-existent as its lead character’s. This is a sleek, shiny, superficial movie that in some ways has a very apt title: the movie is a ghost in its own shell, offering little in the way of a coherent or cohesive meaningful subtext about what it means to be synthetic of body and yet human of mind. This makes it very difficult to sympathise with Scarlett Johansson’s Major, despite her frowning a lot of the time as if she’s trying to work out a particularly difficult Sudoku puzzle.

Although this is a very faithful adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s groundbreaking anime, somewhere along the way, the essence of Oshii’s work has been jettisoned in favour of a standard, by-the-numbers approach that keeps its characters firmly entrenched in a kind of personality-free limbo, and which struggles to provide equally standard motivations for their actions. Major’s dilemma: are the glitches she experiences part of a past that has been suppressed (for nefarious reasons), or merely issues with her current programming, is played out in such a way that there’s no emotional payoff or impact when – surprise! – the extent of those nefarious reasons are revealed.

Part of the problem here is the amount of time that’s passed since the original Ghost in the Shell was released. Twenty-two years on and the issues it raises around notions of self-identity and cyber-assisted body enhancement have become too commonplace in cinema for this incarnation to contain any resonance. With nothing new to offer, or even follow up on, the movie lacks the relevancy it could have had if it had been made twenty years ago. Instead, it makes a few spurious attempts at looking and sounding significant, and opts for a bland, uninspired standpoint that ensures the movie takes no real risks with the material (aside from the equally spurious idea that Johansson’s casting was a case of “whitewashing”).

With the script – credited to Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger – showing signs of ennui thanks to its long gestation process (the project was first announced in 2008), and Sanders unable to overcome the problems that hold it back from allowing its audience to engage with it, Ghost in the Shell ultimately – and ironically given how impressive it looks – suffers from a lack of vision that does it more harm than good. As a result, the cast are often left stranded by the banal nature of the material. Johansson tries her best, but is hamstrung by having to look deadly serious all the time, while Asbæk and Binoche have thankless secondary roles; only Kitano has the measure of his character, and he plays the head of Section 9 perfectly. In the end, the movie is only effective in its many well-choreographed action scenes, but even they’re not enough to offset the tedium that makes up the rest of its running time.

Rating: 6/10 – anyone looking for a live action anime with depth and something to say about the ethics of melding humans and machines should look elsewhere, as Ghost in the Shell has little to say about either; a remake that lacks purpose and drive, it’s a movie that disappoints on many levels, and which makes the cardinal sin of not being very interesting.