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Ghost in the Shell review | ‘Scarlett Johansson’s sci-fi remake is visually stunning, if flawed’

By Will Stroude

Taking on the difficult task of bringing a beloved cult classic to life, director Rupert Sanders resurrected the 1995 hand drawn anime Ghost in the Shell. This futuristic sci-fi fantasy centres around a cyborg called The Major who, after a devastating accident is put back together in the form of a robot, now being used to take down the city’s worst criminals.

From early into the development of Ghost in the Shell there was controversy, with people calling for a boycott of the film due to supposed ‘white-washing’ after the questionable casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. Given the ongoing, and increasingly vocal discussion around Hollywood and diversity, it is indeed a disappointment that a female Asian star couldn’t have been given the lead role in a Hollywood blockbuster – a golden opportunity and something still relatively unheard of in mainstream cinema.

In terms of the film itself, Johansson, although giving us the elusive complexity needed for the character, doesn’t bring anything particularly unique that another actress couldn’t have brought. But this is, for the most part, an American remake, not too different from previous horror remakes The Ring or The Grudge, and the cast on the whole is more diverse than the majority of Hollywood blockbusters.

The character of The Major is an android, so her race would always have been ambiguous, since she’s made up of wires and metal. Casting may not take away from the fantasy world created in this version of the story, but it does add to one of many disappointing opportunities missed for Hollywood in its continuing battle with diversity.

In terms of plot, a little something is lost the translation from animation into modern-live action cinema, though events do deviate slightly from the original story. Additional characters, subplots and back stories help with the overall pace and in making these characters as three dimensional as the adaptation itself, but at the same time this sacrifices some of the mystery and appeal of the beloved original.

If you look at it purely form a visual viewpoint, Ghost in the Shell is an absolute masterpiece, and the Tokyo-inspired dystopian city created is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful creations to grace cinema. The sprawling shots of the enormous, colourful skylines is exactly what the big screen was made for. The action, also though slightly more minimal than expected, is beautifully choreographed and wonderfully shot, making for a thrilling interpretation.

Though not perfect, this is an ambitious, distinctive and spectacular piece of cinema which, beyond its occasional low points, is memorable mainly for its electrifying highs.

Rating: 3.5/5

Ghost in the Shell hits UK cinemas this Thursday March 30.

Words by Joe Passmore

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