Ghostbusters 2016 review

21 July 2016 by , No Comments


I am disappointed to say that the new Ghostbusters movie is bad. It’s unfunny, it’s unfocused, and undeniably struggles to carve out any sort of identity for itself – and yet, somehow, I can’t quite bring myself to hate it in the same way that I’ve hated other bad movies. There’s just enough kind-of-okay ideas here for me to believe that there was at least one self-aware human being on the production staff and I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to do something new with the franchise but, unfortunately, I don’t think it quite works as well as it should have.

Now, because the Internet is the Internet and some people on it are insane, let me just list off a few of the things that I did like about the movie to karmatically balance out everything I’m going to say after this paragraph: I like how the new team all have identities of their own and never get sexualised despite clearly having an interest in bonking. I like how Leslie Jones’ character, who was set up in the trailer to be more annoying than a combination of Jar-Jar Binks and the Crazy Frog, actually turned out to be the most thoughtful member of the team. I like how the movie chronicles the formation of the Ghostbusters and their gadgets, and I like how the leading lady remains committed to the scientific method throughout the movie even though what she’s dealing with flies in the face of what present day science currently understands. I have a few positive feelings regarding the metal gig battle because it was reasonably enjoyable and I even like how Chris Hemsworth is just there to be a brainless beauty that the ladies can drool over. True, his character can be very annoyingly stupid at times but I’m prepared to let that slide because Hollywood has been providing us guys with countless objectified women who serve no purpose except to look gorgeous, so I’m not going to begrudge this film for gender-flipping things. On the whole, there are certainly a lot of interesting things to talk about here but, if you’ll forgive me for trotting out the old film school cliche, describing a movie as “Interesting” is really just a polite way of saying, “It’s not that great.” And, no, it’s not because the main characters are all women. It is stupid, insane, and pointless to blame our leading ladies for this movie’s failings just because of their genders. The problems arise primarily from the movie’s script and I’d be willing to be that even if the new team of Ghostbusters had been made up of male comic superstars like Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Frankie Boyle, and Chris Rock, it wouldn’t have worked any better.

Mind you, though, now I want to see Frankie Boyle fighting ghosts. Somebody get on that.

The opening act rather sets the tone for the whole movie: it’s trying so hard to be funny and, sometimes, it does cause you to crack a smile but never anything approaching genuine laughter. Not that I think the original Ghostbusters was the funniest movie on the planet but it did at least have some jokes – and it knew how to have fun and inject everything with that silly but irreplaceable 80’s charm. Here we just kinda get nothing. A lot of the gags feel very token and forced, like somebody wrote a serviceable but unfunny script that an executive bigwig then fed through the Humourtron 3000 to crowbar-in a bunch of ~wacky quips~ that are for the most part less entertaining than a series of breath-crushing allergic reactions.

To be fair to the film, the story is far stronger than the comedy. Kristen Wiig plays protagonist Erin Gilbert, a scientist whose career opportunities are threatened when her old friend Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy, republishes an old book they wrote about paranormal activity. At first, Gilbert’s goals are simple: do what it takes to shut Yates up so that she can go back to being a rising academic star but, this being a Ghostbusters movie, that all changes when she has an actual encounter with a spirit. She excitedly blabs on camera that she’s seen a real ghost, the video spreads across the internet, Gilbert loses her job, and before long she and Yates are teaming up to fight the dead across the city together with fellow scientist Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). The plot bounces along at a reasonable pace, makes fairly consistent sense, and ends after just the right amount of time, so whatever its flaws may be you can never accuse this film of overstaying its welcome. The characters also bounce off of each other rather acceptably. There is a certain cartoonish quality to them that sometimes makes it just a bit too hard to take them seriously but, for what we’ve got, it kind of works.

I just wish that the script hadn’t played it quite so safe and gone for the most obvious gags. There’s a large number of rather hollow cameos and nods to the original that seem to have been made for no other reason than to say to the angry fanboys, “Look at how much nerd cred we have! See! Dan Aykroyd’s in this! That means you have to like us now! Please like us!” But there’s simply no need for this level of pandering and even less reason why the film should be diverting time and effort away from its new ideas to arbitrarily acknowledge the past. That’s why an entertaining action scene during a metal gig leads into a scene where Bill Murray gets thrown out of a window for no other reason than because he’s Bill Murray and that is a thing from the old Ghostbusters movie that people liked. I get that it makes sense from a story perspective but making sense is not the same as being fun.

For what it’s worth, Kate McKinnon has probably the most engaging part in the movie. Being the brainy one, she’s probably meant to be this movie’s equivalent of good old Egon Spengler but her performance goes in a completely different direction from Harold Ramis’ lovable dork, which I like. You can’t recreate what the original had, so why bother trying? There’s a certain subtle insanity to her performance and psychotic smirks that makes it hard to tell whether she’s genuinely that eccentric or whether she just enjoys screwing with her friends. One wishes that she’d been allowed to dial the crazy up a few notches. She always seems a bit more subdued than she should be. Remember Igor in Young Frankenstein? I was kind of expecting something like that but with two X chromosomes and a PhD – alas, that is not the case. I’ll also give credit to Leslie Jones’ Tovan. Some have said that making the only plot-relevant person of colour on the team one of those, “Book dumb, street smart” cliches was a racist decision and, since I’m Whiter than a Walker, I choose to Let Smarter People Write Smarter Commentary because literally anybody else is bound to know more than I ever will. I shall say for the record, though, that while she did have plenty of lines of quote-unquote “funny” dialogue that actually wasn’t all that funny, Patty Tovan is actually quite competent. On more than one occasion does she say words to the effect of, “Since we did Action X in an earlier scene, maybe it will achieve Goal Y in this one?”

It’s just a pity that those two characters don’t get enough screen time. Wiig and McCarthy’s friendship is, disappointingly, the least interesting part of the movie. There a lot about the city’s lay lines and its history of supernatural activity that makes for some nice background details and the character of Gilbert is easily at her best when she’s trying to approach this insane world she lives in with science and rationality, so it begs the question of why they didn’t amp up her straight woman qualities because I firmly believe that, somewhere behind all the messy dialogue, there’s a recipe for a good deadpan snarker but none of the chefs ever bothered to go looking for it. Instead, they just served up another helping of that utterly tasteless, “We used to be friends but then we weren’t and now we are because of friendship” gruel. There are a few potentially sweet moments throughout the film but I’m just not sold on any of them and the lack of decent chemistry between the cast means that I am simply not convinced that they are prepared to risk their lives for each other. There’s also a lot of confused character motivations about the place. Chris Hemsworth’s idiot secretary character Kevin, for instance, at one point gets all fired up about wanting to become a Ghostbuster himself despite the fact that this has never been a part of his character up until this point. When did he suddenly develop this desire to be a hero? That seems like it might have been an interesting development to follow, too bad it happened off-screen. Again, not that the original movie was some grand testament to the power of friendship because it wasn’t – it was a big, silly, cheesy romp and that’s what we liked about it – but, if you’re going to make camaraderie a core theme of the remake then it might have helped if the comrades in question hadn’t been so bloody boring.

I know that we delve deeper and deeper into the realms of subjectivity whenever we bring in words like “Boring” because they’re not really quantifiable but then what is when it comes to art? All taste is subjective, after all, and it’s entirely possible that you’ve come away from this movie thinking that everything I’ve said is wrong and, if that’s the case, that’s perfectly fine. If you had fun with it, that’s great. I, however, did not. I tried to like it, I really did, but at the end of the day there are only so many forced jokes, obligatory references, and horrible remixes of the original theme song that I can endure before I just have to say, “It wasn’t for me.”

Still, props for the few new ideas that were present and I certainly hope that any potential sequels learn how to take the bits that were good and expand upon them properly. One certainly hopes that they try to improve rather than just giving up at the first hurdle. Although, considering that this is Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if a second reboot was on the cards.

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