JULY 15, 2016
Any regular reader of the site should know by now that I was exposed to and allowed to watch R rated movies from a young age (6 or 7), so it perhaps shouldn't be a big surprise that the original Ghostbusters is not as sacred to me as several other folks - particularly men - my age. I don't even know if I saw it until I was like 8, which means it would have in between Friday the 13th sequel viewings or R-rated comedies like Vacation and Caddyshack (and no, as a kid I didn't realize the Harold Ramis connection across those examples). As a result, since I had already moved on to more "sophisticated" fare, it didn't inform my childhood as much as it did for all of those folks who have been telling Paul Feig to fuck himself and saying even worse things to the female cast of his remake (subtitled Answer The Call in the end credits, oddly), which has the blessing of every living original Ghostbuster (they all make cameos) and original director Ivan Reitman (who produced this one). Remaking this movie doesn't bother me much, is what I'm saying - and as a fan of Feig's other films (not to mention someone who has harbored a crush on Kristen Wiig for nearly a decade) I was excited to see it - for all I knew I could end up preferring it to the original.
Now, let me stress that it's not that I DISLIKE the first film. Not by any means - it's fairly great, in fact. It's funny even on repeat viewings and the story - unlike many other '80s comedies - is actually satisfying for the most part. Despite the fact that it would have been fairly easy for them to do so, the movie's plot doesn't just exist to string the gags together; the jokes are usually organic to the characters and narrative, so coupled with the FX (many of which hold up) it combines to make a film that is very much deserving of its "beloved" status. I'm just saying it's not really SPECIAL to me the way Halloween or Fletch is - it's important to realize that I recognize several films as being great but they're not of any particular significance to me, same as I realize Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player despite giving less than one shit about basketball. Plus, I'm also too old to give a shit about remakes anymore anyway. They can Van Sant Psycho a new version of Fletch with Zac Efron for all I care.
(Please don't do that.)
Luckily for my comments section, I don't have to worry much about the Ghostbros, because I don't think the new movie reaches the heights of the original. It's better than the sequel for sure (I will never understand that one's appeal beyond the finale - how can GB fans appreciate a movie that spends its entire first act trying to suggest that our heroes have become jokes?), and it might even be funnier in spots, but the villain is very underdeveloped and there are (I know this sounds weird) too many damn ghosts. It's like they had a bunch of concept designs and Feig couldn't decide which to use and thus opted to throw them all in, somewhere - the big finale in Times Square presents dozens of anonymous specters that are disposed of too easily. The movie suffers from an abundance of callbacks to the original, but one of the things they DON'T reprise is one that they perhaps should: the montage of them cleaning up NY over a period of time. That would allow for all of the designs to show up without them being an important part to anything - seeing them all used as essentially the big obstacle before fighting the main villain (who, again, isn't fleshed out enough) isn't particularly engaging. Worse, this sequence is also where the FX start to falter; during Kate McKinnon's big action moment (wiping out a dozen ghosts with her proton-handguns, the ones she licks in the trailer) is laughably bad looking, almost as if they shot the scene with someone else and had to quickly superimpose her over the action. I love practical work, obviously, but for the most part the CGI ghosts here are actually quite well done and even a bit scary (the subway one and the mannequin are on the same level as the librarian), so it's a shame the haters will glom on the few bad FX shots as it's otherwise largely a fine showcase for computer trickery.
As for the villain Rowan, on a conceptual level he's great: a bullied weirdo who uses some homemade devices to amplify paranormal activity in those areas, with the intent on having so many ghosts flying around that the wall that separates their world and ours comes tumbling down entirely, bringing about the apocalypse. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all we know about him; he shows up and plants a device while saying "they'll all pay!" or whatever, and that's about as far as we get inside his head. The meta-parallel between him and the online trolls is apparent, but it's almost like they were afraid to get really lay into these sad bastards, so as a result we're held at arm's length from the villain - in fact if you haven't paid any attention to the online vitriol, you might take away even less about his character and motives. There are a couple of moments where we see that no one wants to deal with him (two waitresses argue over which one of them has to wait on him, for example), but it's all tell and no show - he never interacts meaningfully with anyone else. Let us SEE him being "wronged" by the rest of the world, not just sitting there oblivious to two strangers whispering and saying that the world sucks. And it doesn't help matters that due to the way the plot unfolds he's almost forgotten by the time the climax rolls around, as (SPOILER) he is killed about an hour or so into the movie and becomes a ghost that possesses Chris Hemsworth's idiot receptionist character, letting the actor (using his native accent for a change) kind of take over as the villain. Then, with 15 minutes to go, the ghost leaves Hemsworth and takes on yet another form, that of a giant, growling, personality-free monster. There's nothing about this form that recalls the angry sad sack, which to me feels like a giant missed opportunity. Rowan's takeover of Hemsworth at least allows us to enjoy the actor's otherwise under-utilized comic chops (not to mention his dance moves), but even there it has the same problem: the movie can't quite pin down a primary villain. It'd be like if New Beginning was sped up and grafted on to a shorter version of Final Chapter after Tommy killed Jason off - the transition doesn't work at all for the narrative. Doing it twice is just silly.
But there has to be a big monster for them to blast away at the end of the film, because that's what the original had. As I said, there are too many callbacks to the 1984 movie, following its structure almost beat for beat and overloading it with cameos from FIVE of the original cast members (actually six if you count Harold Ramis, who 'appears' as a bust), plus Slimer and Stay-Puft for good measure. Obviously, you want the new team to show some measure of reverence to their predecessors, and one of the cameos works perfectly (spoiler: it's Ernie Hudson's), but Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold overdo it, as if they figure they can win over naysayers simply by constantly reminding them that they too love the original film. Ironically, the deja vu is the same thing that helped sink Ghostbusters II, so you'd think they would have known better. I don't think anyone would argue that this movie is at its best when it's doing its own thing, so it gets almost frustrating that there isn't more of it.
For example, the dynamic of the group is very different. Kristen Wiig is in the sort of Peter Venkman role as the one who is a bit above the ghost hunting stuff, but unlike Venkman she's not even associated with her "Ray Stantz", the Melissa McCarthy character. The two were best friends and wrote a paranormal book together years ago, but then Wiig left that stuff (and McCarthy) behind when she took a job teaching physics at Columbia, while McCarthy has taken a job at some dump college and made a new best friend (McKinnon's "Egon"). When Wiig finds out the book has been republished on Amazon she confronts McCarthy about taking it down so it doesn't embarrass her, just as a ghost shows up elsewhere. So they're sort of forced together, and she has no existing relationship with McKinnon - a big change from the original's trio of pals (Egon was the new guy, but they clearly didn't MEET in the film). As for "Winston", Leslie Jones plays Patty, a subway worker and history buff who the others meet when investigating the 2nd ghost in the movie, and who joins them shortly thereafter, much earlier in the narrative than Winston joined up (before they've even decided on a name, in fact). This lets the group have some "getting to know you" moments the original obviously didn't require, the occasional reminder of the strained friendship between the two leads (a subplot that's largely phased out as the movie goes on, only to resurface near the end), and also more time of the full group working as a team than the original movie had.
It's this stuff that makes the movie work as well as it does. Obviously everyone's tolerance for this or that type of humor varies, but I personally found almost every scene of the four of them just talking to be hilarious, and all four of them get in plenty of laugh out loud lines (even McCarthy, who seems a bit hampered by the PG-13 rating). Not that the ghost-hunting scenes lack laughs, but again those are the scenes where they seem to be constantly using the original film as a guide - the ones of them just sort of hanging out (usually involving some new tech McKinnon designed) are consistently funny, and cementing the idea that they should be reunited for a sequel. Their chemistry isn't surprising since they've all worked together on SNL (three cast members and one regular host), but despite the fact that they're all subbing in for the original's characters in some form, I was surprised at how quickly they took on their own personalities and played off their relative strengths. Unfortunately, this also means that the movie occasionally suffers from some fairly bad editing, because Feig clearly let these four talented and hilarious women play off each other (read: improv) whenever he could, and used the best gags and jokes even if they didn't always flow as well. McKinnon scores a great laugh with some Pringles in one scene, for example - hopefully you're still laughing and thus don't really notice when they're completely gone (and her expression is totally different) in the next shot.
On occasion, the plot suffers from this "hey, something's missing" feeling as well. Feig said his director's cut was something like three hours long; I don't think it feels like it's been reduced by over a third (I'm sure a lot of what was chucked was just more comedy of no narrative use), but there were at least three instances where I couldn't help but feel something somewhat important just got chucked in order to keep things moving. For example, when all hell breaks loose, McKinnon, McCarthy, and Jones are all running around fighting the ghosts for a bit, and at one point they get trapped... and then Wiig shows up and saves them. It plays like she had quit the team at an earlier point and decided to come back to them (think Han Solo showing up to help save the day at the end of New Hope), but we never saw that if so - far as we knew she was just at home when the other three sprung into action. I've already mentioned Rowan's truncated appearance, but that extends to other antagonists as well: Matt Walsh and Michael K Williams play a pair of Feds who are sort of in the Walter Peck mode, but they never do anything worthy of hiring these actors (particularly Williams, who also gets 6th billing despite maybe 90 seconds of screentime). This is nothing new for a modern comedy; Neighbors 2 (which more of you should have seen - it was pretty great!) was just as bad if not worse in that regard, but since the first film's script by Aykroyd and Ramis was famously gigantic and managed to offer a relatively tight narrative in 100 minutes, it's hard not to notice. It's part of the problem of improv; sure you get comic gold, but then it seems like there's a tendency to let the plot falter because test screenings show this otherwise unnecessary bit gets the best laughs. So when they decide 30 seconds needs to be trimmed somewhere, and the choice is between some exposition/character development, or a tangential bit that people will laugh their asses off (like Hemsworth's terrible ideas for their logo), they opt to keep the latter every time.
Also, maybe I just missed something, but all of a sudden Times Square is transformed into the 1970s (no particular year can be determined; the movie theaters are showing Willard (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), and Taxi Driver (1976), so it's just random), which no one comments on in any meaningful way and seems like a lot of work for the production for a mere sight gag. Anyone have a good explanation for this bit?
Overall, I liked the movie (as did the audience, who applauded when the credits came up - rare for a Friday morning crowd). I'd watch it again, I want to see the cast come together for a sequel (not the one they tease at the end of the credits though - don't Into Darkness this shit, come up with your own villains, please!), and it left me far more satisfied at 36 than the original sequel did when I was 10. But it also kept mucking up the plot and showing its seams, which A) won't help win over any of the idiots who have been hating on this movie since the day it was announced, but an even more painful B) it makes it hard to really champion, either. "GO SEE THIS FLAWED MOVIE!" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, and that's exactly what I wished I could give it due to all of the unnecessary hate being thrown its way - even a mega-budget studio movie can feel like an underdog, I guess. So they all deserve recognition for making it a lot better than the disaster it might have been, I can't help but feel Feig could have done a little better, either - it almost seemed like he felt he HAD to throw in those shoutouts (Slimer is particularly awful and unnecessary to boot), and did so half-heartedly, using screentime that could have been used on more of his and Dippold's own ideas. Here's hoping that they have the confidence to truly make it their own next time.
What say you?
P.S. Fall Out Boy's awful cover of the theme song appears in the middle of the movie. Brace yourself.
P.S.S. Comments are moderated here for a reason. Don't bother leaving vitriol, because it will never see the light of day. If you have something constructive to say, fine. Otherwise save it for AICN or IMDb, where pointless drivel is tolerated.