Ghostbusters 2016 Review
Certainly the most “controversial” movie this year, in the geek circles at least, is the new Ghostbusters movie. From the first announcement of “reboot with an all-female cast” any attempt at a conversation about the movie was walking through a minefield. So that leads us to today, now that the movie is actually out, and it’s almost impossible to talk about the movie itself without in some way addressing the massive internet backlash against it. Let me address it now, the movie is good, I had a lot of fun watching it, as a giant Ghostbusters fan I had no problems with it. No childhood got ruined, can’t we all just enjoy a good fun movie. With that out of the way let’s talk about the actual movie itself.
The basic plot is that old friends Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Abby (Melissa McCarthy) along with Abby’s lab partner Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) discover an actual ghost, but when Erin loses her tenure and Abby and Holtzmann are ejected from their lab they decide study this paranormal phenomenon on their own. Joined by subway worker Patty (Leslie Jones), who also saw a ghost on a train line and called them in, the four of them need to figure out how to stop these ghosts before the man who summoned them begins the end of the world.
The cast is certainly the highlight of this movie. The four leads play off each other brilliantly, they’ve got great chemistry, and it really helps sell the movie as four friends hanging out and trying to study ghosts. The film seems to centre on Erin a little bit more than the others, as she’s the one with a definitive arc. When we first see her she’s just starting out as a lecturer at Columbia University and trying to get tenure, then that’s threatened by her old friend Abby publishing their book on the paranormal without her knowledge. As we find out Erin and Abby were high school friends who loved ghosts and wanted to study them, but Erin drifted away to try and become a “legitimate scientist” and deny ever thinking the paranormal was real. Erin’s arc is about reconnecting with what got her into science in the first place and going on to do what she loves rather than what’s expected of a “legitimate scientist.” As an arc it does kinda fulfil itself in the first act, with a beat at the end of the movie cementing that her and Abby have gotten over their hang-ups from the start of the movie.
The film is more about the ensemble than any one character though. The other two fill out their roles and were the best parts of the movie to me. Holtzmann is an incredibly eccentric mad-scientist, she is pure fun and craziness. She’s the engineer who makes all their gadgets, with all the over the topness of a mad-scientist. I can imagine that some of her antics might be a little grating or go on for too long for some people, but I loved every second of it. McKinnon’s performance just sold the hell out of it, so that she was always likeable despite the crazy things she said and did. Patty is on the other side of the coin, she sees a ghost and the main villain when worked at the subway, so she goes to talk to the others about it and they all join up. While she’s the one non-scientist of the group she does make up for that with her impeccable knowledge of New York’s history, something very valuable when hunting ghosts. She’s also got lots of great deadpan humour. My favourite joke in the entire movie is when they’ve split up to hunt a ghost and she looks into a room full of mannequins and just says “no way, that’s the room of nightmares right there” and just walks away. Just perfectly genre savvy and skewering old horror tropes.
The comedy itself is a mixed bag. I think most of the jokes and gags worked and were funny, but there were a few that didn’t. Sometimes a gag would go on for too long, or just longer than was necessary. There were two or three toilet humour gags, and I don’t really care for that stuff, but they were contained at the start of the movie and thankfully not a consistent thing throughout the film. I think the most concentrated form of this mixed bag came with the character of Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). His character is, pretty much, the dumbest person alive, so there are parts that are facepalm worthy due to this. But I was honestly surprised at how funny he could be, Hemsworth has some great comedic talent and his honest sincerity really sold the role. Some of the jokes about him being dumb didn’t really work, but I think a lot of the dumb things he did were funny. And while I wasn’t too keen on how they played Erin crushing on him I was glad it didn’t turn into a romantic subplot, and also that it was just Erin rather than all of the women. Kevin probably could’ve been excised from the movie and it would’ve made things better, but he did have his moments and he wasn’t something that hurt the movie all that much.
The story structure is something that lets the movie down the most. There’s just a lull in the movie when the main villain looks like he’s been thwarted and then the movie is in a holding pattern till he comes back for the climax. It just feels really awkward and needed to be handled better. The main villain, Rowan, was also a bit weak. While he played the creepy/crazy guy well he never really felt that threatening, something just didn’t click there. I did like how he was this reflection of Abby and Erin, this shunned outsider for believing in the paranormal. Though he turned his talents to trying to destroy the world because of that, and it was a good little beat when Abby points out she’s been through the same shit and isn’t trying to destroy the world because of it. Sadly that was the extent of the dark reflection parallel.
One thing that was really cool about the story structure is that built around the Ghostbusters studying the ghosts, and learning how best to combat them through trial and error. It’s more explicitly shown through the progression of their gadgets and tech, as they get upgrades and new tech throughout the film. What starts out as a bulky proton-laser that is so large it needs to be wheeled around on a cart then gets refined into the more wearable Proton-Pack, because they take what they’ve observed about the ghosts and modified their tech accordingly. They note that they need to be more manoeuvrable so as to better handle ghosts squirming all over the place and to avoid environmental hazards, like being hit by a train. So at the end of the movie they’ve got a lot of tech that’s been developed through the film. It’s just nice to see that they didn’t just develop the equipment perfect the first time out and then never improve on it. It’s an ongoing evolving process because it is a completely new field of study where lots of experimentation is involved.
There was, of course, a lot of cameos and references to the previous Ghostbusters movies. Some are a little bit more on the nose than others, but I don’t think they’re that intrusive to the film itself. I liked Bill Murry’s cameo the best because it fit him given that he’s spent so long fighting against any Ghostbusters continuation, and so he shows up as a paranormal sceptic and debunker. The references were scattered throughout the film, but they were more like easter eggs and in-jokes. It didn’t feel like the entire film was built on the references and they were cute little things that if you miss them then it won’t effect your enjoyment of the film.
Now what really is funny in a meta-way is from the commentary from people who haven’t seen the movie yet and are declaring it “feminist propaganda” and saying things like “all the men in this are either dumb or assholes!” Because all of that scaremongering about what the film could be like doesn’t match what the film is really like. Instead of it being like one of those 90s “girl power” stories, or special one-off cartoon episodes, here the gender of everyone in the movie doesn’t actually matter. There’s no sexist remarks, no one puts down any member of the main cast because they’re a woman, and there’s no big deal made about the fact that the main cast are women. There’s no “you’re only saying that because I’m a woman” talk that shows up in movies with a “strong female character.” In-fact, just purely on a surface level reading, this film doesn’t read like it has a “agenda” of any sort, especially not in a gender specific way. Once you bring in wider real-world context to it, like it being an entirely women lead big budget summer blockbuster, then you get different reading on the film. But you can just watch the film and there’s nothing in the story or the dialogue that would make it “feminist propaganda.”
As for the “all the men are dumb assholes” thing, well they’re not. Kevin is definitely dumb, and Rowan is the villain so he’s by default not a nice person, but that’s not true for the rest of the movie. There’s lots of other men in this movie, they are neither treated badly nor are they all “assholes.” All of them are incidental characters, some of which do oppose the main characters in some way, just like in the older Ghostbusters movies. Or just like every other movie in existence, and I fail to see how this is an “anti-male” statement given that all those other movies with incidental characters and antagonists aren’t labelled “anti-male.” And as many others have pointed out this same logic can be used to say the first Ghostbusters movie was “anti-women” given that the only roles for women in it were “love interest” “secretary” (who gets less lines, screen time, and story focus than the male secretary in the new film) “villain” (who was only in the form of a women for two minutes) and “scared librarian they made a menstruation joke out of.” But it’d be crazy to call Ghostbusters “anti-women” just as it looks equally crazy when people call this movie “anti-male.”
So yeah, the new Ghostbusters reboot actually turned out pretty good. Great cast of very funny comedians that made up for any of it’s shortfalls. All of the crazy ghost designs reminded me so much of the Real Ghostbusters and their fantastic ghosts. The action was good. It was all just a nice fun summer movie. Definitely worth checking out. Stay through the credits too, there’s some extra scenes, some cool unused artwork and visuals, a tribute to Harold Ramis, and an after credits scene. Though I hope that’s just another easter egg rather than a tease for what’s planned for a future movie. But we’ll see what the future holds for these new Ghostbusters.