2017 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Scarlett Johansson slips into the lithe, ultra-resilient endoskeleton of The Major, a high-tech cyborg who leads a counter cyber-terrorism team in the government department Section 9. When a shadowy hacker targets her creator - corporate artificial intelligence giant Hanka Robotics - The Major is despatched to take him down. However, she discovers a far-reaching conspiracy...and the terrifying knowledge she may not be who she thinks she is. Snow White And The Huntsman director Rupert Sanders rewires the hugely popular Japanese manga in eye-popping style.

Director

  • Rupert Sanders

Cast

  • Scarlett Johansson

  • Michael Pitt

  • Michael Wincott

  • Juliette Binoche

  • Pilou Asbaek

  • Rila Fukushima

  • Peter Ferdinando

  • Takeshi Kitano

Review

It has to be said that Ghost In The Shell has a bit more of a ring to it than the original title of the all-conquering Japanese manga - Mobile Armored Riot Police.

Created in 1989, it told the story of the counter-cyberterrorist department Public Security Section 9, led by protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi, in the mid 21st century of Japan.

Director Rupert Sanders' decision to cast the Caucasian Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson in the lead instead of a Japanese actress certainly got a few politically correct fuses blowing.

However, hard financial considerations (because of the Marvel series, Johansson is a huge draw) and the actress's enigmatic otherworldliness (she was superb in a not dissimilar role in the excellent Under The Skin) show she's a good fit for the part.

She plays The Major, a Terminator/RoboCop-style cyborg controlled by a human brain, that of a refugee who was horrifically mutilated following a terrorist attack on the boat on which she was seeking sanctuary.

Leading a team of of maverick cyber-punks - including her dog-loving lieutenant Batou (Pilou Asbaek) - she is despatched to investigate a brutal assault on a meeting hosted by a negotiator for Hanka Robotics, the AI giant whose technology gave her a new lease of life.

It appears to be the work of the mysterious Kuze (Michael Pitt), a cloaked resistance leader who apparently has a score to settle with Hanka, who are led by the draconian corporate boss Cutter (Peter Ferdinando). However, as The Major delves further the case proves not to be so clean cut.

There's no getting away from the by-the-numbers plot, yet this scores highly on atmosphere with the city a pumped-up, Blade Runner-ish realm of neon and huge, skyscraper high advertising holograms that you imagine Shanghai might be like... in a couple of years.

The Major - an exquisitely rendered cyborg that takes full advantage of Johansson's translucent curves- is an intriguing character whose hard-wiring is torn away to reveal a vulnerable young girl (for a bit anyway).

Elsewhere, Pitt and Ferdinando struggle to escape cartoon cliche although The Major's world weary boss Aramaki is nicely portrayed by Takeshi Kitano as an old school bruiser who still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Sometimes struggling to fill its running time, this is nonetheless an enjoyable slice of style over content.

Tim Evans