Ghost in the Shell

Major (Scarlett Johansson) has a major existential crisis in "Ghost in the Shell".

Over 20 years in the planning stages, director Rupert Sanders' ("Snow White and the Huntsman") overhaul of the 1995 anime classic of the same name is being attacked from all sides for one, two and/or three of the above reasons simply because it exists. Her body is all state-of-the-art robot, but her living brain had been transplanted from a real human - a orphan refugee whose body had been severely injured.

"Ghost in the Shell" cost the folks at Paramount Pictures about $110 million to produce, but they are anticipating a large overseas showing at the box office.

The film's slick packaging nearly makes up for its lack of thoughtfulness - certainly it provides a distraction on par with Johansson's flesh-toned combat suit, which renders her semi-invisible, emphasis on the semi.

Alec Baldwin is brilliant as the voice of "The Boss Baby", an animated feature intended for the kid set that actually plays better for adults. Humans go in for "upgrades", whether necessary - Batou's new eyes, which recall Morpheus's sunglasses from The Matrix - or purely gratuitous, like the character who boasts that his new synth-liver means "It's last call every night".

The dialogue in Ghost in the Shell (1995) is more casual than its latest version. Of course, any movie depicting a crowded, cyberpunk-y city sits in Blade Runner's shadow, but this one doubles down on the debt, crowding its skyline with enormous holographic advertisements - an obvious echo the giant billboards that dominated Ridley Scott's futuristic Los Angeles.

But as the character Major, a counterterrorist cyborg operative whose mechanical body is powered by a human brain, Johansson's performance is, well, robotic.

We get the impression that Major was built for action, but "Ghost in the Shell" only seasons its cyber-noir plot with occasional bursts of CGI dramatics. This jarring or uncomfortable nature in ones own skin is surely a reference to how unsure Major is about her past and very existence, .

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll be aware of the raging controversy about the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major in director Rupert Sanders' Ghost in the Shell. But whether "Ghost in the Shell's" story is faithful or not, it feels empty, and the final product feels like a missed opportunity.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) sees a Major who grapples with glitches that can't be easily handled, as she is the first of her kind.

We discover that she was taken and experimented on, and fed false memories so that she can serve as a weapon.

It's one of the most consistent critiques of Hollywood - studios placing white actors in roles when the source material is based on characters of color.

As the Major and her colleague Batou seek out a mysterious super-hacker known here as Kuze, what passes for a story turns out to be relatively prosaic.

I recognize that loyal fans of the anime may complain how this present story was not told with more philosophical depth, or how the new musical score could not hold a candle to the previous haunting Kenji Kawai score. It's impossible to discuss the movie's troubled treatment of identity politics without spoiling some big reveals, but before we get into those, there are plenty of other things that make the live-action remake a disappointment.

The too-busy production design distracts from the essence of the plot, which has Major grappling with conflicted feelings of whether she's more human or more machinelike.