THEATRICAL REVIEW: Ghostbusters (2016)
Produced by: Ivan Reitman, Amy Pascal
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Edited by: Melissa Bretherton, Brent White
Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Matt Walsh, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong
I really don’t know how to start off this review. With the whole ridiculous “controversy” surrounding this movie for its leads being “gender swaps” of the original actors, not to mention the subsequent fears of sounding like a misogynist for not liking the trailers (and misogynists fearing being called out for being one while still giving their misogynist opinions on it), I’m fairly certain that Ghostbusters surpassed even Batman v Superman and the whole Ben Affleck casting in terms of the absurd levels of stigmatization surrounding it. For a reviewer, it’s pretty hard to even begin reviewing this film without addressing it, and if you happen to not like it, I can only imagine it’s even harder to articulate your thoughts without them being twisted, misconstrued, or misworded into something that someone somewhere would take offense at. I know – I’m a man, and I’m reviewing this movie. In fact, every time I thought about how I was going to review this movie, I hated the fact that I felt that I had to work the review around this controversy, even as someone who personally could not have given any damns about the casting because I had absolutely no problems with it nor the particular women that were cast. “God help me,” I thought, “if I don’t end up liking this movie.” Lucky me, I did.
For the most part.
Let me also reiterate something I noted in my review last year of the original film: I did not grow up with this franchise, and I did not even see this movie until I was already in college. Therefore, I have no real nostalgia for it, but I can certainly appreciate why people do. And even though I actually didn’t even really care for it all that much when I first saw it, I did grow to appreciate it and the affection everyone has for it, and eventually I even added it and its sequel into my movie collection. And yet, perhaps because of it, I also don’t think the sequel is anywhere near as bad as people like to imply. Similarly, I had no qualms about rebooting the franchise other than the fact that I couldn’t see other actors playing the same roles as the original four. Now that would’ve been a huge mistake. Luckily, that’s also a major pitfall that this rebooted film manages to avoid.
That being said, the heroes here start off much the same way that the original four did: separate and varyingly acquainted people from mostly scientific backgrounds coming together from varying degrees of interest and belief in the paranormal. The film luckily shies away, mostly, from having these characters directly mirror their predecessors’ personalities. Kristen Wiig plays Erin, a professor who used to study ghosts in the past but has since moved on to what she believes to be more respectable areas of study. Melissa McCarthy plays her childhood friend and former associate, Abby, who, since parting ways with Erin, has continued their research into the paranormal alongside her new research partner, Jillian Holtzmann. Holtzmann, played by Kate McKinnon, is a bit of a nutcase but a brilliant inventor and wholly committed to their unusual area of study. Leslie Jones, more directly and obviously paralleling the original as the Ernie Hudson of the group, rounds out the team as Patty, a blue collar MTA worker and amateur New York City historian who has a close encounter with the supernatural. Also as in the original film, these four are brought together by the sudden influx of apparitions – harbingers of a looming apocalypse.
The story of the movie is actually somewhat hard to pin down, as it’s not exactly substantial beyond the fact that it’s mainly a means of watching the four new main characters come together and do their ghost busting business, eventually saving the city from a big paranormal bad guy. It does borrow quite a lot from the plot structure from the original film, but, as with its characters, it does differ enough in execution and set pieces to feel more like an homage than a total remake. The style of the film is also a lot more kinetic and the jokes a lot more loose cannon. However, because of this, it’s also scattershot in terms of what jokes land and which don’t. This is a problem with a lot of otherwise very talented comedian filmmakers like Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, in that, as comedians themselves, too often they don’t really know when to reign in their equally very talented actors (who are often colleagues) who themselves are skilled improvisers but also don’t always know when enough is enough, thus requiring a skilled and conscientious editor – one who can stand up to the directors and excise some of their friends’ material for the sake of the movie as a whole.
The term for this style of editing is Line-O-Rama, and while it often results in some very funny moments, those moments are often immediately deflated by letting them go on for far too long, while others just don’t land in the first place, making it into the film simply through bad editing of the actor throwing themselves at the role. A good example of this here is in the opening scene in which Zach Woods plays a museum tour guide. He, as with a lot of the movie’s side characters, is just far too “on” in this small of a role, setting up and delivering punchlines that fall flat and distract from the characters we’re meant to care about and laugh at the most. There’s nobody for the leads to work off of, as with Dana in the first film. When every actor in the movie is running on this same wavelength and they’re obviously attempting to be as funny as the leads rather than simply reacting to the perceived insanity of everything. This becomes a sometimes exhausting distraction and was ultimately part of what sunk Sisters for me, too (among a great number of other things). While Ghostbusters doesn’t come anywhere near the levels of obnoxious as, say, that film’s scene between Amy Poehler and the Korean nail technician discussing the pronunciation of her Korean name for what feels like 10 minutes, it’s still disappointing how flat some of the jokes here fall. Ghostbusters’ characters are far more likable than those in Sisters, and yet it still succumbs to this vice often enough for me to dock it a few points.
The movie does have a great number of things I did like, however, enough for me to ultimately recommend it. The look of the film, including the use of 3D, was very cool, and I loved the colorful designs of the ghosts. I also felt like, after the first 10 to 15 minutes or so, the film does really hit its stride, where the more numerous funny moments are coming so fast that the ones that fall flat are merely stumbled over before getting left behind. And while I certainly understand the apprehension some people had towards the kookiness of these characters, I ultimately loved both Kate McKinnon’s mad scientist Holtzmann, who gets a really cool scene with the many new gadgets this film introduces in the climax of the film, as well as Chris Hemsworth’s hot but clueless hipster secretary character, Kevin. I’ve seen some complain that, as the secretary, the film misses the point about Annie Potts’ character in the original being a smart woman at a job that’s ultimately beneath her, but to that I say, This film doesn’t miss any such point – it just chose to do something different with an otherwise superficially analogous character. Kevin is quite an idiot and Holtzmann is a socially awkward nutcase, mind you, but I don’t think either was played any more ridiculously than Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully. (Yeah, yeah… Crucify me, if you must.) While Neil Casey is ultimately almost a non-entity as the primary villain, a vengeful loner who vows to cleanse the world of the living, the film is at least shortcutting him in favor of making the leads likable heroes, and his non-presence at least ultimately allows for some very fun stuff to happen and take the spotlight in the climax.
So, yeah, all that hubbub was much ado about not much. Ghostbusters 2016 was never going to best the original, and I don’t even know if it even tries to. It is neither the disaster it could’ve been nor the transcendent reboot it hopefully could have been. For what it is, it’s entertaining, and whether or not that’s going to be good enough for you is ultimately for you to decide. I have no regrets about having seen it in theatres nor even that I paid the premium for the 3D. This was never going to be a perfect film, regardless of what either side of the whole controversy nonsense was saying. See it for yourself. Like it – or don’t. Personally, while I wish that Paul Feig would reign in his actors and editing more with this film and perhaps not adhere so closely to the bizarre notion that improv is somehow always better than a properly set up joke in the proper context, I do feel like he has still created something that feels at once different from and yet completely worthy of being set alongside its predecessors.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5