Film Review – Ghostbusters (2016)
Hey, did you know there’s a new Ghostbusters movie coming out?
After all of the talk surrounding its lead up, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters (2016) remake is finally hitting screens. And for the buzz generated between it being a remake of a beloved film and the gender swapping of the main characters, the final product turned out to be…not bad. Actually it’s pretty fun in spots. In a summer season that has been loaded with disappointment, this stands as one of the few good ones.
In fact, the problems that plague Feig’s film is in its insistence to call back to the original. The screenplay (by Katie Dippold and Feig) seemed hesitant to steer away from the familiar course, tossing in a ton of elements directly lifted from Ivan Reitman’s classic. Some scenes are shot in the exact same locations, and bits of dialogue are translated almost word for word. The basic plot outline is nearly identical. This causes problems for Ghostbusters (2016) in establishing its own identity. There is so much fan service going on here, just like in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). How did the filmmakers expect us to view this on its own terms when they continually remind us of Ghostbusters (1984)?
The biggest issue is the constant cameos of the original cast. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts make appearances (the late Harold Ramis shows up as a bust). While seeing their faces was a delight, they added nothing to the narrative. The momentum comes to a screeching halt whenever they show up. Murray has an extended cameo that has no relevance to the main plot, and after he makes a joke or two his character (which is not Peter Venkman) is completely forgotten about.
But there’s no denying that the talent brought together here is first rate. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are four of the funniest comedians working today, and the camaraderie between them is great. Some of the best moments are through their interactions, and how each of their differing personalities clash or gel. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are the standouts, as scientists Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates respectively. A few years earlier, Erin and Abby collaborated on a book about paranormal activity. In the present, Erin works to gain prominence in the scientific field while Abby continues the research they started. When real ghosts start popping up around Manhattan, Erin and Abby join forces once again to notify the world of the pending danger.
Leslie Jones provides good work as Patty, an MTA worker who knows the ins and outs of New York. She joins the team to provide insight on buildings, roadways, and tunnels – she’s also responsible for retrieving the famous Ecto-1 hearse. A lot of credit should also go to Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the Ghostbusters’ absentminded receptionist. In a funny role reversal, Hemsworth lays waste to his hunky macho persona, giving us a glimpse of his surprising comedic talents. He’s actually allowed to let loose here (unlike his work in the Thor films) and has fun doing so.
The audience at my screening loved Kate McKinnon as Holtsmann, the wacky scientist who invents the team’s ghost battling weaponry. During the credits, when her name came up she got the biggest applause. There’s no doubt of McKinnon’s skill, as she has been a highlight of recent Saturday Night Live seasons. But sadly, I have to disagree with my screening audience. McKinnon’s character was awful; an over the top caricature mugging for the camera every moment she came on screen. She did garner some comedic bits, but most of her efforts fell short. With her exaggerated facial expressions and goofy voices, Holtsmann belonged in a different universe, let alone a different movie. It’s as though she couldn’t have one regular conversation without inserting a quirky gesture just for a laugh. I’m aware that I’m probably going to be in the minority on this one, but so be it.
What about the ghosts? They were fine, in that computer generated sort of way. Early haunting scenes have a nice spooky feel to them – “spooky” being the keyword, not “scary.” The special effects have that usual glossy sheen; those expecting the grit and grime of the original will be disappointed. The ghosts are completely passable. Some recognizable friends such as Slimer show up, once again reminding us of Ghostbusters (1984). The artificiality strongly shows in the third act. During the climactic battle, the slow motion and CGI work combine for something akin to a light show rather than an epic fight to save the world.
With the controversy that came with the release of Ghostbusters (2016), the gender swapping is – for the most part – one of its strengths. It’s when we examine everything else that things start to unravel. This still has the problems many recent comedies have: a lack of strong narrative flow for the benefit of extended improvisational scenes. But those hiccups are balanced by the number of laughs. This was an entertaining but entirely disposable summer blockbuster, take that for what you will.