[Review] – Ghostbusters

In which I ain’t afraid of no reboot.

Hopefully, to long time readers, I have established my ability to provide a critical perspective without being influenced by nostalgic longing or peer pressure. To new readers, before we begin, I want to heavily suggest that you take a moment and read through my review of last year’s Spy. I suggest this for two reasons. 1) It will establish my previous stance on Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy’s particular brand of comedy, and B) many of the issues that I had with Spy are similar to those that I have with Ghostbusters. Because Ghostbusters is a fine movie, but that is all. Not an atrocious abomination heralding the end of cinematic civilization, but also not a timeless classic that will live on for generations to come. Sadly and unfortunately, I suspect the misogynistic response to its creation will be its lasting legacy. The final product though is serviceable but at the same time by no means special. In short, it is exactly the same as nearly every other reboot.

But before we get to specifics, a word about comedy. I’m not a fan of reviewing comedies, because comedy more so than any other genre of film is defined by personal taste (this of course ignores the issues that comedy isn’t a genre, but a tone, and the creation of a comedy genre is part of the problem with comedy films in general). Everyone has a different sense of humour, and what is uproariously hilarious to one is annoying drivel to another (for instance, my apathy for the apparent modern classic Anchorman). And Ghostbusters mostly isn’t my kind of humour. I’ve long said, Feig and Kate Dippold’s style just isn’t one that tickles my funny bone. I hated Bridesmaids, adored The Heat, and was unmoved by Spy. Ghostbusters follows more closer to Spy than the others, both in execution and net result. Basically, if you enjoy how Feig and Dippold and McCarthy make films, than there is an excellent chance you will enjoy Ghostbusters. If you don’t, then you likely won’t. If you are like me, and fall somewhere in the indifferent middle, then like me you’ll likely sit through Ghostbusters mostly disinterested but occasionally impressed.

There is nothing approaching subtly in this film. Every aspect of the process, from the writing, to the acting, to the editing, all smacks of obviousness, and it is the film’s biggest fault. When the film starts with Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods delivering the line “this is the very room where P.T. Barnum first decided to enslave elephants,” you know that this isn’t a film that is going to play things close to the vest. It’s going broad and it’s leaving any sense of grounded reality behind. And personally, I was glad that they established that tone straight away because it saved me being lulled into a sense of security only to be disappointed later one. See, I believe that there is a difference between saying something comedically, and saying something to be funny. The former is about subtly and inflection and requires the audience to take an active role in the humour. The latter is obvious and blatant and relies on a passive audience being told “this is funny now.” And that isn’t comedy, that is stage direction. And more often than not, I’m not going to laugh at that. Unfortunately, that is the kind of comedy that Feig makes. And that is the kind of comedy that Ghostbusters consists of, all the way through. So, for me personally, there weren’t a lot of laughs in this film. Which meant that I could focus more on the film as a narrative, and on the characters, which would be fine if the film had either worth really investing in. Unfortunately, the number one concern that everyone involved has is on making every line a punchline, leaving little room for character development or a plot to unfold organically.

I’ve seen Skeleton Twins, and I’ve seen St. Vincent. And because I’ve seen these films, I know that both Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are capable, captivating actors able to embody and imbue characters with depth and sympathy. Just, I guess, not when they are expected to be funny. Despite apparently being the film’s leads, Gilbert and Yates are the least interesting characters in the film. The film tries to establish conflict between them, but it’s toothless and abandoned after the first act. And rather than fall into the trap of giving each character one archetypal characteristic that defines their whole being, the film goes in the opposite direction and makes the two characters unnervingly similar, as though they could have been merged into a single character but there needed to be four people on the team. Gilbert is suggested to be slightly uptight, but again, the little definitions that are meant to add up to a whole interesting character are by and large forgotten as the film goes on. And Yates – I honestly cannot tell you a single unique thing about Yates. McCarthy, who is always better served by being part of an ensemble, is surprisingly muted here, and fades into the background when surrounded by much more colourful characters.

Ridiculously, those colourful characters played by Kate McKinnon (Holtzmann) Leslie Jones (Patty) and Chris Hemsworth (Kevin) are one-note and archetypal, and are far more entertaining and memorable than the leads. These three are at least visibly having fun. McKinnon is handicapped by the bulk of her scenes being long strings of technobabble nonsense, and is far more successful when she’s reacting to things. Or going on about the pipe she found. Or lip syncing to DeBarge. Hemsworth, whose comedic abilities are only just being realized, is actually playing it subtly, and is let down by none of the other characters letting anything he does go by without pointing at it and explaining why it is/should be funny. Just let him scratch his eye through the glasses, and let the audience pick up on it. I actually did laugh at that joke, until my laughter was strangled by McCarthy immediately asking him why he scratched his eyes through his glasses. Jones is underserved by being constantly expected to act like the large, loud black woman, and is far more interesting when she is allowed to be the energetic, team cheerleader, book nerd. I keep coming back to the idea that there are four characters occupying three roles in this group, and that all of those roles would have been better if the actors had been allowed to actually play them without having to stop to do the 21st century equivalent of bad pantomime every two minutes.

 As for the plot, there isn’t much. A loner has figured out how to amplify the energy of ghosts, and intends to destroy the world by merging the world of the living with the world of the dead. But the movie is only tenuously interested in that, and mostly uses it as a loose framework on which to hang several set pieces and excuses for long scenes of origin story exposition. The first act drags horribly as Feig’s instincts are to explain every single thing rather than just assume that the audience will go along with it. Never in my life did I need an explanation as to the in-universe origins of the logo. If Feig made a Spider-man movie, it’s be two hours of Peter Parker getting bit by the spider and building his webshooters, and ten minutes of him fighting every villain in his rogues gallery. The second act moves fast, and is actually a lot of fun, as the team actually get involved in the plot (the plot happens regardless of them, making it an example of bad storytelling), and the plot seems like it is going somewhere (again, by itself, not driven by the characters at all). Then, it takes a weird turn involving homeland security and the Mayor’s office that smacks of filler when Feig and Dippold couldn’t figure out how to get the characters from plot point B to plot point C organically. And the last act is almost entirely meaningless CGI pseudo- action, because that’s how all movies have to end now. McKinnon gets a solo action-movie fight scene that just adds nothing to the film, while ghost after cannon fodder ghost runs into the path of the proton cannons. Which, while we’re here: what do the proton cannons do? They are called reverse tractor-beams at one point, but they don’t seem to push ghosts away. They don’t seem to draw them near, and they don’t seem to hold them in place. Sometimes they do those things, while some times they atomize the ghosts, and sometimes they behave like whips or machetes. For Feig’s obsession with detail, the consistency of detail is lacking.

I think the reason for that is that Feig is way too distracted by trying to make every single line in every single scene a laugh line. The movie is plagued by bad editing and hard sharp cuts, the product of which is presumably because Feig would just let the actors go off on whatever tangent they wanted, running multiple versions of lines and longer versions of scenes, and then the editor was expected to cobble together a workable script from that. An extended dance sequence lead by Hemsworth was blissfully cut from the film (though added back over the final credits), but whose removal results in this weird truncated short-stop in the film itself (avoiding spoilers, when a crowd of people suddenly take a Disco Inferno pose without the context of a seven minute dance sequence, it is confusing). And it’s like that throughout the film. Conversations are weirdly stilted at times because Wiig and McCarthy were obviously let loose to play off one another, resulting in likely hours of “gag reel” footage, but what ended up in the film were two lines broken by a rough cut between breaths. Likewise, the cameos from the original film’s stars are… distracting and cringe worthy, with only Ernie Hudson making it out with his dignity intact because he’s the only one of the bunch treating the role like a role and not a joke (Bill Murray gets the longest cameo, and is clearly only on the raggedy cusp of giving a shit; Aykroyd gets the best line, but chews so much scenery you can barely make it out).

What works about the film? When the exposition and nudge-nudge joke-pointing shuts up, the chemistry between the cast is great, and when the scenes when they are actually busting ghosts are a lot of fun. McKinnon’s enthusiasm is palpable, and sells a lot of the crappier CGI. The idea of the film’s villain is nice, and it would have been great if he’d received a little more attention, making his motivation a little more developed than “people were mean to me” and defining his character as more than just “the pasty creepy one.” Likewise, the whole final sequence is solid, except that I have no idea why any of it happens, and the ‘busters don’t seem that interested in it when it does. A thirty foot tall pillowcase ghost straight up levelling high-rises in midtown should probably have been an attention getter rather than just another element to a messy finale. As ill defined as the characters were, and as ten-year-old-underwear thread-bare thin the plot was, there was enough here to get me interested in this version of the world, there just needs to be more meat on the bone for me to sink my teeth into. Ghostbustin’ is meant to make you feel good, not feel moderately alright.

A final note, and I hesitate to mention it given the reactions in which the movie’s announcement and production solicited from more of the knuckle dragging, neck bearding, virginity-maintaining-though-not-by-choice members of the dick-head internet community (any objections I had before the release were based entirely on the premise that I don’t like remakes in general, and think original ideas should be given more attention and merit than recycling old ideas for a quick buck). But there is an issue that I have with this film that involves a double standard and it upset me more than I expected. In this film, Kristin Wiig’s character sexually harasses Chris Hemsworth’s character. She does it repeatedly. And her co-workers, while telling her to stop, laugh about it. And it is treated as a joke. And were their gender’s reversed, and it was a man harassing a woman, this would be the subject of a dozen think pieces and outrage and scorn from a certain corner of the audience. It would be an example of chauvinistic male-centric objectification that is outdated and has no place in a movie in 2016 that children will see. But it is a woman harassing a man, and that makes it alright? Is it a case of eye-for-an-eye? After all this time, now the tables are turned and we’ve earned our piece? Where are the think pieces about how this is still unacceptable and has no place in a movie in 2016 that children will see? Because those scenes made me uncomfortable. And not because of the double standard, but because as long as the double standard exists at all, scenes like this are going to keep appearing in movies when they really shouldn’t. There are better places from which to plum humour than sexual harassment. Like reaction shots from dogs. Those are always delightful.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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