Wednesday, August 15, 2018
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Review: 'Ghost in the Shell' is just Scarlett Johansson's latest thrill-kill endeavor

Scarlett Johansson is officially Hollywood's face and body of the future.

Any role requiring a woman genetically altered, superhumanly trained or cyber-enhanced for sci-fi heroism is Johansson's for the taking. She probably has a closet filled with form-fitting fight suits and a mirror for practicing don't-call-me-babe expressions.

Johansson's latest thrill-kill endeavor is Ghost in the Shell, a live action remake of 1996's Japanese anime import. She basically plays a fanboy's dream date with mad trigger skills. This time her fight suit is skin-toned for maximum PG-13 titillation.

Her action figure this time is called Major, her rank in a covert army keeping the metrofantasy New Port City safe from terrorists. Each soldier has some human ability cyber-strengthened; eyesight, the ability to drink beer, etc. Major is the world's first complete cyber-makeover, a human brain stuffed into the best fighting shape corrupt money can buy.

Exactly who Major is fighting is confusing at times, a holdover effect from the animated version. The new Ghost in the Shell runs 45 minutes longer yet still feels streamlined from its origins. Like the live action Beauty and the Beast, its best impressions come from imitating the source, lifting visuals and dialogue to deja vu effect.

Major works for the Hanka robotics corporation led by Arimaki, played by Japanese director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, whose own kinetic violence is echoed here. Ghost in the Shell's finest mayhem, a mass slaughter led by a geisha android, plays like director Rupert Sanders' nod to his actor's day job.

Clearer than Major's mission is her not-so-mysterious past, a theme the original didn't bother to explore. There's a touch of Jason Bourne in her growing discovery that — surprise! — powerful people can't be trusted. Yet Major is so cyborg impassive about everything that Johansson isn't given much opportunity to convey betrayal.

Oscar winner Juliette Binoche joins as Dr. Ouélet, a new character created to propel Major's identity crisis. Questions arose during production about casting white, Western actors like Johansson and Binoche in a remake of a Japanese movie set in an otherwise predominantly Asian-populated city.

But what a city, a gaudy Tokyo-Beijing hybrid with hologram billboards and lurid, teeming streets, easily cleared for a gunfight or garbage truck chase. Lots of tall buildings for Major to gracefully dive off into action. If nothing else, Ghost in the Shell gives production designer Jan Roelfs a chance to suggest the upcoming cityscape of Blade Runner 2049.

We already know what Hollywood thinks people will look like by then.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected]ampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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