Answer The Call
I would like to open this review with the same tone utilised in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles critique. The original Ghostbusters was just ok; a fun, unique film with a handful of SNL legends mucking about. It is not, however, a goddamned masterpiece, there are multiple flaws at work; to my mind, the franchise really thrived in the form of the cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters. So right from the get-go, you should all be aware that I enjoy the films but have never heralded them as the second coming. Nostalgia and infinite rewatching has warped a lot of fan’s minds into elevating these movies above and beyond their actual achievements. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
Following the re-emergence of a rather embarrassing collaborative book, scientist and lecturer Erin Gilbert [Wiig] reunites with her old colleague Abby Yates [McCarthy] and her new protégé Jillian Holtzmann [McKinnon] and is dragged into investigating the paranormal. After documenting their encounter with a ghost haunting a New York mansion, the group are ridiculed by their respective employers and the internet in general. Determined to make it work, the group form a fledgling business to hunt, capture and study ghosts. After a tip-off from subway employee Patty Tolan [Jones] the team realise that these sightings are being triggered by some unseen and clearly unstable mastermind.
Depressingly, thanks to the unspeakable backlash online (before the film was even out), a lot of pressure has been thrown onto this movie to be spectacular. More than that, it has to achieve multiple goals by embodying an entertaining and coherent narrative, meeting the expectations of a contemporary summer blockbuster and justify its existence thereby guaranteeing the future of all female led features. The first two points it excels at reasonably well but the third shouldn’t even exist. The real question here is do we need so many reboots, remakes, prequels and delayed sequels? And that’s where Ghostbusters stumbles a little. One could argue there is absolutely no need to bring back this property. People have been petitioning for a Ghostbusters III for so long, forgetting that Ghostbusters II was a painful ordeal that never lived up to the hype. Once the direct sequel was scrapped, the concept for a reboot was brought up and admittedly there aren’t a great deal of new ideas brought to the concept; outside of the apparently shocking notion of a gender switch.
Focusing on the positive for a second, Ghostbusters is a really fun film. It exhibits a wonderful mix of comedy, action and scares. Regardless of what you think of the new version of the theme song, Theodore Shapiro’s score was great, giving us an organic entity that morphed with the tonality of the film, from silly gags to genuinely unsettling tension to thrilling action set-pieces. The CGI effects were also pleasant, offering a big, bold and colourful variety that still tied in with the overall style of the established franchise. Unfortunately, the more the effects were utilised, the less I liked them but they were still more than commendable. An area where this film improves over the others is the fact that it has an actual intentional antagonist. I was always frustrated by the seemingly unprompted rise in ghost activity in the first Ghostbusters film. Thankfully, this version feels logically thought out with Rowan [Casey] being inspired by Erin and Abby’s book and actively bringing ghosts over to our plane of existence. That right there? Good writing.
And yet something feels off. As a fan of Star Trek, I had points of contention with the Trek reboot; predominantly that it was wonderful cinema but took the franchise away from the nature of the source material. In other words, JJ Abrams made Star Trek into Star Wars. Yet despite that, I still really enjoyed it and praised it highly for breathing new life into the frankly dead series. But as stated, I don’t have that affiliation with Ghostbusters and don’t feel anything here really perverted or morphed the intention of the original, so why did I walk out feeling it was ultimately good but not special? And then it hit me in the weirdest way and I had to question it multiple times because it felt so unusual: for me, the main flaw with Ghostbusters is the cinematography. I know that’s a completely balmy thing to say about a comedy but hear me out. Everything about this film is marked with Paul Feig’s distinctive style. He’s a man who puts the actors first and ensures everything is in place to capture any improvised hilarity that may ensue and it’s one of the reasons his previous films have been so well received. But in order to achieve that, the direction needs to be straight forward and everything must be lit like you’re in a studio; that means bright lights, lots of colour and big open spaces. And something about that didn’t feel right. Where the film really excelled is sections in the Aldridge Mansion basement or the subway tunnel, in fact any time events were taken out of a large, well-lit room. You may say to yourself, “Surely that’s not your actual problem, you just can’t figure it out and have settled with something petty or obscure” but if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I mean. Every location looks and feels like a set for television – not necessarily in the quality but in the plausibility. Which neatly summarises this next major flaw: I have no idea what kind of universe this film is set in.
If you analyse a lot of classic comedies, it is apparent that events transpire in “the real world” and the hilarity comes from the central characters being so funny compared to the bewildered or ridiculous supports. You’ll notice, it’s rare that a supporting character will get a punchline, they are mostly there as a set-up device or subject of scrutiny/ridicule. That is most certainly not the case in most of Feig’s films and as such his comedies have a drawing power that brings a lot of amazingly talented people to the table. Some would say the appeal would be Ghosbusters related but the truth is, Feig gives generously to the supporting roles and affords them the chance to be just as funny as the leads. This lack of ego elevates the comedic quantity and mostly benefits the film. Another example would be something like 21 Jump Street which is so over the top and seemingly everyone is in on the joke. This means that simple throwaway lines and walk-on parts are given to incredibly funny people and they do their best with the time allotted to them but with the sheer amount of supports and cameos, you’re taken out of the narrative, waiting for them to say or do something hilarious, like one giant Muppets movie. Which, let’s face it, when you’re hiring heavily from the SNL stable, is kind of always what you’d end up with. And with a lack of rounded supporting characters, we’re also robbed of sub-plots that leave the film feeling very narrow and insular in its scope, failing to describe or illustrate anything outside of the central plot thread.
Yet all of the above is moot; a mere explanation of why the film is brilliantly serviceable but not perfect. In spite of so many people vying for attention, the pressure is never felt on the main cast. The Ghostbusters themselves are a marvellous unit with arguably more chemistry than the original line-up. Sure, you’ve still got three scientists (the brain, the heart and the cynic) and the one black outsider but a new level of bonding has been injected that gives this eclectic mix a genuine connection and equality of worth that is often absent from these types of ensembles. Bar one. And I hate to say that but I really have to. Kristen Wiig is exceptionally funny and has given countless performances but she is completely tied down here. Acting as the straight-laced cynic, she doesn’t really have much to her character. She’s by no means awful but compared to how decently the others are fleshed out, she comes off the worst. One could argue that even Chris Hemsworth’s delightfully moronic character has more of a personality than Erin. I don’t know whether that comes down to the way the character was written of it is how Wiig chose to bring her to life but she felt the flattest of the group.
This film shouldn’t be important. As an agent of equality, I shouldn’t have to care about whether the impact of this film will affect the way movies are cast in future. As a standalone entity, devoid of history and external factors, Ghostbusters is great. It’s a captivating film that kids and adults will love. It’s far from perfect but finding big budget box office films that are is an immense challenge. Already the franchise is in a much stronger place to go forward and I would be happy to see these characters return. Just.. you know.. rein in the swell of all-too-familiar faces.
15th July 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
Rather than going for a particular scene, I noticed a recurring theme throughout that highly amused me. All the men are douchebags. I can’t think of a single male character who wasn’t incompetent, pathetic or arrogant and yet remarkably didn’t feel like an attack. Case in point, we have Hemsworth as Kevin the stupid receptionist. I mean cartoonishly stupid. And Hemsworth clearly revels in it. Everything about him is so dumb but doesn’t feel nasty. The same goes for the scene wherein Erin tries to warn the mayor (portrayed by Andy Garcia) that the city needs to be evacuated and the threat should be taken seriously. She goes on to add, “Don’t be like the mayor from Jaws” at which point Garcia turns and shouts “Don’t ever compare me to the Jaws mayor!” I realise it’s a tiny moment but having a man desperately afraid of being compared to a pretty solid example of how he’s acting is really funny. And yet none of it feels like some sweeping attack on men. It’s an attack on idiots, who happen to be men.
Patty Tolan and Jillian Holtzmann. The two characters portrayed by the two actors that, when announced, most people said, “Who?” Patty serves as more than the token individual uninitiated in science and the supernatural; she’s the guide to the city, the one with the means and experience to connect the team with the people (rather than just doing the typical “and do you want to say that again for those who speak English?”). I had my reservations about Patty solely because of how she was presented in the trailer but from the very start, she’s a funny capable member of the team, feeling less like an afterthought. Holtzmann on the other hand is an irreverent scene stealer. So incredibly over-the-top it’s incredibly difficult to take your eyes off of her performance. Less a character and more a collection of quirks and oddities. Brilliant work from two very fine comedians.
“Well this is just a room of nightmares. Nothing to see in here”
In A Few Words:
“While failing to achieve the dizzying heights of expectation and hype, Ghostbusters is a pleasing release that delivers everything one would hope from a big-budget action-horror comedy”