Friday, July 15, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters

Directed by: Paul Feig.
Written by: Katie Dippold & Paul Feig based on the 1984 film directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.
Starring: Kristen Wiig (Erin Gilbert), Melissa McCarthy (Abby Yates), Kate McKinnon (Jillian Holtzmann), Leslie Jones (Patty Tolan), Chris Hemsworth (Kevin), Cecily Strong (Jennifer Lynch), Andy Garcia (Mayor Bradley), Charles Dance (Harold Filmore), Michael Kenneth Williams (Agent Hawkins), Matt Walsh (Agent Rorke), Neil Casey (Rowan North).
Let’s get this out of the way off the top – yes, as a child, Ghostbusters was one of my favorite things in the world – right alongside the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the movies, and I especially loved the Ghostbusters animated series – for which I had all the toys, and spent many happy hours engaged in make believe ghost battles with those action figures. Ghostbusters definitely had, and still does hold, a special place in my heart and in my childhood memories, long after I’ve let most of those nostalgic feelings for the entertainment I loved as a child go (there was a time I tried to re-capture some of that magic by watching old Transformers cartoon episodes that I loved as a child, only to realize that they were, in fact, shit). Ghostbusters, then, certainly does mean something to me – and when I heard they were doing a reboot, I wasn’t overly surprised or thrilled about it – not because I view Ghostbusters as some sort of sacred cow that must never be tampered with (this is hardly an artistically pure franchise after all), but because it was yet another reboot of a 1980s franchise, instead of Hollywood coming up with a new idea (as I am fond of saying, you’re never going to get the next Star Wars by making the next Star Wars). But then I heard that the cast would be four women – and I was honestly more intrigued and excited about the idea. Why the hell can’t the Ghostbusters be women after all? And isn’t it preferable to try to do something new with the franchise, rather than have to suffer through a movie in which, inevitably, some young actor failed miserably to try and play Peter Venkman the same way Bill Murray did? Does every movie have to follow the Star Wars model, of having old and new characters beside each other? Does every reboot essentially have to be fan fiction – even if, in the case of something like The Force Awakens, it’s really good fan fiction? The reaction to Ghostbusters casting women in the lead roles has mystified me. I mean, even if the new Ghostbusters was horrible, how can that possibly effect the 1984 original or anyone’s feeling towards it. The outcry over the new movie exposed a very ugly side of fandom that is always present, but perhaps not always this visible.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is not, it must be said, as good as the original film is. The original had the advantage of being, well, original – something this film could have used a little bit more of. Despite the fact that new film does cast four women, playing four distinct characters (not female versions of the male characters), and in a new situation, the film is still overstuffed with callbacks and references to the old film – including cameos from all the major cast members of the first film (except Rick Moranis, who didn’t want to, and the deceased Harold Ramis – who still does show up as a bust) – most which don’t add very much of anything interesting to the new film (inarguably, the two best ones are by Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver). The film certainly does acknowledge the trolling by the film received before a frame of footage was shot, but it also bends over backwards to appease fans of the original film – which can be amusing when used sparingly, but here felt a little bit like overkill.
Yet, for the most part, I found this film to be immensely enjoyable - and almost the entire reason for that are the lead performances by the four women who are now Ghostbusters. I liked Kristen Wiig’s quieter performance here as Erin – a rather shy member of the group, who has tried to go respectable, and that ends badly. Wiig can, of course, go BIG – and she does at a few moments, but for the most part here she creates a portrait of a woman trying to do what’s expected of her, until she breaks free of that. Melissa McCarthy is always funny – even if the movies she is in are often not – and here, she smartly doesn’t go as big as she’s capable of being either. Her Abby is a true believer- she cedes some of the wackiness to those around her, while still being quite funny. Leslie Jones is, essentially, playing the Leslie Jones comic persona she does so well on SNL – and since it’s funny there, it’s funny here as well. The star of the quartet is easily Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann, a strange comic character who is a genius (in some ways, I wondered why she needed the rest of them, since she seemingly does all the hard work), who is wholly, uniquely strange in a way that feels inspired. And as a unit, the four of them are even better together – they have an effortless chemistry that just fits together perfectly. The other highlight performance is, surprisingly, Chris Hemsworth as their receptionist Kevin – who is so gloriously stupid, you’d think he was a Coen brothers character.
The movie has some plot and structural issues to be sure. It really does take a long time for the plot to get going – for the villain to be introduced, and for things to really get going. The big special effects sequences are also not particularly great – especially an overly cluttered climax, that tries to do too much, and unfortunately continues the trend of having the entire city on the verge of an apocalypse (seriously, not every movie has to have a threat to the entire world). The film works best when it simply lets the four leads – and Kevin – interact with each other, which provides the most memorable moments, and the most enjoyment for the film.
So while this Ghostbusters reboot is far from perfect (the original, it should be noted, is also far from perfect – even if it seemed like it was to me as a child), it is still an extremely enjoyable film – and one that, yes, did tap into some of those nostalgic feelings I have for the original. My hope is that they get to now make a sequel to this film, in which they can leave that nostalgia behind, and create a fully new path for these Ghostbusters. They certainly deserve it – and by doing so, they may actually make an even better film.

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