I often have to wait a few weeks to get to see some of the big studio movies where I am, and usually my impatient self finds it a bit annoying. For once though, I was a tad pleased to be able to see the new Ghostbusters after all the ludicrous controversy surrounding it had died down a little, and hope that I can just write about it as I would any other movie without any concern as to having to provide caveats like hoping for its success anyway should I come to dislike it. That’s what certain corners of the internet have done to us I suppose, moving on….
I actually think this film may have surpassed last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road now for the film that I first heard about the longest time ago, as some version of a Ghostbusters 3 has been in development since the late nineties. Now it’s finally here, it’s ultimately morphed into not actually being a sequel at all; it’s a complete reboot taking place in a different timeline where the original characters don’t exist and, from what we know at least, no supernatural events have been documented before.
This leads to it feeling a lot more like a remake, it has the exact same premise as the original Ghostbusters, the team getting together to clear up ghosts appearing around New York City, but with different characters. It’s fairly similar to The Force Awakens in that respect, same beats, new people. At least though, the team are not just female versions of the original characters, though there are certainly a few similarities, there’s also definitely no Peter Venkman equivalent here.
Our new group consists of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy as two former colleagues Dr. Erin Gilbert and Dr. Abby Yates who’ve grown apart as one has continued to investigate the paranormal while the other has dismissed it and moved into academia. Once reluctantly reunited they’re joined by engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and later MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Given the story’s re-tread nature, the film rests considerably more on the core cast and unfortunately, they’re not quite enough here.
We’ve seen Wiig and McCarthy both be considerably better before, in other films by director Paul Feig in fact. Despite their initial differences (McCarthy believes in the supernatural while Wiig does not) they’re both fairly straight-laced characters, they don’t get many chances to play off each other for comedy and their relationship seems a little underdeveloped. Leslie Jones as the enthusiastic non-scientist member of the team gets maybe two or three good lines, which are counteracted by a number that fall flat. Kate McKinnon has by far the most unique character of the group boasting a fair few eccentric moments but while she stands out, I still don’t quite get all the praise she’s been receiving declaring her the saving grace of this movie. She’s fun and memorable, but not quite enough to rescue the film I’m afraid.
The leads rightly make no big deal about being an all-female crew, they’re motivated by their jobs and treated with respect by the film, which serves to remind you how sadly unusual it is to have four female leads in a big genre movie. It does make a stab at subversive humour regarding the receptionist Kevin played by Chris Hemsworth though. It’s clear that he’s there to parody the troupe of an attractive female character being nothing more than set dressing. It’s a really ripe idea for a few good jokes and the film almost gets there but scuppers it by making him not just useless but over-the-top stupid. Hemsworth’s obviously game for it but by going for both the satire and the dumb jokes simultaneously it never quite hits the mark it should. A few amusing interactions he has with Wiig, who has a crush him, do more to subvert the stereotype than anything else.
In fact, the character who I found to get the most consistent laughs was Andy Garcia in a few short appearances as the New York Mayor.
As a reboot, it’s saddled with a few of the problems that can bog down new interpretations like this in needing to provide origins for many little details. Here we get a needless, and needlessly long scene portraying the creation of the Ghostbusters logo, and also one for where the name came from. What’s more, the film’s reverence for the original leads it to rely on huge amounts of lazy reference humour. Almost every surviving lead cast member from the original makes a cameo appearance (as new characters) and each time it’s the same issue. We’re just supposed to laugh at the fact that they’re there rather than having them do or say anything particularly funny. If their characters were played by random actors they’d have little significance. And it’s not just the actors, Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man get gratuitous, nonsensical cameos as well. Forcing a convoluted exchange which a taxi-driving Dan Aykroyd ends by declaring that he “ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost” is just cringe-worthy.
If it weren’t for the expensive effects, I might have the feeling that this film was thrown together rather quickly, something compounded by the careless humour, rehashed, messy story and a few other aspects as well. There’s a moment where there was obviously a large choreographed dance sequence that was then cut out. I imagine this was for the best as I can see it grinding the film to a halt but the fact that the set-up to it is still there seems weird, and then they actually put the scene as a background to the end credits. As if to say “this is what didn’t work but we still don’t want to waste it all”. It’s bizarre. Crucially though, the film just isn’t very funny, and we know a lot of the people involved, both on and off screen, are capable of better. Maybe I’m wrong about all this, but perhaps with a few good polishes of the script could have added a bunch of better jokes?
The effects-heavy film builds towards a big, CGI-filled, action-packed finale. While the action and effects are well shot, I wish there was a little more to the team’s plan to taking down the paranormal problem facing the city. Ghostbusters I feel should primarily be a comedy, yet surprisingly for Feig this seems to have been more concerned with special effects, a huge action-filled final set-piece and references than coming up with original humour of its own. I didn’t expect to say that the few horror beats the film has are arguably more effective than any of its laughs, bar one well timed jump cut.
I’d hoped that aside from the short acknowledgement at the beginning I could have avoided mentioning the silly backlash to the all-female casting in this review but it’s almost impossible to do when the film itself directly references it; there are mentions of Reddit and YouTube comments in the film as quick jokes, McCarthy even reads out what I assume is the title of a real “outraged” forum title at one point. However it’s mainly in the form of the movie’s villain Rowan North (Neil Casey). He appears to be based on the idea of a basement dwelling weirdo who blames women for his own social failings. He’s not an especially memorable villain though, and his plan and later abilities don’t seem to have any concrete explanation.
I wonder if this film will appeal to kids, it should, as the concept is still very much there and the same for those unfamiliar and there’s enough to the new characters, but all the references and cameos will be confusing to them. The derivative, unimaginative story, messy execution and weak villain could all be more forgivable were the film funnier.
There is still fun to be had with Ghostbusters 2016 though, it’s never boring and I could see this team working better in a sequel with a better script and a fresh story. Having said that, it looks unlikely now and the film has yet another reference in its sequel-baiting post-credits stinger.
I was a little worried I was going to want to make some snarky comparison between the original Ghostbusters theme song, a fun, catchy, quintessentially eighties number with the horrible modern cover made for this by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott. My fear was that these would be film analogues to them, but this film is nowhere near that bad, and thankfully that rendition isn’t heavily featured. It’s ridiculous how this film has become some kind of referendum on female-led studio comedies. I suppose it’s all down to the property. Ultimately it’s just another example of a standard, disappointing modern studio franchise blockbuster, particularly one of this year, that just happens to star women. So, hey equality I guess? As female-centred action-comedies go, both of Paul Feig’s previous films are better examples than this.