Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones
Ghostbusters was a very important part of my childhood. Now, I’m not one of those scumbags who try to use their childhood as reasoning for pathetic misogyny. It’s just a point of fact that when I was a child, my mother showed me the two movies and the cartoons and that the franchise helped to kickstart my deep love for cinema. As I’ve gotten older, I grew broader tastes and talked to living women so I don’t hold the franchise as this sacred text to be protected by all those with a different chromosome breakdown than me. I still love it and the comics and all that that comes out. So when they finally got around to announcing a new movie, I should have been excited. Even though it was a remake, I shoulda been all for it. But I was a bit ambivalent about the movie. Not cause of ladies. No, I really like Kate McKinnon and Kristin Wiig. They’re addition to the series was a good thing for me. Melissa McCarthy can be funny for me at times when she isn’t just rambling in her lazy slob roles like Tammy. Leslie Jones worried me if only because she is terribly unfunny on SNL, being responsible for one of the worst sketches in a series filled with forgotten years of misery. No, the one thing that really worried me was Feig.
I am not a big fan of Feigs work behind the camera. Bridesmaids is a damn fine movie and one that showed an immense amount of promise, but is proving to be a one off for me with him. Because he has decided to use the clout he accumulated with that movie to helm comedies with a good heaping of action in them. And as a fan of genre movies and the like where action scenes dominate and occupy their own places in cinematic artfulness, I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to action scenes. So it pains me to watch his shockingly pedestrian action scenes. They are so bland and lifeless and shot with no style that it almost stops his movies in their tracks. For they can be gaining comedic momentum but then have to stop for violence. Me, the guy who trades in cinematic violence, doesn’t want him to indulge in violence. So his focus on making movies with those kinds of scenes has given us a streak of movies that lack the power of that first movie. The Heat is really annoying and Spy has some good stuff, mainly regarding comedic genius Jason Statham (I am not fucking kidding either). It’s almost similar problems that Judd Apatow has. Self indulgence in areas no one really wants them to indulge. So his hiring as the new shepherd of the series worried me, cause I find his directing weak and his comedy leanings to be too broad for my tastes. But, the movie was being made and I was interested to see how it played out. So after months of Internet strife between the “SJW’s” and the cave dwellers, the movie is finally here.
I can say right off the bat that the movie is not bad. The trailers were very much not good marketing for a movie that wasn’t as dire as the promos suggested. But it is not as good as it really should be. This is a franchise ripe with potential, not too reliant on specific characters or actors so much as it just needs to rely on a focus of comedy and horror with characters in over their heads. World building is so ripe here and they don’t need to mine the past to build the future. Sure, take some of the imagery like the no ghosts sign or the car and the proton stream. But there’s no real sense of looking forward here. They are so very much stuck in the past, with way too many references to the old movie in very specific ways and some very odd ways. Now, there’s good stuff within this movie. Overall it’s a breezy and charming enough movie to work for an audience. And for me, as a fan of the series, just seeing those proton streams attached to ghosts made me happy. But the nostalgia seemed to weigh on this movie like an anchor.
The story is simple enough. Wiig is a scientist looking to get tenure at the College she is working at when her past work on paranormal activities comes to light and she has to reconnect with her old colleague/friend in McCarthy. This happens because there is a rise in paranormal activity that will lead to apocalyptic shit and they are the only ones that can stop it. It’s not too dissimilar to the way the original movie works. Except for the very odd lack of drama to it all. There is no real hindrance to their activity. There’s a small level kinda introduced with a trip to the Mayor who wants a lid put on it, but it’s pretty immediately swept away and just not important. There’s no Walter Peck kinda character that is keeping them too preoccupied during the rising threat. It’s so conflict free for way too long. They try to introduce the idea that there’s friction between Wiig and McCarthy because of Wiig leaving the ghost game, but it’s just forgotten by the next scene. Yet they try to force a resolution to it at the end with Wiig almost sacrificing herself for McCarthy? It’s just weird and, along with the dramaless storytelling, it’s a very schizophrenic movie.
Maybe the weakest thing in the movie is the villain. I won’t go around and say Goze and Viggo are top tier cinema villains, but they have personality. There’s a visual spark to them and they stand out. Even if Gozer really only brings Stay Puft, that’s something. Stay Puft is iconic. The demon dogs are iconic. Gozer has a cool look and the painting aspect of him was really cool. The villain here is just some dweeb. A big ole loser who hates humanity because people are mean to him for being a stone cold weirdo. He’s not interesting, he’s played very blandly. There’s no hook to him. The idea of ripping open the doors between Earth and the Spectral realm is a good one, but this guy just does not sell the idea at all. And the worst thing is that he gets rolled into the unnecessary nostalgia bombs in this movie.
If you wanna start over anew, that’s fine. Star Trek 2009 made an effort to show people that what they knew still existed but that they are on their own track now, Vulcan being destroyed as the key point to that. What sunk Into Darkness was the fan service desire to tie into Wrath of Khan too faithfully without making it work within a new context. Ghostbusters kinda falls into the second part. Moments that try to call back to the original that are very clunky in most regards. There’s some good callbacks, referencing the College they started at or a fun Twinkie reference in the background of a shot. But it’s when they get into the cameos and the lines of dialogue straight from the old movie that things get wonky. Bill Murray does nothing but stop this movie dead in its track and make a hard case for us to stop caring about him. The too cute for its own good jokes where they make “who you gonna call” that stop and wink before the punchline is groan worthy. Having the Marshmallow Man just straight up appear and fall on our heroes is just obnoxious, as is the appearance of Slimer (and his wife?). Hell, they make Slimer apart of the resolution of the movie. I’m sure we have the Ecto Cooler drinking soft skulls for making that apart of the movie. But the most egregious is when the bad guy becomes the No Ghost symbol. It’s just fucking bizarre, makes no real sense within the narrative, and just becomes a too meta ripoff of the originals use of the Marshmallow man. And they have a post credits scene that is so much trying to set up elements from the original movie that I said out loud “oh go fuck yourself”. And I was kinda into the movie. The cribbing from the old stuff even shows up in a subtle way. There’s two ghosts they encounter in the beginning of the movie. A lady ghost and a prisoner ghost. And they are so straight up just the Librarian from 1 and a Scoleri brother from 2 that it just confounds me that they don’t use the new tech they have to get weirder and more unique with their ghosts. Even when they get to the ending, it’s just old soldiers for some reason because now the bad guy can alter the time stream? Instead of trying to blaze a new path totally, they split it down the middle between way too much gazing at the past and some good new stuff.
What does the movie get right you say? Well the cast is pretty damn good. Wiig and McCarthy are really good, even though you can kinda see McCarthy struggling to stay within the guidelines of a PG13. Leslie Jones too has her moments, working much better than I had feared. But the MVP is McKinnon. She makes some big, bold ass choices with this role and goes for it. The other ladies are all playing riffs of roles they play alot, but McKinnon is a character and a half. She’s like this trickster god walking amongst mere mortals, smiling at all the insanity. Hell, she even gets the best moment in the 3rd act action. The ladies all have real good chemistry and bounce off each other well. They give the movie the charming and breezy tone that makes it a much more watchable movie than it would have with even a little less connection. But in the new cast brings a weird addition for me, which is Chris Hemsworth. I think he’s a very funny guy and uses his looks and size to good use in comedy. And they try here to do that again. But it goes so far into the “he’s a stupid person” schtick that you just get tired of it real quick. It’s hella broad and kinda breaks the reality of the world they’ve built. He’s just too dumb to even be real. He has moments that are fun but overall he’s a pretty bad character. Which is a shame. Maybe they shoulda just brought Statham to the game to add the goofy guy character. Oh well, maybe he can show up in the sequel. The best stuff in the movie though is the third act where shit gets real and they get to bust some ghosts in a big way. It’s fun and energetic and allows them to show off the new toys they made and it’s great stuff. It elevates a movie that moves in fits and starts for the first 2/3rds.
Many comedies these days film a crap ton of stuff and then figure things out in the edit. It’s not a new trend, but it’s been more popular than ever since Judd Apatow and Adam McKay came to prominence. Even the original Ghostbusters was a movie that had way too much stuff that they just cut it all and made montages with that stuff. And this movie very much feels like a movie that was cut up to fit a structure. But in this ones case it hurts the movie because they try to rush through all the beats the original did. Instead of building the world and letting the characters get used to things, they just get thrown into the apocalypse quick. There’s a lot of the original where nothing involves the plot, but it all is there to build these guys and their world up. This doesn’t have that. It’s very much like Into Darkness, hoping that just having the surface appearance of an older movie can make it work. Hopefully they can make the necessary tweaks to the formula to make it all work much better in the sequel, because they got the parts there. This will be much better in hindsight if it kickstarts better stuff. If it doesn’t, it’ll kinda look more like The Amazing Spider-Man than anyone wants it to. But for now we got a decent enough movie that sadly fits into a pretty disappointing year of decent but forgettable blockbusters.