This big-budget, live-action remake of the classic Japanese animation does just about enough. It’s a solidly watchable sci-fi thriller with striking visual style, but at no point does it even come close to capturing the haunting, thought-provoking power of Mamoru Oshii‘s 1995 masterpiece. Like all great works of science fiction the original thought big, and this Westernised update – directed by Snow White and the Huntsman‘s Rupert Sanders – lacks the ambition and balls to match it.
There’s a sense, even, that Sanders and co have missed the point entirely, as much of the mystique that made Oshii’s film so special has been stripped away. In its place we get something that’s increasingly formulaic and by-the-numbers, with Scarlett Johansson heading up an origins story quite clearly designed to spawn yet another money-spinning franchise. That’s all well and good, but did things have to be this spelled out? By the end of the extended running time (the original was an astonishingly efficient 82 minutes) every stray thread has been tied off and presented in a neat little bow. It’s almost insulting.
Still, it’s some way from being a total bust. Johansson takes on the role of Major, who, for those not up on their manga/mid-90s anime, is the prize asset/golden girl of a crack government task force committed to bringing down cyber-criminals. With a human brain successfully transplanted into an entirely synthetic body she’s (supposedly) the first of her kind, and Sca-Jo makes a decent fist of communicating her escalating identity crisis. Pilou Asbæk (Ben-Hur) is also good value as imposing but soft-hearted sidekick Batou, while the action sequences – particularly the iconic rooftop dive and a frenetic Yakuza club brawl – deliver the goods.