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Ghost in the Shell’s journey to the big screen has been dominated by accusations of whitewashing.

Rupert Sanders’ live-action adaptation of the classic manga (which is also an in-part remake of the 1995 animation) was always going to be contentious for its inevitable westernization of a wholly Japanese story, but when Scarlett Johansson was cast as the series’ central icon, Major, the project seemed marked. Especially as – and this will be incredibly important later – Paramount reportedly considered trying to make her more Asian with CGI. Now, viewers are seeing that the film studio attempted to address the whitewashing controversy with an in-fiction “twist” – one that takes a drastic turn from the original movie and, frankly, is a rough sell in the live-action reboot.

From a marketing perspective, Johansson was a strong choice for the reboot – between a recurring Avengers role and other smart career choices, she’s become one of the most successful actresses ever – but creatively it was a tough pill to swallow; not only does it see a distinct character bluntly made white, it also deprives an Asian actress the opportunity to head up a major franchise. Naturally, those involved have been quick to defend the decision, with Johansson touting the importance of having female action leads, while original director Mamoru Oshii has stated there was no original ethnicity to override (which is odd, but we’ll get to that). While they’re somewhat fair points, it felt like they’re fighting a losing battle. Now the film’s here, they’ve resolutely lost.

You see, Sanders’ way of addressing the whitewashing is to steer into the skid, and he fails spectacularly. Ghost in the Shell takes a lot of its ideas from the original – the ethics of cybernetic enhancement, the importance of a person’s actions on their character – but the overriding theme is a desperate attempt to justify its casting that’s so tone deaf it tanks the film regardless of any other merits. Whitewashed casting is integral to the plot, and the result is something more interchangeably ill-advised and gobsmacking than Finn Jones’ entire Iron Fist press tour and Transformers: Age of Extinction’s Romeo and Juliet clause combined.

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