If it wasn’t for the overblown ‘controversy’ over casting, the live-action remake of “Ghost In The Shell” might have struggled to generate much attention at all.
In the not too distant future, cybernetic enhancements are almost universal, blurring the lines between humanity and robots. Major (Scarlett Johansson), a human mind inside an entirely robotic body, leads a squad in Section 9, the anti-terrorist bureau. Her mission is intensely personal to her given she is the sole survivor (of sorts) of a terrorist attack which killed her parents. However, while investigating recent attacks on senior personnel of Hanka Robotics, she begins to experience hallucinatory glitches which seem to be connected to the cyber terrorist known as Kuze.
Given the original anime has been ruthlessly strip-mined for imagery and ideas since it was released to worldwide acclaim (particularly by “The Matrix” trilogy and all the “Matrix” imitators which followed) it seems somewhat disingenuous to be so outraged at the casting of Johansson in the lead role. Yes, the original was set in Japan – as is this one – but the 1995 anime featured a fairly diverse cast of characters including plenty of Caucasians and the character of Major was animated in what looks a lot like an ethnically neutral way. I don’t really buy into the argument that it’s whitewashing or cultural appropriation given the one area the film really succeeds (apart from Johansson’s committed performance) is in its visual recreation of many of the original animation’s signature Japanese visuals. Shouldn’t we be as comfortable with casting Scarlett Johansson as Major as we are with Michael B Jordan being cast as Johnny Storm in “Fantastic Four” (and maybe focus more on why the stories aren’t being told well rather than who’s playing what part)?
For all the outrage, though, “Ghost In The Shell” just doesn’t do anything very interesting with the ideas it’s playing with. It rearranges some of the plot points from the original but to little effect and therefore ends up being very pretty to look at, but lacking any real substance.