Ghostbusters (2016) Review

Ghostbusters

Lee, Shane and Darren take wholly different approaches to covering 2016’s “Ghostbusters” but ultimately agree that this is, for the most part, a good thing (if not technically, in some regards, a good movie).

LeeButton

Identity is a qualifier most movies go without. Few require it, as most studios find safety and comfort in marketing red font rom-com after rom-com knowing that a base audience for that material already exists, feeding on the successes of “Love, Actually” or “When Harry Met Sally…” or what have you.

Some do venture though, and it feels wonderful to proclaim that Ghostbusters does have an identity. Paul Feig’s latest film feels like a foray of his now cemented ad-lib, crowd-winning comedy style into the world of modern superhero movies. A buddy comedy with a New York backdrop and a fantasy scenario: capturing ghosts. There’s a little excess, a little crudeness and a bunch of small, funny character interactions; the tone is something unseen before in films of this nature, with a strong focus on friend-on-friend banter rather than action set-pieces. It’s an identity all of its own, one that feels fresh and interesting and, unfortunately, sidelined regularly for commercial formulae guff and desperate call-backs to get fans on board with a reboot.

For those unaware, “Ghostbusters” is a re-imagining of the original 1984 “Ghostbusters”; a relatively beloved film by those who belove it and one I had hoped to draw away from comparisons between because, particularly in this case, the new film was an original story featuring original characters set in an existing universe, something I am very much in favour of filmmakers and storytellers doing. Taking existing concepts and putting your spin on them, ala ‘the remake’, always makes for great discussion and, often, fun and exciting cinema.

And the new “Ghostbusters” is no exception on those fronts. This is a fun and exciting film, with fun and exciting characters, none of whom we have seen in exactly this shape and form before. Characters that then, fairly regularly, make joking references to things only people intimately aware of the original movie could possibly laugh at, let alone understand.

In practice, this shouldn’t be a terrible sin. In-jokes and references are as much a part of filmmaking as they are of poetry and classical music. It is only when the narrative actually grinds to a halt, not once, but on four separate occasions to accommodate speaking characters who have absolutely no bearing on the plot that the actual flow and identity of the film is under threat.

One scene in particular actually damages the entire work as a whole, and I want to explore that scene fully here to explain how, on so many levels, it corrupts the film.

A returning cast member from the original 1984 film is given a character against type (supposedly a joke in itself), and basically cons one of the Ghostbusters (played by Kristen Wiig) into unleashing a ghost to prove the validity of their scientific field. Once released, the creature immediately kills off the returning cast member by dropping them out a second-floor window.

It’s a short enough scene, so let’s break down the damage ten minutes can do with a short list of issues.

One is that it breaks the feel of the world up to that point. The tone of the movie had, until that point, been something along the lines of a slapstick comedy. In an earlier scene, Melissa McCarthy’s character was seen bouncing from wall-to-wall at high speeds like a pinball, and another scene saw a civilian dangling from one arm screaming for help as a ghost approached, only to be perfectly fine and unaffected the very next scene.

That a character can fall from roughly the equivalent of one of McCarthy’s and die breaks the rules we had established about the world we were living in, and rather than create stakes where any character could now reasonably be considered threatened, this instead diminishes our involvement with the understanding of the world, thus forcing us to stop thinking about it because it no longer makes sense and, so, disengage from any further action we watch. This happening, at a critical point where the fantasy action is just about to be ramped up tenfold, cripples much of the film’s integrity.

But that’s only one problem with the scene, as it also undoes something considerably more important to the movie as a whole: its characters. Or character, singular, in this case: Wiig’s Erin. Arguably the only character with any real backstory, focus or arc (we open with her, we get a stilted and poorly inserted origin story for her, we get a laughably bad attempt to bring her character’s quote-unquote journey full circle); we spend quite some time with Erin playing the sceptic of the gang as she acts as the audience’s surrogate, playing someone who knows there will be ghosts and busting because they can read the title of the movie, but who doesn’t understand how or why this will come about.

As the story progresses, we see Erin pull further and further away from traditional academia to focus on her true passion with the other girls, especially after being fired by her old boss, played by Charles Dance. This fairly cute transition from her stiffer self actually feels like solid character development, and this is important because so far no one else seems to have been granted the same privilege. From here, we can suppose there should be a small relapse, something that shows that Erin still wants to salvage her career as a strictly academic scientist despite her rekindled friendship with McCarthy’s Abby. This makes sense, helping flesh out Erin’s motivations while also introducing stakes and reluctance into her arc.

This would have been a great time to reintroduce Charles Dance’s character as a sceptic, prompting Erin to desperately try to rekindle her old job progression and try to impress him. Instead, it’s a completely new character that Erin, for no fully explored reason, desperately attempts to impress by releasing the ghost.

All development for Erin is disposed of by this scene simply to extend a ghost hunt that didn’t need extending. Her character looks reactionary, petty and neither the plot not characters ever address it. On paper, a lapse into old habits would make for some decent drama, but the final product only waters down her motivation and thereby strains our understanding and support for her.

Finally; if character development consequences weren’t enough, the movie can’t even muster general consequences. Picture the scene: the police don’t believe in ghosts, a man falls from a broken window of a building, the tenants are questioned. You could imagine they might, I don’t know, go to jail? Be held overnight for questioning? Sound like crazy people? Only the latter kind of happens, but they get off scott-free within minutes and no one ever brings it up again. Amazingly, this happens again later in the film!

The world of Ghostbusters refuses to function with even basic logic. Worse, it misses genuine excuses for drama and development. And this scene, with all its flaws, is pretty indicative of the movie as a whole: good concepts and potential, struggling upriver through torrents of mediocre writing and forced expectations.

Throw excessive product placement into the mix, add some shoddy editing between ad libs and a tight tether to the original film and you’ve got a movie that outright squanders its potential.

However, and this is important to note: there is potential here to squander. A fact which helps elevates the film well past your typical studio misfire.

Even if we don’t spend a significant amount of time getting to know the characters, they are a blast to hang around. The back-and-forth is natural and genuinely funny, and it is great to see a team that just get along well and unite in a single passion.

Bit characters, even if underdeveloped, do get great lines here and there including the wholly unnecessary ‘Mayor character’ who gets away with a reference to Jaws that should only shine a strong flashlight on the writing of this film, but still gets points for the audacity.

Ghosts look good, environments fun and vivid, bustin’ looks fun: there’s quite a number of elements that work for Ghostbusters. Even its hip, happening, ‘down with da kids’ jokes generally work and help clarify the identity and vision of the actual people working on this.

It’s just a shame the final product is so muddied. Kids and those who crave mindless entertainment are certain to enjoy this; it’s not too crass and it zips along at an even pace. Those looking for something more cohesive and involving that capitalizes on its good intentions are better off holding out for the inevitable, hopefully superior, sequel.

B-

ShaneButton

Thankfully I don’t like making bold, unfounded statements based on advertisements, because if I had I would be eating a hat right about now. Yes, the phrase “If the new Ghostbusters is good, I’ll eat my hat” did not brush past my lips (mostly because I don’t own any hats), but I sure as hell thought it.

I watched “The Boss”. I was there while Melissa McCarthy put the Y in Comedy.  (If you thought that pun was funny you might enjoy “The Boss”.)  As much as I loved “Spy” and “Bridesmaids”, I thought this might have been one step too far for Paul Feig.

If you haven’t seen the new iteration of Ghostbusters yet, go see it! (miraculously the American audience managed to accept a rebranding of a movie without calling it ‘Ghostbusters: The People You Gonna Call’)

Don’t get me wrong; it is still flawed. There were two large sections of the movie that I was genuinely bored out of mind during, but it would be a bit of a misogynistic ‘Plan B’ to state this movie was going to be a train-wreck and then complain that it arrived but was 4 minutes late.

The key ingredient was Kristen Wiig, in my eyes. She always has and always will be perfect. There; now that’s the kind of unfounded statement I can get behind. Both Kristen and Melissa shared the ‘straight character’ card, which I thought was a great idea because relying too much on Melissa McCarthy’s ability to lead plot development and tone is always a dangerous move in my book.

What did surprise me was how naturally funny I found Kate McKinnon to be in her role as Jillian Holtzmann; by the advert I already knew she was being pinned as the character that elucidates the empirical rationale backing innovations (I.e. TALKS SCIENCE) while someone comes in at the end with a short surmising gag as above. I shuddered at the possibilities, and although this did happen an unspeakable number of times in the movie, her quirky delivery, energy and chemistry with her fellow actresses made it feel like a point that didn’t need to be mentioned (but still sorta did.)

I think the character development was easily the strongest, funniest and most enjoyable part of the movie, contrasting against the dull, apocalyptic green-screen battle in the final act.

I took away two main thoughts from this movie:

  1. Never ever blindly judge a movie based on an advertisement. (especially if it’s too good to be true – I’m looking at you, “Epic Movie”.)
  2. If you still thought this movie was awful, you hate women. (Unfounded statement #2, no regrets.)

I knew I had given up on not liking this movie when I thought about watching it again some day and liking the idea.

B+

DarrenButton

It’s hard to be objective on a film when it comes from your childhood. I don’t know how fair I can be to a film series that means a lot to me when they reboot the franchise. That said, the little kid inside me just couldn’t resist getting excited for more Ghostbusters no matter the reason.

Ghostbusters keeps the initial premise of the first movie (and second) by performing an Akroydian idea of how to make a movie. Remember how good the original was and just blatantly copy that. Joking aside, if you’ve seen Ghostbusters before then you know how most the film will work, following similar beats throughout the film, and with gratuitous cameos from everyone possible.

The real difference comes from the characters. Erin Gilbert (Kirsten Wiig) is our main lead sharing that position with her best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), her childhood friend who she recently lost touch with in an attempt to conform with Academia’s high standards. Just before receiving her tenure, making her hard work and ass-kissing worthwhile, a man claims to have seen a ghost and she will need to find her old friend to keep a lid on her embarrassing youth writing a novel about ghosts. From there she meets Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), a crazy engineer who flirts with anything that moves and eventually Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a history buff who just wants to connect with other people.

This, for me, is where the movie starts to take off. While there are some very great set pieces that really hammer the feel of Ghostbusters, such as the opening haunting, the movie starts to make sense when we see all the women together. They have a tremendous chemistry, each working off each other and ad-libbing, building on their strengths. McCarthy’s character is a little off-brand with what she usually plays, being a more subtle and warm character that she hasn’t really played since her role in Gilmore Girls. The rest of the cast is great, having a complex mix of characterisation that I didn’t really expect from the reboot.

The thing to take away from them is their competency. I don’t mean as actors but as characters. Each is a bright strong woman and the work revels in this. There is no easy jokes in this movie, no quick denigration of who they are, instead focussing the humour and the plot in bolstering women not tearing them down. Some of the jokes do fall a little flat, but the cast has enough comedy chops to have a little leeway in that regard. Mckinnon, for me, being a constant source of humour with her antics and zany presence.

Is Ghostbusters perfect? No, like I said the jokes can fall a little flat sometimes; the villain is undeveloped and anaemic as a character; Wiig’s backstory is interesting but never fully fleshed out striking me as a missed opportunity in a movie that misses a lot of chances to expand the characterisation of any of its characters, and the plot can be a little muddled, with the third act being a real cluster of trying to make the next scene more tense, more ridiculous and bigger than what came before but it can’t support the weight of such a build-up.

The worst thing to happen to this movie is Ghostbusters. Relying far too heavily on what had come before instead of enjoying what it is now. With a ridiculous amount of cameos from each living member of the 84 cast (with the exception of Moranis) and a lot of call back jokes to the earlier movies, it strangles the life out of this otherwise fun film. It feels like the studio exerted a lot of pressure to try and keep the old fans happy by going the force awakens route of shoving in as much fan service as they could get away with but it just bloats the movie with unfunny and pace-killing detritus.

That said Ghostbusters is still a very funny movie, utilising its cast and premise to its fullest with a very subtle female empowerment message that feels real. These are strong women and the movie doesn’t see the need to bash the audience over the head with that, instead allowing it to sink in gradually.

As a fan of the original, I am so proud of this movie. Keeping what made the original great and adding to it, bringing in a fresh perspective and making, what I’m sad to say rarely happens, a film with the women being heroes, being as funny and as human as the men, never being sexualised or just being rewards for other characters.

Almost like they are human beings. Gasp, shock, Mass hysteria.

B

[Lee and Shane’s reviews were originally uploaded 19/07/2016]

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2 thoughts on “Ghostbusters (2016) Review

  1. Pingback: ASC Podcast EP#09 – Ghostbusters (2016) | Big Picture Reviews

  2. Pingback: 2016 in [Big Picture] Review | Big Picture Reviews

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