Ghostbusters (2016) – Movie Review

Ghostbusters
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Paul Feig & Katie Dippold
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth & Neil Casey
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: July 11th 2016

It’s hard to give this movie an adequate introduction because, for better or for worse, its reputation and pop-culture ubiquity has revolved almost entirely around the sight-unseen backlash this reboot has prompted. 1984’s ‘Ghostbusters‘ is one of the greatest comedies ever made whilst also having effective horror and action elements. Re-making that lightning-in-a-bottle movie was always going to be a tall order (and as proved with ‘Ghostbusters II‘ even the original creators couldn’t do it) but because Bill Murray was passionate about never making a ‘Ghostbusters III‘ and the death of original star and co-writer Harold Ramis in 2014 the wheels were put in motion for a reboot.

Most people were fine with an idea of a reboot…until it was announced to be an all-female cast and then the rest was history. Sure, the mediocre-at-best marketing campaign didn’t help but the circle-jerk of legitimate sexism against the film being perpetuated by fans with legitimate concerns denying that the sexism existed which made them targets for those wanting to defend the movie from sexism…yeah it became a mess. But what about the movie itself? Was it worth the hate? Was it worth the bile? If anyone should be given the benefit of the doubt it’s director Paul Feig whose last three films have ranged from pretty good to great. Is this movie really set up to be a disaster of biblical proportions (as in, real wrath of God stuff?) or did bustin’ this movie just make the trolls feel good?
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Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a physics professor at Columbia University hoping to get tenure and be respected in her field. However that is threatened when a book about the paranormal she wrote years ago with Abby Yates (McCarthy) resurfaces. Erin pays Abby a visit only to discover that she’s started a paranormal investigations project with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) and after their first supernatural encounter they pursue the paranormal full time as the “Ghostbusters”. With local historian Patty Tolan (Jones) and hunky but dim secretary Kevin (Hemsworth) recruited into the team it’s up to the Ghostbusters to stop New York City from being overrun by evil apparitions.

This movie, despite carrying the name “Ghostbusters”, manages to distinguish itself from the original 1984 film in more ways than naysayers give it credit for (don’t worry, I won’t try and make this review a list of rebuttals). While the original film began in medias res where the Ghostbusters were almost already partially assembled, ‘Ghostbusters‘ (2016) feels like more of an origin story. While Erin shows up at Abby’s doorstep and they’re already knee-deep in paranormal investigations, over the course of the film we learn about what motivated their research in the first place, how Erin and Abby met and formed their bond as well as where their logo, proton-packs, outfits and vehicle came from (more on that later). ‘Ghostbusters‘ is far from a lazy rehash of the original film and instead leaps out of the gates and blazes its own trail with entirely new characters and a new, fresh approach and vibe.
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That also includes its approach to comedy. Whilst the original film (which I love) relied on under-stated, dry and often sardonic humour, that’s not Paul Feig’s strengths. Instead, ‘Ghostbusters‘ has a more laid-back, improvisational approach with larger-than-life characters. As with Feig’s own ‘Bridesmaids‘, ‘The Heat‘ and ‘Spy‘ his characters in ‘Ghostbusters‘ seem to exist in some sort of hyper-reality. If our real-world was a 5, Feig’s world is a 6.5. Maybe a 7. However, as with most Feig movies there are enough moments of clarity and grounded sequences that make these characters feel human, earnest and believable when it counts. These four Ghostbusters have real chemistry with each other and as much as I love the original cast, I actually believe the bond between these four even more than the original quartet.

If the original ‘Ghostbusters‘ was a metaphor for a group of guys setting up their own start-up, blue-collar business, this film is a metaphor for being an outcast and turning the world’s derision of you into something positive. Abby and Erin were originally mocked for being interested in ghosts, Erin in particular was hugely affected by a paranormal encounter that derailed her life for many years. Their shared experiences then become channelled into the Ghostbusters which they turn into a way to help New York City. This theme extends to other characters as well as Patty feels like the ideal end result for Abby and Erin. She works in a New York subway station despite being a local history expert but she approaches her work with a positive outlook and a smile for everyone…which is not always reciprocated. As for Holtzmann, she’s more of an enigma without any outlined backstory or motivation and as she’s the live-wire of the group she is often on hand for the comic-relief and to start and finish many of the zanier set-pieces the film has to offer.
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However what makes Holtzmann one of the best original characters to grace the big-screen in a very long time is that this attitude of hers is not a front. She’s not acting the way she does to cover up some inane self-doubt or a crippling insecurity. With Holtzmann what you see is what you get. She presents herself to everyone she meets without an internal editor and that approach has clearly left her without many friends, so to see her find a family with Erin, Abby and Patty feels so gratifying.

One of her best moments involves Erin opening up about what happened to her as a childhood and how nobody would believe her, only for Holtzmann to respond with “I have some questions” because…that’s just Holtzmann. When she gets scorned by Patty, she quickly winks and smiles at Erin. Of course she believes her and she’s just sharing it in her own frenzied way. There’s a moment towards the end of the movie where she shows a more emotional side and it’s this real moment that turns what could have just been the zany comic-relief into a three-dimensional character that many audience members are sure to latch onto. Not to mention the fact that Holtzmann can bust with the best of them as she gets one of the most undeniably badass heroic moments of 2016 so far. You will know it when you see it.

On the flipside we have a character who has never felt scorn from others and that is the Ghostbusters secretary Kevin who is so naturally good looking and charismatic that you get the sense he’s managed to drift through life without any opposition. But he’s so dumb that it’s hard to believe that he can possibly function. He can barely answer the phone, he needs glasses but he took the lenses out because they kept “getting dirty”, he’s constantly off to modelling shoots (his saxophone pictures are…incredibly funny) but at the same time he seems like a fun guy to hang out with.
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So yeah, while on the surface we do have the Ghostbusters team comprised of four busters and the receptionist like in the original film, they’re deliberately different from the original team. Kevin is not a re-do of Annie Potts’ Janine, Patty is not a re-imagining of Ernie Hudson’s Winston etc. And what’s interesting is that this movie does not draw attention to the changing of the sexes. At no point in the plot, or directly in the dialogue (save for one scene where the team read internet comments which is…depressingly apt) are the genders ever brought up. Even criticisms levelled against the movie for being “sexist against men” break down under the most basic of scrutiny because not only do we have reasonable male characters (it makes complete sense for Charles Dance’s character to be a sceptic) but we even have a female antagonist with Cecily Strong as Jennifer who works as the Mayor of New York’s personal assistant and I’m sure she gets more screentime then the Mayor does. Gender doesn’t factor into the equation here when it comes to how the characters act. Kevin is not dumb because he’s a guy, Erin is not a smart professor because she’s a woman, Jennifer is not arrogant because she’s a woman etc. It’s annoying that something this simple and common-sense needs to be pointed out but…that’s assuming a lot of the movie’s sight-unseen, preemptive backlash is coming from a place of reason.

Cast-wise, it’s nice to see Melissa McCarthy in a straight-role and while she may seem to be playing it a bit too low-key at points when she gets her hands on the bustin’ gadgets she lets loose and brings a lot of fun to the enterprise. Kate McKinnon is a natural-born movie star who is easily the breakout actress here, Kristen Wiig does a great job at being the more emotional centre of the group, Leslie Jones is terrific, warm and charming and Chris Hemsworth is a hysterically funny improviser. Some of the best scenes of the movie don’t involve the plot or the ghostbusting but just having these five characters in a room doing what they do best. These are five incredible comedic talents and the movie knows to emphasise their strengths.
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But that’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have faults. The movie gets off to a really strong start with an effective opening, strong character introductions and the way the Ghostbusters develop their tools and set up their business and reputation is really entertaining to watch. But when it comes to the main villain and his plan unfolding in the 3rd act the narrative feels very under-cooked. The villain is Rowan played by Neil Casey and his plan is to unleash the dead on New York City. His motive? He feels like a social outcast and rejected by society so he wants to take revenge on the world and he’s going to use spirits who felt similarly rejected by the world to do it. Now, there’s the germ of a great idea there and it works in conjuncture with the themes of being an outcast and turning it into something positive that we talked about earlier. It’s just that Rowan doesn’t get nearly enough screentime and feels flat as a character. It feels like we should have been given more time to sympathise with someone like him as opposed to bustin’ first and asking questions later, at least at first. Obviously things can escalate later but instead of escalating gradually we get the unfolding of a plan that’s hard to tell whether or not Rowan figured out all the details ahead of time or if he’s making it up as he goes along. Either way, there’s a lot of unanswered questions here. The plot during the 3rd act doesn’t just feel half-baked, rather it feels like it never even reached the oven to begin with.

Also there’s a recurring gag where Abby can’t get the right food order from Karan Soni (Dopinder from ‘Deadpool‘) which is…what is that? Why is that?
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We also have ghosts bleeding through into New York City that take the form spirits from the 1970s. It’s visually interesting, sure but where’s the method behind it? Also, despite Paul Feig’s improvisational style of filmmaking providing some of the movie’s funniest moments it does show the cracks in the characters and we get a few inconsistencies. For example Abby states early on that she doesn’t find Kevin particularly attractive but later on she says that they need to save Kevin because they’ll never find a receptionist that hot again. It’s not enough to break the movie by any means but maybe a more tightly focused screenplay from the start with wiggle room to improvise later could have alleviated these issues. But when we get moments where the New York Mayor refuses to be compared to the Mayor from ‘Jaws‘, a really strong possession sequence, “Mike Hat” and basically every single second Holtzmann is on-screen a lot is forgiven when it comes to the humour.

But one aspect that really does fall flat is the constant call-backs to the original movie. Sure, the revamped theme is okay, there’s a funny exchange over where the Ecto-1 hearse came from, there’s a lovely tribute to Harold Ramis and there are awesome cameos from Bill Murrey, Dan Ackroyd and Sigourney Weaver as well as great tease for the original Ghostbusters firehouse. But it often feels like Feig and co. laid on the fan-service and referential aspects to an indulgent degree. There’s a scene where the team are attacked by a group of ghosts that take the form of demonic, renaissance-esque parade balloons but then all of a sudden the Stay Puft Marshmallow man shows up feeling completely out of place. The origin for the Ghostbusters logo feels unnecessary and drawn-out, the jumpsuits the team wear didn’t need an origin so it feels like the writers were over-thinking the logic and while it was great to see Ernie Hudson again it was the most predictable cameo in the movie. We also have a post-credits scene teasing a potential sequel and while I’d love to see a sequel with these characters I don’t want to see them go in THAT, unoriginal direction.
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What’s ironic is that this movie did such a great job at establishing its own tone, feel and characters and that it included these throwbacks and homages in order to appease a supposed fanbase that has bent over backwards to hate this film since Paul Feig was announced to direct and the rumours came out about the gender-change (citation – comments section).

As for the production, while the effects for the original ‘Ghostbusters‘ have aged very well and the ghosts look as awesome as ever, this movie does a great job at updating the ‘Ghostbusters‘ aesthetic while making it feel like its own thing. The ghost designs, while more cartooney as the movie seems to be aiming for a younger demographic than the original (which had lots to appeal to younger audiences but was never actually MEANT to be for children) do leave an impact, in particular the first ghosts they encounter and the blue colour-scheme is striking and effective. The props carried over from the original look awesome, the titular Ghostbusting just pops on screen and there are some really inventive set-pieces as the quartet use the streams to hurl ghosts around and use their new equipment to grind the ghosts into goop and punch ghosts in the face (it’s as awesome as it sounds).
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While the movie is set in New York City the movie was mostly filmed in Boston and unfortunately it does show. New York doesn’t have much of a personality in ‘Ghostbusters‘ and while the movie cost $144M that budget isn’t entirely up on screen. It’s bright, colourful and inventive but it doesn’t feel big enough to justify that price-tag. The sound-mixing, however is terrific and the music from Theodore Shapiro really excels. We have some of the lower-key horror elements with light-hearted motifs but when things escalate near the end of the movie Shaprio goes along with it and gives us an epic, orchestra-driven badass update of the original ‘Ghostbusters‘ theme which delivers a mic-drop on the best action scene of the movie.

Ghostbusters‘ still has the heart and soul and visual elements of the original 1984 classic while still feeling distinctly like a Paul Feig movie. It’s earnest and sincere and doesn’t feel even remotely like a cash-grab reboot as it gives us a story with relatable and potent themes being bolstered by a terrific quartet of actresses with brilliant, warm chemistry with each other. Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth are the stand-outs in a really strong comedy which makes great use of the ‘Ghostbusters‘ iconography and while the 3rd act feels under-written, not every joke lands and it feels too self-referential at times, it proves itself to be a more-than-capable reboot of a lightning-in-a-bottle original even more so than ‘Ghostbusters II‘ was. Let’s hope that a potential sequel gives these ladies more original things to do instead of re-treading the same ground as the original movie like the film’s post-credits sting would imply. These ladies came, they saw and they kicked ass.

I give ‘Ghostbusters‘ (2016) 4 stars out of 5.
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Epilogue; I’d just like to address the backlash against this movie one last time. I know some people are sick of hearing me talk about it but hopefully this’ll be the last time. Yes, there are people who had legitimate concerns about the movie and didn’t like the marketing material or don’t like Paul Feig’s filmography but this isn’t aimed at you. Much like Feig and McCarthy’s comments calling out the trolls, misogynists or the uneducated, their responses to the genuine misogyny levelled at this movie was NEVER aimed at you.

This is aimed that those who simply cannot comprehend an all-female ‘Ghostbusters‘. Those who claim they’re against reboots, sequels and remakes but will be first in line should Marvel reboot Spider-Man for the 4th time. My question is; was this hatred worth it? The smear campaigns, the down-vote efforts, the co-ordinated harassment levelled at critics who dared to like the movie as well as the foul behaviour against the movie’s stars. Was this movie (which at worst is just another Paul Feig comedy) worth harassing the staff of the Tufts Medical Center in Boston when the four leads appeared in-character to entertain sick children?

Yeah, those with legitimate issues with the movie? Maybe you should prioritise your efforts by disowning these people as opposed to denying their very existence and hoping for the best, aye? Anyway…
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What has the hate gotten you? The movie still came out. The majority of people who saw it actually enjoyed it and your sight-unseen, irrational hatred hasn’t prevented news stories coming out about an all-female ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘ reboot or the diversifying of a new ‘The Rocketeer‘ reboot from Disney. This constant negativity over this movie and ONLY this movie in particular (as opposed to other cynical, soulless cash-grabs worthy of your scorn) hasn’t gotten you anything and it’s simply not good for you. Like, for real, I’m genuinely concerned with your mental well-being here.

You may claim that this reboot “ruined your childhood” (if that’s the case, you never had a childhood worth ruining) but that hasn’t stopped this new movie from coming out and inspiring a new generation of Ghostbuster-hopefuls. This movie, whether you like it or not, IS someone else’s childhood because film is a shared, communal experience. YOU do not own ‘Ghostbusters‘. YOU do not get to genuinely try to ruin someone else’s childhood with your need to antagonise anything that does not conform to what YOU personally want out of something. ‘Ghostbusters‘ (2016) wasn’t specifically made for YOU. And that’s okay. Some things are more important than that.
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Posted In: 2016 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 31st Aug 16

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