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‘Ghost in the Shell’ Review Roundup: Whitewashing Aside, Critics Love Scarlett Johansson

Johansson and the film’s visuals are a hit, but critics say it’s no match for the original

Early reviews for Paramount’s “Ghost in the Shell” have come in. The overall verdict? Black Widow fans will likely be pleased — whereas fans of Mamoru Oshii’s anime classic, which the film is based on, might be disappointed.

While critics praised director Rupert Sanders and his team for turning the gorgeous visuals of Oshii’s film into a dark yet vibrant CGI cyberscape, most said the remake fails to successfully adapt the original’s ambiguous plot and complex themes about artificial intelligence. After early reviews, the film currently has a 67 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

But what about Scarlett Johansson, who has been dogged with claims of “whitewashing” for taking a role in an Asian enterprise? It seems that most critics, race issues aside, found her to be the perfect fit for the role, with her performance compared to her work in “Under the Skin” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent even said the film solidifies Johansson as “one of the great stars of her era.”

As for the rest of the movie, TheWrap’s Ben Croll called the film a “technical knockout,” but criticized the “perfunctory” action scenes as only serving to “fulfill screen-time and contractual obligations,” while lamenting how the plot, once considered revolutionary two decades ago, now feels derivative in new hands.

“There’s nothing wrong with introducing ‘Ghost in the Shell’ into post-‘Matrix,’ post-‘Westworld’ territory,” concluded Croll. “It’s just disappointing that the film doesn’t bring anything new to the table.”

“Ghost in the Shell” hits theaters this Friday. Check out more critics’ thought below.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“It’s a spectacular movie, watchable in its way, but one which – quite apart from the “whitewashing” debate – sacrifices that aspect from the original which over 20 years has won it its hardcore of fans: the opaque cult mystery, which this film is determined to solve and to develop into a resolution, closed yet franchisable.”

Dan Jolin, Empire

“There is definitely something ‘off’ about Johansson’s Major; a disconnect between her physical form and her true self. She’s been here before as an actor. There are close parallels to her performance in ‘Under The Skin,’ where she played a predatory alien in a human form of limited functionality, and also shades of the super-woman Lucy, not to mention Black Widow from the Marvel movies (though there she was a different kind of programmed killing machine). But here she adopts a different physicality: hunched and heavy-footed, as if every movement is a heavy burden. There is a faint hint of Frankenstein’s Monster in her surly stride.”

Chris Hunneysett, Daily Mirror

“Despite casting one of the worlds most desirable women and encasing her in a nude body suit, this is a remarkably sexless enterprise.Plus the cardboard cutout characters are dwarfed by the locations and the drama is lost in the scrambled action sequences. A flat script fails to explore the idea of identity, and the dull dialogue suffers from a severe humour malfunction. And without love, poetry or anything else to give it humanity, ‘Ghost In The Shell’ offers very little of substance.”

Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent

“‘Ghost In The Shell’ might not stack up plot-wise but what it does reinforce is Scarlett Johansson’s status as one of the great stars of her era; an actress with the presence, glamour and personality to hold together even the most outlandish and bizarre of blockbusters.”

David Jenkins, Little White Lies

“‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a come-sit-on-my-knee lesson which states that all the lavish, wannabe eye-popping production design in the world don’t mean squat if you’ve got no characters, no story, no action and no faith in the audience to take up the thread of your weak drama. This is a film in which people tell you that they are going to a place to do a thing, and then they go to a place and do a thing. Even the opening title cards which explain the time and setting are worded in a way that is at best banal and at worst incoherent.”