Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)
Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.
I hold the first Ghostbusters film in high regard, being one of my favorite action comedies ever and a film that I can watch over and over. Since 1984, we haven’t had a worthy successor. I’ll straight up say it, Ghostbusters II is an inferior sequel, and I had high hopes, but low expectations, that this Ghostbusters would give us a “sequel” that could breathe new life into the franchise. This film does in some ways and doesn’t in others. It’s a completely uninspired and middling film. Better than I expected, but still not worth the money for a film ticket.
The blame for the film’s issues doesn’t sit on the shoulders of its stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth. The blame for the film’s shortcomings is squarely on Paul Feig for his direction and Feig and Katie Dippold for their script. The film isn’t daring and falls short on laughs. That’s do to the script and the direction. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones and Hemsworth make due with what they’re given and create a mildly entertaining film.
The plot of the film is fine. Wiig’s Erin and McCarthy’s Abby are long time friends into ghosts but went their own way to pursue their scientific careers. They’re brought together again, with McKinnon’s Holtzmann joining them to explore some ghostly phenomenon that in the age of YouTube sets them on their path. The villain wants to bring about the apocalypse… because he was bullied?!
And that’s the first issue with the film. The three women are scientists who talk about the scientific method a lot but it’s never really shown. Their belief in science, observing, measuring, experimentation, formulation, testing, and hypotheses is thrown out any time someone challenges them, but it’s not practiced on-screen. Then there’s the villain who makes the statement he’s really smart and people don’t like him for it, so he’s going to destroy everything. Add in the emphasis that Hemsworth’s Kevin is a hunk of an idiot, and one of the film’s main themes is the intelligent vs the idiots. And the intelligent ones in the film come off as elitists. That elitism and arrogance to prove one’s intelligence actually gets someone killed!
That elitism extends to how Jones’ Patty Tolan is treated (her character and acting is one of the surprise standouts of the film). She’s the one not a scientist, working as a MTA worker who has an amazing knowledge of New York City’s history. Her not being a scientist is emphasized a few times and at the end of the film she’s praised for having a good idea to which her retort is something like “of course, I’m a Ghostbuster.” As if the smart folks are within the Ghostbusters club and those not just aren’t all that intelligent and should be looked down upon.
That mentality is shown in Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin who is as good-looking as he is dumb. The actual laughs of the film usually involve his character and something idiotic he does or doesn’t do. That along with a running joke about soup are the majority of laughs. Hemsworth’s ability to play dumb, along with Jones’ abilitiy to play the “straight man” character are to be commended and as far as acting are the standouts though too much of the film is at their expense in some way.
The jokes also are paced too far apart. The film feels like there’s dead air (pun intended) while we wait for the next scare or joke, and there’s just too little of everything. The pacing fails again and again.
The second issue I have is Feig and Dippold’s choice to not go far enough with the humor. This can be seen mostly with McKinnon’s Holtzmann who is a bat-shit insane version of Egon who does and says inappropriate things. It’s a dialed down version of Pitch Perfect‘s Lilly who would quietly say zany things and stole the show with some of the best lines. Here we begin to that point and then things don’t go far enough to really get the laughs. A perfect example is a scene in the Mayo’s office where she’s saying inappropriate things and messing with FBI agents. Instead of having that run throughout the scene, people either don’t react or it’s off-screen so we know something is happening, but not sure what. I’d have had her clearly doing something, and emphasize that through Abby and Erin’s reactions of trying not to watch her. It becomes an ongoing gag that way.
There are some laughs though. Hemsworth’s idiocy is so stupid it’s funny territory. A running gag with a Chinese restaurant is a joke that’s set up throughout the film and pays off in the credits. There’s some great jabs (and well deserved) at the hate thrown at the film before anyone had screened it. Some jokes fall beyond flat. Hemsworth’s handling of troops at the end is a poor joke choice (really, no “Thriller” dance!?). Slimer’s use too goes in the wrong direction (have him steal a car and give us a kicker scene of his still driving).
The third issue is the inconsistency of the “science” of this world. Proton beams now “kill” ghosts I guess? Except when they want to capture them? Ghosts can be punched now and physically fought with? That scientific method (a particular experimentally obtained value being reproducible) doesn’t seem to apply to the ghosts themselves I guess. Things aren’t consistent in this department at all.
But, again there’s some good. Proton bombs are a nice addition. Proton pistols seem cool, though come out of nowhere. A proton chipper and brass knuckles fall into the silly department.
The special fx are a bit mixed as well. I actually DO enjoy the neon look of the ghosts as well as their design. The problem is they look like something out of a Disney ride and there’s a disconnect between them and the real world. Go back and look at Slimer in the original film’s hotel segment. Though the fx are dated, he still feels like he fits in the world, not that you’re stepping into a video game infused ride to fight him.
I did enjoy the 3D. This was a film I expected the 3D to be good and for the most part it actually is! Ghosts and ectoplasm fly off the screen coming at you and for those paying attention ghosts seem to fly off of the screen’s width and height itself to come back on. They literally break the screen’s framing size in a good way that’s unexpected and works really well.
The failure of this film has nothing to do with the fact it’s four women in the lead. The four of them together play off of each other well and are generally funny. The failure of the film is in the script and the direction. I want there to be a sequel. I want these four to headline that sequel. I just want a new director and writer(s).
Overall Rating: 6.5