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Ghost in the Shell is an interesting film, and while it’s limited by it’s conventions in more than one sense, it’s also highly entertaining and occasionally quite unique. At it’s worst, the film is retreading tired themes common to sci-fi films about humanity, and at its best it’s an emotional, action packed thrill ride with some serious visual splendor. It’s certainly an imperfect film, but as modern action movies go, it takes some interesting chances and definitely makes an attempt to emulate classic sci-fi film making.

In the future, machines and humans have become intertwined, and the world’s first cyborg police officer, known simply as The Major (Scarlett Johansson), is dispatched to find a computer hacker named Kuze, who’s taken control of the minds of many cyborgs. But as The Major learns more about Kuze and his desire for a technical revolution, truths are revealed about the cyborg program, causing her to question everything that she has ever known.

While it’s a familiar story, director Rupert Sanders makes something that is visually astounding, particularly in an opening action sequences set within the Japanese urban complex. While it’s themes are simplistic and the emotions are mostly surface level, the film gets a boost by the performance by Scarlett Johansson; Johansson has emerged as one of the best action movie stars of the 21st Century, and her timid, curious, and introspective performance gives the film the emotional investment it needs to carry on.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about Ghost in the Shell, and while the film limits itself in terms of its thematic complexity, it’s gorgeous visuals solidify it as a solid action film. Despite some weak dialogue and a very slow second act, the film does make some interesting choices, and ends with some surprising heart. It’s an entertaining film, and while it borrows heavily from classic sci-fi, as a showcase for Scarlett Johansson as an action hero, it’s successful. Grade: B-

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