Movie Review – GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

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When 21st century remakes of beloved, iconic genre films of the ’80s/early ’90s such as Robocop, Total Recall, and Conan were marketed on social media platforms there was nary a peep out of the nerd culture gatekeepers. Sure, there were the usual comment thread trolls bemoaning the death of their childhoods on official Facebook Pages here and there, but in general there was no huge outcry, no organized smear campaigns, and the movies came and went without being affronts to mankind or tarnishing the legacies of the originals.

However, as we’ve come to know all too well over the past year or so, the dregs of toxic fandom, sexists, and nostalgia pearl-clutchers chose the all-female, Paul Feig-directed Ghostbusters reboot as their hill to die on; their line in the sand which could not be crossed by any false neutrino wand-wielders, lest they incur the wrath of the geek hordes. And unleash their vitriol they did, flooding official Ghostbusters Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts with hateful comments and reactions; creating subreddits dedicated to spreading negativity about the the film throughout the Internet (and of course brigading and downvoting any Ghostbusters-related links that could be viewed as positive); and launching a coordinated assault on the official YouTube channel, resulting in a wildly disproportionate number of dislikes on the film’s launch trailer – making it the most hated preview in YouTube history. These trolls have even gone so far as to march en masse on IMDb to bury the movie under a wave of one-star reviews, despite the glaring fact that none of them have actually seen it.

So why now, and why Ghostbusters? Well, most of the film’s detractors will tell you, rather vehemently, that it’s not about the gender of who’s wearing the proton packs, but rather the choice of director, the broad, politically charged style of humor glimpsed in the marketing, the production quality, or their weariness with Hollywood’s repeated raidings of their childhood toy chests to make a quick buck. But it doesn’t take a paranormal physicist to see that these all-out attacks on the movie never happened to the aforementioned likes of Robocop, because, well, they didn’t stick Scarlett Johansson or Rachel McAdams in that armor!

Regardless of the origin of their complaints—sexism and misogyny, or an unhealthy attachment to nostalgia—all of their worst nightmares have come true: Ghostbusters does not rape anyone’s childhood (this disgusting euphemism needs to die), it’s not a cinematic abomination, it’s not a feminist screed denouncing all men, it doesn’t erase or stain the legacy of the 1984 original, it’s…just a good movie. It’s not a classic or a perfect film, but it’s a fun, spooky romp with a surprising amount a heart for something that so many condemned as soulless factory product.

Most of that emotion comes from Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates and Kristin Wiig’s Erin Gilbert, two brilliant scientists and estranged friends who end up crossing paths again when Abby secretly publishes a book on Paranormal Studies she and Erin wrote years before their falling out. This is a huge problem for Gilbert, as she is seeking tenure at Columbia University’s prestigious physics department, whose head (played with icy snootiness by the always brilliant Charles Dance) doesn’t want anyone on his faculty believing in supernatural nonsense.

When Erin rushes to confront Abby about the book at Abby’s failing community science college, she ends up tagging along on an investigation into a ghost sighting at a historical New York mansion, where she gets slimed by the film’s first class-A apparition (the infamous puking scene from the trailers). This incident rekindles the camaraderie and passion for the paranormal between Erin and Abby, but, as in the original Ghostbusters, they both end up getting thrown out of academia because of it and are forced to team up with Abby’s lab engineer Jillian Holtzman and start a paranormal investigations business.

I’ll get to more on Holtzmann later, as she is far and away the best character in the film, as well as the breakout character of the summer, but the core of the new cast’s chemistry begins and ends with the dynamic forged between McCarthy and Wiig. Those worried McCarthy would be playing a vulgar character who farts and falls down a lot should rest easy — that is absolutely not the character she plays here. Abby is a pushy, mouthy true believer who has never wavered in her pursuit  and views Erin as somewhat of a sellout; betraying their beliefs and life’s work for a shot at a dull, cold, purely scientific career. While Erin is a meek, anxious but funny and awkward woman just looking for some respect and perhaps even some measure of control in her life.

The two bounce of each other well in different types of scenes, whether it be excitedly spouting off the Ghostbusters franchise trademark parapsychology/physics jargon together, or tackling their past issues with each other head on. There’s a sweet and slightly sad scene in the second act that fills in the teenage background of the two friends and really helps cement their bond in the audience’s eyes, which pays off well in the climax of the movie.

Ghostbusters is a character-centric film through and through (often at the expense of plot structure and momentum, which I’ll explore in a bit), and that is no more evident than in Jillian Holtzmann. Kate McKinnon is an absolute revelation as the Ghostbusters resident weapons designer and weirdo engineer, lighting up the frame with an unequaled kinetic energy, bouncy enthusiasm, and bizarre voice affectations/facial expressions. McKinnon absolutely owns every frame she appears in, whether she’s just staring vacantly into space or exuberantly showing off her ghostbusting weaponry like the proton grenades or ghost shredder. Holtzmann is a breakout role for MckInnon; an easy ticket out of Saturday Night Live and into film superstardom.

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Rounding out the foursome is Leslie Jones, who brings the same level of brash, in-your-face humor she blasts out weekly on Saturday Night Live to the proceedings as MTA worker Patty Tolan. Jones’ casting was controversial among the petulant doubters, as she was perceived to be portraying a typical “loud, sassy black city woman” stereotype.” Again, as with McCarthy, that critique is blown to smithereens by Jones’ performance and role in the narrative. There are no stereotypes on display here, Patty is simply an extension of Jones natural energy — being bold and boisterous is exactly who she is all the time. No, Patty is not a scientist, but she is a history buff and knows important background information about all of the buildings and places vital to the plot of the film. While I wish this had been utilized to a greater extent, there’s no denying that all four women are strong, intelligent, and competent in their own way. City history is Patty’s way, but aside from that, the character’s interactions with the group and her jokes are just flat-out funny.

As great as the four Ghostbusters are, the film is almost stolen out from under them by Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin, their beyond dim-witted receptionist. As he did briefly in last year’s National Lampoon’s Vacation reboot, Hemsworth breaks out of his stoic hunk mode and absolutely kills it as a lovable, clueless dolt. The sight gags and incredibly stupid responses that come out of his mouth during his job interview sequence are a particular highlight. When Thor is ready to hang up his hammer, he’ll have a great comedic career ahead of him.

The film is also loaded with terrific actors in the supporting/cameo roles. Andy Garcia brings a weird combination of humor and narcissism to his Mayor part, and is backed up brilliantly by his condescending aide, played with wicked verve by another SNL star, Cecily Tyson. Almost every walk-on is a killer “that guy!”, among them the likes of Ed Begley Jr., Silcon Valley‘s Zach Woods, Deadpool‘s Karan Soni, The Tonight Show‘s Steve Higgins, and Mad TV vet (and Paul Feig favorite) Michael McDonald.

As I mentioned earlier, where Ghostbusters comes up slightly short is in the villain/plot category. While both of these aspects are perfectly entertaining and not disastrous by any means, there are structural and development flaws. The first two acts of the movie—where we get to know the characters, meet some fun and scary ghosts, and discover what is about to be unleashed on the city—hum along beautifully. But as it enters the third act, the film gets tripped up by some sloppy edits, truncated scenes (there is an extended version coming to blu-ray, and you can feel it in this act), weak transitions, some dodgy greenscreen effects, and an overall lack of true, pulse-pounding momentum heading into the final showdown with the film’s villain Rowan.

Rowan is a character that I’m sure Feig and his writing partner Katie Dippold initially modeled on those slightly creepy, socially awkward guys that feel bitter and resentful towards the bullies of the world or even the women who spurned them and start withdrawing from society, blaming other peoples’ cruelty for their failures in life and their feelings of weakness or inadequacy. They may have never anticipated how meta the character plays out on-screen, because in many respects, Rowan represents every angry, insecure, misanthropic man-baby spewing venom at the very idea of the movie and the four lady Ghostbusters themselves.

Rowan is played by the wonderfully weird character actor Neil Casey, and while he tries his best to be unsettling as possible, the script ultimately lets him down. Instead of flat-out evil, Rowan just comes across as a slightly sketchy nobody. It also doesn’t help that we don’t get to see much of him over the running time and his motivation is nebulous. Speaking as someone who has seen Casey be totally bizarre and scene-stealing in projects like Yahoo Screen’s Other Space, I know he could have been truly menacing and disturbing if given more development and meatier dialogue to sink his teeth into. Luckily, the script involves him transferring his essence into other forms which I won’t ruin here, allowing for more fun and scares during the spectacle-laden climax.

The final showdown between the ‘busters and Rowan is a mixed bag that mostly satisfies in spite of some aforementioned digital effects problems. At times the screen is overwhelmed with a hair too many CGI spirits and unecessary…supernatural cloudiness, I guess? It doesn’t get quite as overloaded or ugly as the awful CGI turdstorm during the third act of Batman V Superman, but there are times when the greenscreen compositing is distracting enough to take you out of the moment. The ghost designs in the film are both interesting and just the right amount of scary, with the standouts being the puking Aldrige mansion ghost, the death row inmate, a horrifying mannequin (shudder), creepy 1930s parade balloon ghosts, and a 20-foot-tall Uncle Sam specter.

Rowan’s final form, while not the most original idea in the world,  is nonetheless a well-executed, gargantuan beastie who goes out in a way that is sure to irk the haters beyond all reason.  What I liked best about the climactic battle, though, was after all of the chaos, fan servicey cameos (that old spud Slimer has quite a silly role to play in the struggle), and cool proton weapon usage (again, Holtzmann rocks!), it circled back to become a moment about two friends reconnecting and reforging a special bond.

It goes without saying that this reboot was never going to be better than the original 1984 classic, but it more than stands on its own as a new exploration into the concept. I can imagine thousands of young girls strapping on toy proton packs or perhaps even becoming inspired to delve deeper into the sciences, thanks to their new heroes. Despite what you may have heard, Ghostbusters does not rely solely on gross-out humor, sight gags, or cheap slapstick comedy; rather it leans on the warmth, charm, and fun dynamic established among Wiig, McCarthy, MckInnon, and Jones. The biggest compliment I can pay these four women is that they are worthy of the name…Ghostbusters.

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Jeff Carter

Jeff is the defining voice of his generation. Sadly, that generation exists only in an alternate dimension where George Lucas became supreme overlord of the Earth in 1979 and replaced every television broadcast and theatrical film on the planet with Star Wars and Godzilla movies. In this dimension, he’s just a guy from New England who likes writing snarky things about superheroes, monsters, and robots.