As a Fan of the Original Ghostbusters…
I’m a big ol’ fan of the 1984 movie Ghostbusters. Have been ever since I was five years old, and saw The Real Ghostbusters cartoon for the first time. From there it was the movie, then the sequel… For as long as I can remember, Ghostbusters has been my favourite movie. Suffice to say I’m what some would call a “real fan”. So this is my editorialized review, as a geek who loved the original AND has seen Paul Feig’s new reboot.
Long story short, I mostly dug it! Ghostbusters (2016) represents a successful effort to reboot the long-dormant Ghostbusters franchise, and the main cast turn in performances that range from pretty good to hilarious original creations. In my opinion, the film stumbles when it a) sticks too close to honouring the original film, or b) gets mired in extraneous plot. Fortunately Feig mostly manages to create a fun, fresh summer effects comedy, which opens the doors for an even more assured sequel. I give it a 7/10.
Now, even though I’m writing this as a “fan of the original movie”, I certainly don’t purport to speak for all fans of that movie. If you disagree with me, feel free to say so in the comments.
But try not to be dicks about it.
It’s become hard to talk about this reboot without talking about the backlash to it – most of which has been done in the name of “huge fans of the original movie”. Here’s the thing – you can not like a movie you’ve seen, or not be interested in a movie that’s coming out. That’s fine. Thing is, people who feel this way generally share their opinions and then move on, because, you know, life. The backlash I’m referring to is the guys (and let’s be honest, it’s chiefly guys) who have been throwing a collective shitfit from the moment Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters was announced. If you’re spending months harassing the makers of a movie on Twitter, or recording angry video diatribes about why you’ll “refuse to review the film”, or organizing YouTube trailer downvote brigading campaigns, then frankly your opinion is no longer relevant. You don’t care to discuss this movie in good faith, because at the end of the day, this reboot is just a movie. Similarly the original, in spite of all the people who love it, is just a movie.
With that out of the way… What did I like about the reboot? The movie quickly carves out its own comedic tone while remaining true to the original’s “oddball scientists vs. the paranormal” premise. Whereas I would describe the original film’s tone as “dry, blue collar smart asses”, the reboot positions itself more as “jokey, long-suffering professionals”. The reboot also positions Kristen Wiig’s “Erin Gilbert” as a status-obsessed professor up for tenure, who years ago had a falling out with her colleague/best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). This backstory gives the early scenes some nice tension as Erin can’t help but be drawn back into Abby’s un-respected paranormal research. From there the team sees their first ghost, gets thrown out of a university setting, goes into business, and meets their third and fourth members. Also, like the original this first act is definitely the strongest part of the film.
Speaking of the team, it is rounded out by gleefully eccentric inventor Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and blue collar historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). McKinnon is the clear standout performance of the film, bringing an original anarchic energy to her reckless experiments. Jones also gets some great lines, though they’re often deadpan remarks as opposed to the outsized energy she normally brings to her stand-up and Saturday Night Live Weekend Update monologues.
Once the crew starts encountering ghosts, we are introduced to Feig’s spectral creations, which blend a kid-friendly phosphorescence with genuinely unsettling undead character designs. It should be said that the sequel contains several more satisfying jump scare moments (think the “Librarian Ghost” from the original). The team combats these spectres with an array of increasingly tricked-out ghostbusting equipment, comprising much more variety than the original film. The action scenes have also received an upgrade, with the climactic battle showcasing our heroes in exciting hand-to-ghost combat with a horde of ghouls (as compared to the original, which was relatively light on action of any kind).
The new film also includes some clever twists on the original, such as the city officials acknowledging privately to the Ghostbusters that the supernatural exists, while insisting on publicly decrying them as frauds to avoid citizen panic. SNL’s Cecily Strong is particularly funny as a cheerfully two-faced PR rep who thanks the team for saving the city before brutally running them down to reporters. Also, the main antagonist of the film is a bitter loner named Rowan (Neil Casey), who hates the new Ghostbusters team while yearning to return to the past (this is the reboot perhaps predicting the hate it would receive.) And last but not least Kevin, the sweetly dim receptionist played by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. He delivers many of the movie’s best gags, almost to the point where the film lingers on him for a bit too long…
Which brings me into things I did not like about the film. Principally, the movie is very unevenly paced, in both similar and different ways than the original. Firstly, Feig carves out ample space for his usual improvisational riffing with the cast, which sometimes pays off (McKinnon mugging along to DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” is a hoot) but just as often leaves scenes feeling sluggish, and without a comedic drive. While much has been made about how the original Ghostbusters also employed improv to great effect, the truth is it was generally the actors adding tag or alt lines to an already scripted scene (Example: “Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head, you remember that”? was scripted, while Ramis’ retort, “That would’ve worked if you hadn’t stopped me,” was improvised.) Feig on the contrary often allows his actors to riff out whole sections of scenes, which can leave them feeling like an aimless edited-together series of one-liners. Not to mention, without an R rating, Feig can’t rely on his actors to outdo each other on profane absurdities, as he did in Spy and The Heat.
Secondly, the movie appears to have been heavily cut down for time in post-production (I caught one interview where Feig said the original cut was over four hours long, which for a feature comedy is insane). There’s a whole dance sequence featuring a possessed group of soldiers which is teed up, only to be forgotten (and then re-appear over the end credits). Also, the final act of the film plays as though it hinged on a deleted subplot where Wiig’s character quits the group (it’s the only way the movie’s emotional climax would actually feel like a payoff).
Thirdly, several of the characters are far more hit or miss than I would expect from a Feig film, though this might be because he and co-writer Kate Dippold rarely write ensembles this large. Leslie Jones’ Patty often feels alternately hilarious and then ill-at-ease with the tone of the movie, as if the writers weren’t quite confident with capturing her comedic voice. Melissa McCarthy’s Abby is, surprisingly, the least engaging character of the foursome. Her usual low-key hostility is never as funny as it is in Spy or The Heat, and her falling out with Wiig’s character feels all but resolved by the 40 minute mark.
Then there’s the cameos. Much has been made of the original cast returning to play new cameo characters in the new film (plus a shout out to the late great Harold Ramis). Without spoiling who plays who, I’ll lay it out like this: Bill Murray’s cameo is a funny premise that he seems 100% uninterested in, then returns for a second scene of; Dan Aykroyd’s cameo legit made me smile; Annie Potts gets a couple of strong laughs; Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver’s come very late and feel like afterthoughts. Then there’s cameos of various lengths from cast members of Feig’s Other Space, several of which stop the movie dead in it’s tracks (did we need four separate appearances by Karan Soni’s delivery boy?)
Speaking of Other Space, while Neil Casey’s baddie Rowan is suitably creepy, he’s also not funny or engaging in any way, despite the film spending plenty of time on him. This problem also plagues the film’s approach to the Ghostbusters’ technology – multiple scenes are given over to Kate McKinnon spouting technobabble devoid of jokes, followed by repeated tutorial scenes that feel straight out of a video game. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to justify every single iconic element from the original: the choice of car, where the “No Ghost” logo comes from, why they wear jumpsuits, etc. I call this “Batman Begins Syndrome”, and it’s never been less effective than I found it here.
So in the end I liked the movie, though it has certainly not replaced the original for me. But that wasn’t what I was looking for. I just wanted to see a fun, funny riff of the original’s premise – smart asses use gadgets to fight the supernatural – and that is indeed what I got. I’m genuinely optimistic to see where this franchise goes next and, last time I checked, my childhood remains firmly intact.
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