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Ghost in the Shell

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Whether "Beauty and the Beast" three-peats as the weekend victor depends on how many people turn out for "Boss Baby" or "The Ghost in the Shell", two new wide releases scheduled to hit theaters.

Johansson's reinvented Major Motoko Kusanagi is sleek and sexy. There are defenses to her casting, and "The Ghost in the Shell" is, after all, about the erosion of self, not its makeup, ethnic or otherwise.

Based on the Japanese franchise originally published as a manga animation series, Ghost in a Shell boasts an array of spectacular visuals tailor-made to amplify the movie's futuristic action. Unfortunately, that just isn't the case with this version of Ghost in the Shell.

Scarlett Johansson was memorable if invisible as the voice of an operating system that falls in love with Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Born human, she's now fully cyborg after her human body was damaged beyond fix in a bad accident.

With an eminently fixable body fine-tuned for detective work and hand-to-hand combat, Major isn't a woman, she's a weapon.

Under the watchful hand of Hanka's Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), Major is recruited into Section 9, a group of government operatives that are called to investigate the murder of several top-level Hanka executives. Michael Pitt (billed as Michael Carmen Pitt, so apparently that's what we're calling him now) plays Kuze, an earlier version of the Major, who speaks with an automated voice reminiscent of Radiohead's "Fitter Happier" narrator.

But no. All we get are those clunky conversations that never lead anywhere, followed by a final act that drops the bigger questions entirely, so it can focus on action (which is perfectly enjoyable), strained attempts at emotion (less enjoyable) and establishing a new status quo for any sequels (eh). That's when she starts experiencing glitches, lifelike images and sounds - a cat, a burning building, a screaming girl - that provoke an emotional response.

Numerous scenes in Ghost in the Shell (2017) take place in a lab, or in a city surrounded by holograms and futuristic tech. Major's cybernetic body is a marvel: her synthetic flesh detaches in panels or tears in battle to reveal the metallic inner workings. But like those holographic giants towering above the city, it's mostly just digital noise, visually impressive, but soulless.

The physical environments are a playground for opulent production design. In an opening sequence that borrows liberally from Westworld, Blade Runner, The Matrix and more, we learn that her original body was killed in a refugee crisis; her new one belongs to the Hanka Corporation, which means that, legally, so does she. "Artificial Intelligence" and "Minority Report".

That being said, the new movie provides a gripping storyline for those who are fans of action movies and psychological thrillers - and it introduces some interesting questions about identity and memories that will resonate with you once it's over.

But part of the essential problem for "Ghost in the Shell" is its timing: By now, we're well-versed in (if not tired of) the tale of the self-aware robot questioning the nature of humanity, and a lot of the plot points here feel like microwaved leftovers of everything from "Blade Runner" to "The Matrix" to "Westworld".

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