By Travis Johnson

You can (and probably should) dismiss Snow White and the Huntsman, but for all its failings the fairy tale blockbuster did demonstrate that director, Rupert Sanders, has some serious visual chops – chops that are now in the service of a much worthier chunk of IP, the cult manga/anime franchise Ghost in the Shell.

Beginning as a manga serial by the legendary Masamune Shirow (Appleseed et al), Ghost in the Shell has spread like a computer virus across a multitude of media, spawning feature films, several animated series, a computer game or two, and now a fully fledged megabudget Hollywood blockbuster.

In the near future, the line between humanity and machinery is blurred as more and more people are replacing the bulk of their bodies with artificial parts. Only the indefinable essence of humanity -the eponymous ghost in the shell – separates cyborg humans from completely artificial creations. But is the “ghost” even real? It’s a question that plagues the heavily augmented government operative, The Major (Scarlett Johansson), who heads up a special task force that deals with cyber criminals and hackers.

That’s the plot in the broad strokes, but don’t get too hung up on it – the details have mutated with every new iteration of the property. This version seems to delve into the origins of The Major, which is a new element if memory serves, but it also draws heavily on prior incarnations – there are shots here that are right out of the ’95 animated feature. Everything looks and feels on point – plus, we get Takeshi “Beat” Kitano up in the mix, which is always a good thing. Yes, even in Johnny Mnemonic.

Ghost in the Shell hits Australian cinemas on March 30, 2017.

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