Ghostbusters 2016 review

Although I’m “late to the party”, I actually did see the movie on opening weekend. Considering the “fan” backlash ever since the movie was announced and the first trailer hit the public, I wanted to take a step back before putting my thoughts on the movie out there. It was a conversation following an improv audition that motivated me to actually write this review.

First things first, the individuals responsible for the first trailer should be fired. Like many, I didn’t like it at all. The jokes they included weren’t funny and made Leslie Jones’ character appear like a caricature. Unless their intent was to set the bar low to exceed expectations.The movie has much better lines which were not included. I found myself laughing way more than I expected going in.

Secondly, I am wary of any reboot of an established franchise. I’ve always been resistant to franchise reboots when the original was good. It’s a cheap ploy to bank off prior success and lazy story writing. I understand why studio executives do it, but it gives bad movies undeserved attention and detracts what would otherwise be good or great movies by innately drawing comparisons to the original source material. You can argue “you have to judge the movies separately”. You would also be wrong. Movies don’t exist in a vacuum. Movies are an art form, although one more commercially motivated than some others. As an art form, it exists as a representation of creativity but also of the times it is presented. It exists within a context and by the creative influences on the original creators.

The movie doesn’t shy away from the originals either. There are frequent call-backs and a few cameos which quickly remind you “Hey, remember that movie you liked? Here’s stuff from it so you can like this movie too!” These are often hit or miss. The sequence with Slimer was great. Bill Murray was not. However, like I’ll note a few times later, this breaks immersion and gets you out of the story.

Now, as our Prime Minister would say, it is 2016. So seeing a reversed gender cast might be in order… if the original movie had a strong theme of male empowerment or male bonding. It really didn’t or if it did, it wasn’t something I picked up on. I didn’t like the original Ghostbusters because they were all men. I liked it because the story was fun, the characters were funny and/or relatable, and the effects were cool (at the time anyway). It was imaginative and had a theme of science prevailing over the supernatural, while portraying the Ghostbusters as high end schlubby exterminators. Presenting the new Ghostbusters movie as a hard reboot (the original movie doesn’t exist in the same continuity despite the frequent call backs) in 2016 would have to add something that the 1984 version couldn’t. They did utilize this twice for minor gags. I won’t spoil them here. The first does set the plot in motion and the other is more a throwaway gag I saw coming a mile away. It was still funny because of the characters’ reactions.

The albino elephant in the room is the debate on female roles in film. When I first read a new Ghostbusters movie was in production, I groaned. When I read it was an all-female cast, I was intrigued by it being a bold choice; when it comes to Hollywood executives that is. On the other hand, I was also worried this would very much be about pandering to women. Thankfully, outside of the hype of the movie, the movie itself really doesn’t play the “gender card”. The main female cast are treated as individuals. There’s no moment in the plot where they are belittled or treated poorly for their gender which was a good thing. The group fails or succeeds because of the technology they have developed through their own skills and initiative which no one else has. This makes them special for the skills and qualities they possess and not what is between their legs. Nor is there a moment of “Girl power!” as there isn’t a

As my Vision of Art humanites course taught me in CEGEP, truly great art has a critique about society or the human condition. This movie is very meta in this regard. The critique here is everything surrounding the movie itself. Much like Fury Road, the Men’s Rights Activists were quick to disparage the movie for making it about the female cast. Then came the backlash from feminist groups followed by the backlash to the backlash. The movie is certainly responsible for beginning a wider discussion on how Hollywood should treat women and how society should accept it. This too looms over the production and would make anyone looking for any misandrous evidence to justify their position and only add fuel to the fire.

That said, a few of the male characters are pretty one-note or lame. Charles Dance is one of the few male characters who comes off looking entirely justified in his behaviour and while bland, he commands a certain gravitas which made me hope to see him later in the flick. The city mayor was fine, and he had one great line delivery that had me chortling. I understand female characters are often treated as romantic interests or window dressing in typical movies. Often reduced to caricatures to easily convey what the screenwriter wants to advance the plot of the story. Again, just making men take that same role doesn’t make it better.

My main problem is with the movie’s villain and the male surrogate of Janine (the secretary if you don’t remember) from the original series. Chris Hemsworth’s character is dumber than a brick. It is played up for gags at first, but quickly becomes so cartoonishly stupid that you begin to wonder how he even manages to dress himself or doesn’t eat his own feces for lack of better judgment. It kind of took me out of the movie. Yes, I know he’s supposed to be the “blonde bimbo”, but they went too far with his stupidity. He does get better…while possessed by the villain.

The villain is pretty much a stand in mix of a mad scientist and super geek who acts weird and gets treated poorly which only further disenfranchises him. He then decides to lash out against the world by opening portals to the realm where ghosts reside in order to kill everyone. He too is pretty cartoonish and his weirdness is played up to 11.

The plot is passable. The story more or less follows the original movie but with a different set of characters and a slightly altered story. It certainly feels rehashed. I’m not going to delve too far into spoilers here. Here, we see more of a progression as the women set up their business. Quite a few of the twists and turns they take to get to the end are fun. However, the movie has a tendency to stop-start frequently as many of the call backs are jarring and throws off the pacing. A particularly bad sequence is a cameo by Bill Murray who clearly didn’t seem to be enjoying himself and was just there because he was in the original and they paid him enough money. Thankfully, it’s mercifully short but it doesn’t lead anywhere. Dan Ankroyd’s inclusion was more brief and just there to deliver a one-liner. It worked well enough as it took me a second to realize it was him and distracted me slightly during the next action sequence.

The first strength of the movie is its female cast. They have fantastic chemistry and seem to be genuinely into their roles. However, there are a few wrinkles. Apart from Kristen Wiig’s character, the other women’s motivations are unclear or flimsy at best. Kate McKinnon’s character is a bit too “out there” and eccentric for being eccentric’s sake. Leslie Jones’ character was more well-rounded than the “token black person” most probably expected. The movie does build towards the climactic action sequence. The plot has the characters introduce gadgets and delve into the technology behind ghost busting more than the original. I’d be interested in seeing more from these characters with a better plot.

The second strength comes from the visuals. The special effects are superb and did not distract from the movie. Note, I didn’t see the movie in 3D, but there were only a few scenes where it seems it might have been worthwhile. Personally, I find 3D to be a gimmick and refuse to pay up the extra money for little to no added value.The movie climax is actually a prolonged action sequence. It’s not as long as Mad Max, but far more action packed than the original two movies combined. At first, I didn’t like it but over time it has grown on me as being zany and harmless.

As a comedy though, this movie has to be judged on whether it was funny. There were a few times I found myself laughing but most of the time I was only slightly amused. After watching the movie, I read a lot of the scenes were actually improvised. As I perform and take improv classes, I am curious to read the script and compare it to the movie to see which scenes were improvised and go through what kind of choices I would’ve made in that position. I have a feeling the many over the top or bad jokes were improvised where the group “yes anded” without a firm idea of where they were going.

In conclusion, had this movie not had the title of Ghostbusters it would probably be massively under the radar and made few waves. Because of its pedigree it was scrutinized both fairly and unfairly. I can’t entirely divorce myself from everything surrounding the movie but I am confident in giving it a 6.5/10. I don’t regret seeing it and enjoyed myself. If you are going in with an open mind or never saw the originals, I recommend it. If you are going into it with low expectations like myself, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Otherwise, avoid it.

 

 

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