Last year Scarlett Johansson became the highest-grossing North American box office actress of all-time, thanks, in large part, to her supporting role as Black Widow in the Marvel superhero movies. But she’s starred in plenty of films as well, including 2014’s so-so “Lucy”. Now, ScarJo is back to headline the first live-action English language adaptation of the wildly popular Japanese comic series – “Ghost in the Shell”.
Director Rupert Sanders (“Snow White & the Huntsman”) wastes no time getting us up to speed with this futuristic saga by shoving plot and backstory details in our face via on-screen text – and we quickly learn how Johansson’s Mira became “Major” – the top soldier in the government’s crime-fighting program.
A year earlier, Hanka Robotics implanted Mira’s human brain into a robotic body. She’s now fighting crime in a highly cyber-advanced Asian city filled with the typical sci-fi movie flash – and plenty of bad guys.
The visually ambitious and overwhelming first half is dominated by robots, androids and human hybrids shooting and stabbing other robots, androids and human hybrids – though we’re not quite sure why – or who’s on who’s side. These over-stylized action sequences are extremely mindless and feature Johansson in predictably skin-tight outfits. But even with the action, the overall pacing of “Shell” is slow as a turtle – and just as exciting.
However, following a “major” twist about halfway through, “Ghost” comes out of its predictable fantasy/thriller…shell…and finds both its legs and its humanity. New characters arrive to give the narrative meaning, and Johansson is allowed to show-off more than just her curves. For once, calling a performance “robotic” is a complement. In fact, one of the film’s rare quite moments, involving Johansson and a minor, but key, character, is the standout movie scene of the year to date.
The key with seeing “Ghost in the Shell” is sticking with it through the dull, “seen-it-all-before” first 45 minutes. Do that, and you will be rewarded with an interesting take on the dangers of mixing artificial and human intelligence…along with some good ol’ fashioned revenge.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Ghost in the Shell” gets a C+.
Running Time: 106 min.