Film Reviews

REVIEW: Ghostbusters (2016)

Written by Jake Barber

(WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS INCLUDED)

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 thus far has been quite the divisive year in cinema. One need only look at a film such as Batman v Superman, a movie which divided audiences and critics alike, to understand the pressures both the studios and directors face in a market dominated by online opinion, a spate of negative critiques or reviews possible of felling the biggest of cinematic behemoths. The notion of a ‘sure thing’ in Hollywood is all but dead with audiences growing tired of generic blockbusters, remakes and reboots. And who can blame them? The cinema experience is more expensive than its ever been, new concepts are scarce and the revisiting or reimagining of fan favourites as of late have proved largely fruitless. At present, 2016 has birthed the sequels/reboots to a variety of cult classics held in high esteem by audiences such as Zoolander, Point Break and Independence Day.

However, what has become startlingly apparent with the aforementioned sequels and reboots respectively is that although interest and nostalgia still remain for such films, audiences are entering screenings with something intangible that movie studios cannot seek to control nor fully accommodate for as opposed to films with new concepts or that are the first within their franchise… expectation.  When one has a benchmark with which to compare a film to, the dice are somewhat loaded from the start. It takes a lot for a sequel to succeed its predecessor and it is near on impossible to achieve the same with that of a remake or reboot. As I sit here I can think of only one film off the top of my head that has benefitted from a remake of sorts and that is Martin Scorsese‘s remake of Infernal Affairs, The Departed.

And it comes down to one simple benchmark or rather a mantra:  if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. After all, if I didn’t like the original, why would I be interested in seeing a reimagining of it? Born in 1990 I missed out on the cultural impact Ghostbusters had upon the 1980’s, whether that be via the movies, merchandise or animated series. That said, I watched re-runs of the animated series, had the Ghostbusters firehouse play set accompanied by various action figures and adored both the first and second film growing up. I am very much a of fan of Ghostbusters and Dan Aykroyd in particular, a writer/actor who can do very little wrong in my eyes, Blues Brothers 2000 and Christmas with the Kranks aside.

Unfortunately however, upon viewing both his cameo in the film and his role as one of the Executive Producers (which is proudly displayed during the End Credits), I have to say I feel pretty let down, the film overall coming across as beneath him and the original cast. It would be wholly inappropriate of me to solely lay the blame at Aykroyd’s feet, far from it in fact, besides there’s plenty of blame to go around. So its time to suit up, set my proton pack to scathing and bust some balls as opposed to ghouls.

PROTONS

Lets exorcise this demon at the very start shall we? Whether you agree with the female centric posse of Ghostbusters or not, what really matters is if the film works. The feminine quartet when announced sent many a fanboy and rather interestingly, fangirl (now if that’s not equality I don’t know what is) into a frenzy. This is rather cleverly incorporated into the film when the team upload their ghost sightings to You Tube and are subsequently trolled, one person proclaiming, “Ain’t no bitches going to bust no ghost.” Personally I couldn’t give two hoots about the gender of the Ghostbusters, my main criteria for any Ghostbuster cadet being whether they can make me laugh or not. Historically, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones have a good track record for doing just that for me most notably on Saturday Night Live. Melissa McCarthy… not so much.

A crucial element that made the original films so great was the anarchic yet close-knit bond within the team of Ghostbusters, each member adding their own skillset to the team. This to many fans would be Director Paul Feig‘s biggest challenge and who better to shut the haters up than a Director with a reputation for both nurturing and bringing female talent to the forefront of his movies. That is except unless you are Jones’ character Patty, the last member to be recruited into the team for her particular skillset… she knows New York and can get a car. Really?

As if that wasn’t bad enough the film’s equilibrium is completely knocked out of sync by the dominance of McCarthy and Wiig, two characters who one would be forgiven for thinking are in every frame of the movie. Consequently the goofball, eccentric character of Holtzmann (McKinnon), who’s unhinged dialogue and mannerisms at first seem amusing, soon become forced and overacted, the desire to get laughs and screen time outweighing that of her actual role in progressing the plot.

UNFUNNY GB

As mentioned above, the ultimate benchmark for any comedy first and foremost is its ability to make one laugh and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh during this film. Now admittedly I am not the biggest fan of Feig, previous Box-Office hits such as Bridesmaids and Spy doing very little for me comically. That said however, one of his greatest strengths in the film ironically comes via one of Feig’s weaker traits as a Director in general, his deployment of male characters. A large majority of the laugh-out-loud moments come from the male supporting cast such as the Ghostbusters inept secretary Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth and the employees of the haunted Aldrich mansion at the start of the movie (the site of three of the Ghostbusters first interaction with an apparition).

As for the Ghostbusters themselves, they have some funny moments and one-liners but these come too far and few between, mainly appearing within the first thirty minutes or so of the film. Unfortunately, the four Ghostbusters throughout the film seem to be weighed down not by their proton packs but instead by the burden of the comments made by sexist, online trolls. Consequently, the characters are reduced to mere caricatures as opposed to well-rounded characters we can invest in and root for, the laughs often feeling forced, the desire to please existing fans as well as new ones leading to a comedic scattergun approach.

Ghostbusters CONFUSED CROPPED

Ghostbusters’ biggest overarching failure for me is its inability to cut the umbilical cord between itself and the original franchise, never creating its own unique tone. Fans were promised that the reboot would not exist in the world of the original two films or for that matter, would not be a continuation of them. Yet wherever possible, the viewer is deprived of having their new Ghostbusters fleshed out further, exposition and audience/ character bonding are instead cast aside in favour of a cameo or homage to the original two movies. The film is instead guilty of placing the burden of comparison upon itself, the film literally never stepping out of the humongous shadow left by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, whom I should add also makes an appearance.

The endless barrage of cameos from the original cast (even the deceased Harold Ramis if you look closely enough) are crowbarred into the film’s plot and come thick and fast. Whenever one feels as though the film is standing on its own feet, a cameo comes along. Paradoxically, instead of invoking nostalgia within an audience via the use of a fun tongue-in-cheek Easter-egg here or appearance there, Feig instead manages to remind us every fifteen minutes or so that this version is a pale pastiche at best. Case in point, the post credits sequence, guaranteed to royally piss the fans off as it did me.

Moreover, the introduction of the team’s name, logo, the Ecto-1 and of their uniforms, all comes via a ten-minute barrage of poor storytelling, the  audience feeling as if the Director is almost hurrying them towards the films underwhelming crescendo. Don’t even get me started on the film’s many, many plot holes, the main being how the team dispose of the ghosts once caught.

ROWNAN MONSTER CROPPED

Other than Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Zuul’s subservient terror dogs, the ghosts in the original two films worked on two levels; they were scary and were anchored by some degree of realism. After all, nothing is more scarier than everyday characters such as the ghostly babysitter in Ghostbusters 2 or the librarian at the start of the first film. At no point in this version of Ghostbusters, which is a safe PG-13/12A, did the auditorium or myself flinch or jump… oh no wait I stand corrected, we did when the new cover version of the iconic theme by Ray Parker Jr. was played. The ghosts in the film are too fantastical and when the villain Rowan’s overall plot comes to fruition (you guessed it, New York city being trampled by a cumbersome Casper- like manifestation of pure-evil), its hard to give a damn.

So did Ghostbusters make you feel good or did you bust several blood vessels like me? I ain’t afraid of no posts, so feel free to post below or comment on our Twitter.

About the author

Jake Barber