Ghost in the Shell

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"See? I look just like her!"

Futuristic cyber-thriller “Ghost in the Shell” is loaded with advanced technology, but it’s in the service of a disappointingly basic plot with few surprises. Add to that the bafflingly tone-deaf treatment of racial and cultural issues and you’ve really got a “Why’d they bother with this?” situation on your hands.

In a heavily CGI’d future Japan with a diverse population (“diverse” meaning both Japanese and European), people routinely enhance their physical or mental abilities with cybernetic add-ons. Plug a dongle into the back of your neck and boom, you’re fluent in Russian. Or robot eyes with X-ray vision. Just about everyone is part-cyber now, the downside being that they’re susceptible to hacking, like a computer, the upside being that, at long last, white men can jump.

Our heroine is a super-soldier called the Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first case of replacing every part of the body except the brain. Her brain — and thus her soul, her self — was supposedly rescued from a dying refugee, though Major doesn’t remember her pre-robot life, so wink wink. Cared for by compassionate Hanka Robotics scientist Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), who assures her she’s still human, and supervised by a growling government functionary (Kitano Takeshi), Major leads the cyber-crimes team that investigates when a terrorist named Kuze (Michael Pitt) starts hacking civilians and killing important Hanka scientists.

The film, directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), becomes a spiffy-looking but dull police procedural as Major and her lunkhead partner, Batou (Pilou Asbaek), pursue leads and track Kuze. Since it’s The Future, this routine police work has some twists — cops can communicate telepathically while sneaking around, and Major can sometimes turn invisible (this is not explained, nor do I accept invisibility as a standard robot feature) — but make no mistake, it is routine. Questions about humanity and the soul and the essence of life are vaguely suggested but never really dealt with; the same goes for the ethical dilemmas presented by mixing technology with biology.

[Continue reading at Crooked Scoreboard.]

C+ (1 hr., 47 min.; PG-13, moderate action violence.)