GHOST IN THE SHELL: Intelligent science fiction demands not only our contemplation of technological advances but also the consequences they have for a society. Derived from a wildly popular Japanese comic (See CLOSING CREDITS.), the movie’s title character is a cyber enhanced young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who becomes a “first of her kind” soldier after her fully functioning brain is placed into a synthetic shell. Before you can say “female ROBOCOP (1987)”, she’s off to combat a shadowy gang of terrorists who have the ability to “hack” into people’s minds to control or kill them. That’s not a difficult proposition since the opening narrative of the film frames the futuristic setting as a culture where the distinction between humans and machines are becoming progressively blurred. It’s a thought provoking premise even though the well-designed action sequences had me wondering how any and which of the villainous assassins could be killed if they were “robotically enhanced”. The screenplay deserves praise for staying fairly loyal to the source material while not getting any of its themes lost in translation to western audiences. The visually eye-popping production and art design resemble BLADE RUNNER (1982) set in Hong Kong of the 23rd century. Even the Caucasian Johansson (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) looks positively Oriental in several of her close-ups. But there’s no racial miscasting here since the inference throughout the work is that the fusion of artificial intelligence with humanity results in a more asexual world replete with indistinct races. This ties in to the character’s origin story which is a non-distracting subplot that gives the movie some heart. Overall, the film is well-acted and directed by newcomer Rupert Sanders who goes beneath the surface of the movie’s comic book violence to explore much deeper and more underlying meanings than are usually found in this type of work. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

CLOSING CREDITS: “The Ghost In The Shell” was originally published as a serialized Japanese “manga” or graphic novel in 1989. It told the story of a counter-cyberterrorist organization led by protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi which turns out to be the real name of Johansson’s character. Animation studio Production I.G. produced several anime adaptations including a 1995 film and a television anthology in 2002. The series was reborn again in 2013 and morphed into a TV series in 2015. An animated film turned up that same year before the Rupert Sanders live action movie premiered two years later.