Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Yates, Holtzman, Gilbert, and Tolan.

Let's get the obvious out of the way first: nothing was going to live up to people's expectations set by the first Ghostbusters film. That movie was magic, the kind of lightning in a bottle that happens maybe once a decade. The 1989 sequel couldn't recapture it, the director never recaptured it with his similar film Evolution, and despite having the original writers, every member of the cast save Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver, and a truly wonderful plot involving Stay-puft, Slimer, a terrifying spider-woman prostitute, and even a hidden island full of dead cultists, the 2009 video game didn't get it exactly right either. Ghostbusters 1984 is one of those high-concept gifts that no sequel, remake, reboot, or spin-off could ever hope to eclipse.

Thankfully, Paul Feig and the women he directed in Ghostbusters 2016 know that. Rather than slavishly recreate the original story, or go wildly off-book to the point that it doesn't recall a shred of what it's supposed to be inspired by, the new film artfully balances between the two options. All of the folks online who ranted and raved at their computer screens are thankfully given very little ammo by the movie itself. It won't win them over -right or wrong, they made up their minds long ago- but for genuine fans who love the GB franchise as well as the average moviegoer, this one's a lot of fun.

The basics: Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) are old friends who had a falling out years ago over a book they co-wrote about the plausibility of ghosts. When Gilbert goes to see to it that the book is taken down from Amazon and Google searches so as not to ruin her shot at getting tenure, she is roped into accompanying Yates and oddball engineer Gillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) on a trip to a local historic mansion where a ghost sighting was recently reported. One slimy encounter later, the three women decide to go into business hunting and trapping every full-bodied repeating phantasm they can find. After her own disturbing experience in a subway tunnel, MTA employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) joins the team, offering her knowledge of the city as well as her uncle's car. It's not long before the ghostbusters find that someone is actually trying to summon ghosts by building and planting electrical devices that enhance paranormal activity. It all leads to some violent possessions, nuclear explosions, and cartoon characters from hell.

I was a month old when the original Ghostbusters released, and only 5 when the sequel hit theaters. This was my first chance to see a GB film in the theater, and I was going to take it. When the movie was first announced, the hate seemed almost absurd. I mean sure, casting all women IS a gimmick, but that doesn't mean it's going to be a bad movie. When the first trailer hit Youtube, well, there was reason to worry. It was awkwardly paced, unfunny, and seemed overly concerned with showing off action sequences. But still, I determined that I was going to see the movie before making a decision, unlike most. 

It's strange that one can't seem to discuss this movie in and of itself. I feel as if I and every other reviewer on the planet are required to share our opinion about the controversy. Well, all controversy aside, this really was as good as I could have hoped for. In my mind, the one sin a movie can commit is being dull, and GB 2016 is clear of that. It's also much, much funnier than the sub-par marketing led us to believe (although honestly, how often does a trailer accurately capture the vibe of any comedy?). If you're not a fan of the cast members, regardless of your reasoning, then I can't help you. I CAN say to all who would paint Melissa McCarthy as a one-joke pony, she offers a character here that is nothing like she's done before. There were no cracks about her weight or intelligence, and most of the humor came from the characters rather than the ridiculous events unfolding around them, which was a key component of what made the humor so strong in the original. McKinnon steals the show as Holtzman, no question. Her character is utterly unique in the Ghostbusters canon, and nearly every line she had was a howler. Leslie Jones, like most, fares better than the trailers might've indicated, but she still gets saddled with a lot of "loud black woman" lines. Still, her contributions to the team matter and they acknowledge her as a full-fledged member by the end, which was great. Kristen Wiig is always dependable, but other than fawning over Kevin, she doesn't get much to do. Oh, Kevin. Chris Hemsworth killed every time he was onscreen, and was clearly having a good time during production. Some of his jokes made me wonder how anybody could be that stupid and live, but I laughed loudly, so I can't complain. The cast is rounded out by several great comedic and dramatic actors who are sadly underused. How do you get Zach Woods, Andy Garcia, and Matt Walsh in your movie and reduce them to glorified cameos? However, The cameos by the original cast are all fun and don't overstay their welcome.

As to the effects, I admired how they took advantage of CGI to do things that just weren't possible back in 1984 (at least, not without hundreds of millions of dollars, which is what Dan Akroyd's original treatment would've required). All the ghosts look distinct and creepy, and the final manifestation is very clever, utilizing something cute and innocent for a disturbing taunt and transformation scene. A few reviewers have said that this film is scarier than the original; I'll respectfully disagree. I may have first seen the 1984 flick when I was only six years old, but nothing beats the initial shock followed by hysterical laughter that the librarian ghost inspired. The new film offers a few unique visuals that will stick with viewers (the parade balloons are a highlight), but the best gags come courtesy of old friends. I won't say more than that. Another thing to commend is the score, which doesn't get discussed often, if at all. The music in the film is appropriate and a lot of fun. The Fall Out Boy remix can burn, however.

My biggest issue is the (non) characterization of the villain. Having a human opponent trying to bring about annihilation is an intriguing idea, and the utter lack of backstory or insight into his thought process was disappointing. He's just an odd guy who hates people. Not movie-wrecking, but that could've been done better. There were also a lot of meta jokes, most revolving around the internet's response to the idea of this movie, which got a tad bit tiresome. Again, not a deal-breaker, but a little self-serving on the filmmakers' part.

As to some critics' more specific complaints, I'll address those here:
  • There's a queefing joke in the movie. -Yeah, there is. In the original, the most popular character asked a woman if she was currently menstruating, so...
  • SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER  They banish the final manifestation spirit by shooting his crotchular region. -"Let's show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown!" Why is one worse than the other?
Some people refuse to see this film, which is absolutely their right. However, by exercising that right, they give up the one that allows them to express an opinion on it. If you're turned to anger by the fact this movie exists, then watch the original and stop trying to ruin the childhoods of all the kids today who are excited about a new Ghostbusters movie. (See how I flipped it?) If you're a (rational) longtime fan of the franchise or just looking for something fun and funny, you will not be disappointed here. 

In short: see it and you'll be grinning for most of the runtime. Also, stay until the end of the credits. The very last scene made me want a sequel.


  1. It is so refreshing to read your review. I am one of the few out there whom openly admits to having greatly enjoyed the 2016 film, and it's been very frustrating seeing all the anger from people whom will not even give it a chance by refusing to watch it. I agree with you whole-heartedly that you must give up that right to complain and give an opinion. I thought your review was pretty spot on and had me nodding in agreement at several points. :)

    1. Thank you for commenting! It was certainly a flawed movie, but I thought it justified its existence. Happy Halloween!