Ghostbusters (2016) Review

Posted: August 30, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

ghostbusters_ver6_xlg-1Written by Daniel Simpson

It’s probably impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without talking about the online shitstorm which has been brewing for months. There was controversy from the moment the new Ghostbusters film was announced to be a reboot but it wasn’t until the film’s trailer hit that things really got out of hand. The trailer went on to become the most “disliked” of any movie trailer in Youtube history and received a ton of negative flack. It was here that the narrative began that most of the haters were angry, sexist fanboys who just couldn’t get over the idea of women busting ghosts. That attitude certainly does exist in certain circles. Anyone looking for misogynistic comments regarding the film can find them pretty easily and the recent attacks against film star Leslie Jones are certainly appalling. Having said that, I also think that internet culture was far too quick to simplify the backlash and draw extremes. Hollywood’s obsession with remakes has been criticised heavily in the past decade and the fact that the original in this case is one of the most beloved comedies of an entire generation only makes it worse. More to the point, the initial trailer was indeed pretty awful and all subsequent marketing did little to make up for that.

Again, I’m not trying to dismiss the accusations of sexism which have been made toward the film’s haters and in many cases I do think it was apt, but there are a lot of other factors which influenced the negative reaction to the new Ghostbusters and that nuance should be noted. The controversy has been so great that the film itself hardly seems to matter and has been almost totally overshadowed. That’s been frustrating for me, but it was also the primary reason I eventually went out to a theater to see the new film. I am one of the many who think that the marketing for Ghostbusters has been awful and was content to skip Ghostbusters’ theatrical run entirely. I might have seen it at home if the film garnered strong word of mouth, but this wasn’t anything I felt I needed to rush out to see. However as the film has become such a staple of film discussion this year, I felt like as a critic, even an amateur one, I had a certain responsibility to comment on the film too. And so, here we are.

The film takes place in modern day New York City and completely ignores the events of the original Ghostbusters films; this is an entirely fresh take. The focus is on Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a professor of science who, in her youth, co-authored a book on ghosts and the supernatural. She has since abandoned such pursuits, but is drawn back in when the book and it’s other co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), return into Erin’s life. Abby has continued her studies of the paranormal and has brought on an eccentric scientist named Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) as an aid. Sure enough, Erin gets roped into going out with the two and the trio discover proof of ghosts. Thus, the group band to come together both to study these paranormal events and to protect the people of New York from ghosts using their own gadgets and tech. The team quickly finds a fourth member in Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway worker with an in-depth knowledge of the city and a lead on a ghostly plot.

Given that the root of the controversy has been the cast, they seem the appropriate place to start. Kate McKinnon seems to be the one who has got the most attention, being called both the show stealer and the low point of the film. Personally, I lean closer towards the latter. McKinnon is constantly acting goofy and doing weird things seemingly for no reason and it quickly becomes grating. It feels as if the filmmakers just encouraged McKinnon to do whatever she wanted on set and she just ran wild. The thing is, I can see a charm to the bizarre character McKinnon creates and I like the look of the character, but the performance is way too broad. Paul Feig and the screenplay should have done more to reign in the character’s oddness and use it more strategically. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy feel somewhat wasted in their roles. Both characters are mostly just played straight and they aren’t really given a lot to play off of. It’s weird to have such prominent comedic performers and give them so little. However all three characters are inconsistent and will act inappropriately to accommodate either a joke or furthering the plot. Leslie Jones comes off as the best of the Ghostbusters. Her humour feels natural to the character and she makes a solid screen presence.

The cast beyond the Ghostbusters themselves is similarly mixed. Chris Hemsworth comes off well on screen as the team’s dim-witted receptionist, but there isn’t enough for him to do. The character is stupid, and that’s really all there is to say. The film also features cameos from most of the major players from the original film. Ernie Hudson’s appearance is pretty good and probably one of the most amusing parts of the film. Dan Akroyd’s is a bit too on the nose and obvious, whereas Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts are given little to do. Finally, Bill Murray shows up as the focus in two separate scenes and doesn’t do anything of significance nor does he even attempt to be funny. It’s pretty clear Murray wanted nothing to do with this film. One last thing to mention about the cast is Neil Casey’s abysmal performance as the film’s villain. Casey is in no way funny or threatening and is in fact one of the lamest villains I’ve seen on film in recent memory.

I’ve criticized a lot about Ghostbusters, but the core problem is that the film isn’t funny. I didn’t actually laugh once. Best the film got out of me were a few very moderate chuckles and some smirks. The humour style here is very broad; characters acting goofy, fart jokes, characters being simplistically dumb, loudness, slapstick, etc. I certainly prefer the dry wit which defined the humour of the 1984 film, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a more broad humour style. The problem is most of the jokes here are some of the lamest, most simplistic, and predictable you can think of. Another issue is that the humour does not come organically from the story or characters. It all feels very forced which makes it all the more awkward when a joke fails. Every so often something clever manages to sneak through, but these fleeting moments are drowned out by simplicity and big, unfunny set-pieces.

At the root of all of these problems is the script, which fails to weave humour, character, and story together. It is because scenes are so underwritten that actors are forced to improvise all of the comedy while lacking a base to work off of. Additionally, the plot here is a mess lacking in proper development and escalation. For example, early on we see primitive versions of the classic Ghostbusters tech and weapons, but instead of showing a gradual improvement of equipment, later scenes simply yield new gadgets. Another example is that Wiig’s Erin is given the set-up and pay-off of a character arc, but there is little-to-no growth in the middle to help bring Erin to this point. The script is more of a skeleton than a full story and the frustrating thing is that I can see glimmers of interest within that skeleton. The backstory between Abby and Erin is a decent starting point and the idea of making the villain the sort of basement dwelling geek that was hating on the film is also pretty clever, but none of these ideas are played with in any rewarding way.

If nothing else, Ghostbusters looks professional and polished. Paul Feig seems to have more of an interest in visual filmmaking than comparable directors of studio comedies and has once again enlisted Wes Anderson cinematographer Robert Yeoman. The film is actually quite colourful and I like a lot of the ghost visual effects too. The big action climax is a bit messy on the whole, but there are some solid individual bits sprinkled in. Still, the film’s positives are ultimately pretty minor; what stands out is an unfunny and underwritten film that doesn’t offer anything to get excited about. It goes without saying that the film is woefully inferior to Ivan Reitman’s original film, but that isn’t really the point. Even removing the original from the equation, this film is still a poorly told story lacking in laughs. In hindsight, all of the online drama was completely unwarranted. This certainly isn’t a strong feminist movie and it also isn’t some childhood ruining behemoth either. Rather, it’s yet another lazy corporate remake designed to exploit people’s brand recognition and make a profit and quickly be forgotten. If internet users hadn’t so fiercely debated Ghostbusters leading up to its release, I’m pretty sure it would have ended up being forgotten too, just as the comparable Total Recall and Robocop remakes have been forgotten. Instead, we’ll always remember the Ghostbusters remake as a film we all got a little too worked up over.


  1. Jaime Rebanal says:

    I personally enjoyed this take on the film, but I have to agree, people were just getting worked up over something that isn’t trying to be anything more. It’s sad already that the controversy is set to be remembered more than the actual film at this rate.

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