Ghostbusters (2016) – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

This 2016 reboot of the beloved franchise, “Ghostbusters,” sees the successful Dr. Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, haunted by a paranormal studies book she had written years ago with her one-time friend, Dr. Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy. The book, which she had thought was never released, threatens to undermine her serious career and reputation, so she searches out Dr. Yates to force her to cease its publication.

Instead, when she is reunited with Yates and her wonderfully weird assistant Dr. Jillian Holtzman, played by Kate McKinnon, they are all sucked into an investigation of a paranormal event. When footage of their investigation hits the internet, Gilbert’s career is over, so she joins Yates and Holtzman in forming a paranormal investigation group, the “Department of the Metaphysical Examination,” based out of an upper room above a bad chinese restaurant.

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From there, the “Ghostbusters,” as they come to be known, develop technology for dealing with the spirits they meet. They recruit the amazingly unintelligent receptionist Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth, as well as a fourth Ghostbuster, Leslie Jones. They go about their work while struggling for recognition from a disbelieving public. All the while, a terrible danger arises that threatens the entire city with destruction. Only the Ghostbusters are equipped to handle this threat, yet they do not fully understand the scope of the villain’s plans. Can they figure out what is going on in time to stop the oncoming ghostly apocalypse?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

This movie was directed by Paul Feig, and it is a movie that I believes falls very much in line with his skills and sensibilities. That is to say, if you enjoy the humor of his movies, you will probably enjoy this film. If you are not a Feig fan, you will probably not like this movie. It is a comedy first and foremost. If you are going into this movie looking for supernatural thrills, it’s not really for you. If you’re looking for intense, well conceived and choreographed action set pieces, this film is not for you. This film is a Feig show, through and through.

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Also, do not be confused by the title. This film is not aimed at the diehard fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. It doesn’t have the same style, the same humor, and it avoids most of the same aesthetics except for the basic outfits and the look of the car. There is certainly some “Ghostbusters” flavoring in the mix, and the plot is very similar to both of the previous films, but this movie has a very distinct and different feel and chemistry. If you go in expecting a tonal successor to the original, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

This film is at its best when the characters are talking and interacting with one another. Importantly, the characters are unique to themselves – they are not stand-ins for the original 80s group. There is great chemistry between the leads, and their personalities and senses of humor riff well off of one another.

The film is really quite funny. The jokes are mostly hits, even though there are definite misses too. At least it isn’t full of fart and vomit jokes, like the trailers implied. It isn’t exactly high-brow, but I didn’t have to roll my eyes more than once, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit. I think I even laughed out loud once or twice.

However, there are plenty of serious flaws. While the designs of the ghosts aren’t bad (in fact in some places it is as strong as the original), the CGI-heavy nature of the final battle goes over the top and the film suffers for it. The plot follows most of the same beats as the original two, and the villain is the cheesiest out of all three films. I will say that while the bad guy is pretty lame in the first half of the film, he does get much better in the second half.

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The worst offenders, however, were the terrible pacing, editing, and cinematography. The editing is choppy, the framing is plain and uninteresting, and the pacing is lethargic when it needed to be active and too quick when it needed to slow down, with poor transitions between the two. Combine this all with the fact that the action scenes in the film were poorly staged and it just robs the story of the energy and intensity it needed in the climax of the movie.

If you insist on judging this film strictly against the ‘84 original, this film can’t be anything but a massive disappointment. It doesn’t match that film’s originality or humor, and I doubt any movie could – the original is one of the great comedies of all time. When judged on its own merits, however, this film is very fun. It is a basic popcorn-munching summer blockbuster worth seeing at matinee price. Don’t get me wrong, “Ghostbusters” (2016) is not great, but neither is it a train wreck. In fact, I might even pick it up if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

Review Format 4 - The Long Take

There is an immediate question that comes up when assessing any entry in a franchise – even if it is a reboot. Where does it stand in the pantheon of the franchise’s’ films? How does it compare to the rest?

Let’s put to bed the obvious. It is nowhere near the quality of the original film – even when simply taking it on its own terms and judging it by its own merits. However, I don’t think I would say it’s the worst movie of the three. Actually, it’s probably a distant second, just a step above “Ghostbusters II.”

“Ghostbusters” (2016) is funnier than the second film, which didn’t use the original cast as well as it should have. That film had little unique vision at all – it is literally a retread of the first film with the addition of mood-reading pink slime.

Something that many people don’t understand about the Ghostbusters franchise, even its fans, is that the “lore” of the series – the ghosts and proton packs, etc. – is not what makes a “Ghostbusters” movie. The Ghostbusters movies have always been about the comedic chemistry of the four original leads. The mix of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and the underutilized Ernie Hudson is unique and cannot be replicated. It was the beating heart of everything Ghostbusters. Without them it is impossible to create a modern Ghostbusters movie that could live up to the original.

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Because of that fact, I was never hoping that this movie would match that original film. It would have been folly. Instead, I believe this film must be judged on its own merits as much as possible, even if it has “Ghostbusters” in the title. Of course comparisons are inevitable. They both used a similar setting and premise, after all. However, stating that this film doesn’t match the originals’ humor and tone is obvious, and cannot be a strict negative. In other words: duh.

The only thing this movie could do is what it did. It put together a different set of comedians to form an all-new and all-different film wearing the same clothes as the original and hope that it would come together with a quality all its own. In some sense, they succeeded, but in other ways they fell flat.

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The thing they did best is the casting. Humor is highly subjective, so of course not every comedian will be to the taste of every viewer, but the four they chose work well together. The story primarily follows Wiig’s character, Dr. Gilbert, who plays the most serious character out of the four. She goes from trying to be an upstanding by-the-book professor to more a casual and self-confident individual. While there isn’t much emotional resonance in the plot or characters, that which does exist comes through Dr. Gilbert and her friendship with Dr. Yates.

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McCarthy’s Yates is the most similar character to a previous Ghostbuster, filling the same scientifically minded, earnest, and enthusiastic role as Aykroyd’s Ray from the original film. I am not familiar with McCarthy, as I do not often watch her films, but I had been given the impression that she had a very immature and body-based sense of humor. That is not present in this film very much, so either I was under a false impression or McCarthy is showing another side to her comedy.  

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McKinnon’s Holtzman is hilariously crazy as an archetypal eccentric inventor. She comes across as a raunchy and irreverent Doc Brown, which works well for the group’s makeup. There is no depth to her character, but she is a lot of fun to watch.

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Jone’s Patty is a bit too much of a stereotype for me, but there is a lot more to her than the trailers showed. She is fairly funny, and I enjoy what she adds to the group. Even though it is a bit convenient, I liked that she is useful for her deep knowledge of New York’s history. It made her no “token” black character.

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But now that we are on the topic of representation, we are finally onto the elephant in the room that can’t really be avoided. Ever since it was announced that the new Ghostbusters would be an all woman team, there was a negative online reaction. I want to be clear that I am referring to the reaction even before the first trailer. There has always been an angry undercurrent response to the dominance of women in this film.

This negativity, and frankly – sexism, gained more traction when the first trailer dropped. The trailer was genuinely bad, and seemed to confirm many fan’s worst fears. However, this was used as an excuse by sexist men to spew utter vitriol at the film and feel justified. Neither the trailers nor the film deserved as much hate as they got.

While I feel that an all-women Ghostbusters team is perhaps a bit gimmicky, I also see it as something of a plus. The concept promised a different take on the franchise, and I love the idea that girls everywhere can get their own film heros to identify with. That is a beautiful thing! I just wish they had been more successful in crafting a great film to go with that concept.

I did have a problem with one thing in regards to gender in this film. The writers fall into the same trap that the writers of Pixar’s “Brave” fell into. In attempting to make powerful women characters, they decided that the only way to make them look strong is to make all of the men either an idiot, an asshole, or a coward – or some ungodly combination of those elements. Women are strong enough to stand tall even with capable men around them, thanks. You don’t have to make us all idiots to show that women are capable.  

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That’s not to say that they need to make every character competent. Hemsworth’s character takes stupidity to fantastical levels, and while that could have been annoying they really committed to it, which sold him for me. His comedic timing is terrific, and I thought he had some of the funniest bits.

The Ghostbusters’ concept is still strong, which is the idea of fighting the paranormal with comedy and science, but the plot is just a basic retread of the previous films. If you want to avoid light spoilers (I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, since it’s all in the trailers, this is just to cover my bases), skip past the bullet points. Let’s look at the steps:

  • Kooky scientists believe in ghosts but aren’t taken seriously by anyone…
  • …until they solve a ghost problem for a desperate rich dude.
  • They open an office and begin doing their work.
  • While that is going on, unbeknownst to them, the bad guy works in the background to unleash a supernatural apocalypse on the city.
  • They are accosted by a disbelieving asshole who lets the ghost out of the bag.
  • The mayor is mostly unhelpful, if not an out-and-out obstacle.
  • When the predicted apocalypse is nigh, the ghostbusters are sent off to fight the big bad, which becomes bigger and badder in the form of a giant monster that walks through downtown doing damage until finally defeated.

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So why do I give this film more slack for the retread plot than the second film? Well, first, this is a reboot, not a sequel. A sequel can and should take the plot in new directions. A reboot’s job is at least partially to mirror the original with updated sensibilities. Secondly, this film does bring some new wrinkles. It includes scenes in which the Ghostbusters develop their technology and equipment. The villain does a surprising action in the second act that doesn’t match anything I can remember from the previous films, which I will talk about in the spoilers. Finally, one of the Ghostbusters almost bites the big one and the rest of the group has to save her, which also doesn’t really happen in the original.

Saying that this is a reboot doesn’t give it a pass on everything, however. One of the selling points of a reboot is the idea that new technology and new techniques would allow a filmmaker to give significantly more robust visuals and action than an original version of a film. However, the action in this movie was so poorly edited and conceived that it brings into question the need to do any sort of reboot at all.  

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Conclusion and Star Rating:

And that is the problem. Was this needed? Well, not in its current shape, no. There is a part of me that actually appreciates reboots and sequels because it allows me to continue to enjoy new entries in properties I love. However, if the reboot has too many flaws, it becomes counter productive. I had a fun enough time, and I don’t regret watching this film, but as a fan I can’t escape the desire for it to be something more.  

Still, as much as I might wish this was closer to what I wanted, it doesn’t change the fact that this is still a decent film. It’s funny, and it’s fun, so “Ghostbusters” is a “Good” movie – even if it’s not especially for diehard fans of the original, like me.

3 & One Half Stars

Three and One-Half Stars

Review Format 5 - Spoiler Talk

There’s not loads to talk about, so let’s start with the cameos. They were mostly good. It was nice seeing the old guys and gals of the original film. The one exception is the presence of Ozzy. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t work for me. I suppose it’s because it felt gratuitous. The other cameos were all nods to the previous films.

Bill Murray had the largest part, of course, as the skeptic. This could have been funnier than it was, but I feel like they didn’t quite know what to do with him. But as far as spoilers go, that’s small potatoes. Let’s talk about the villain.

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The villain in this movie has a more thought out plan than the previous villains. He has more character than Gozer, who was basically an evil force of nature, though Gozer was more interesting and alien. He was more clever than Vigo, though less serious, and with less of that charming gothic lack of charm. This bad guy also takes different forms throughout the film, starting as a pale and sweaty basement dweller, before becoming a ghost and inhabiting Hemsworth’s body, and then the giant version of the Ghostbusters logo.

Part of his changing forms was also the curveball I wasn’t expecting in the second act. He commits suicide via electrocution when the Ghostbusters first confront him. It made sense later, but it was a clever twist I wasn’t expecting in the moment. I was surprised the Ghostbusters were confronting him so early in the film, but it turned out to be a part of the plan, or at least inconsequential to the plan. It had the nice side-effect of making the Ghostbusters feel effective at investigating things – after all, they found him pretty quickly. He simply had a deeper level to his plans than they expected.

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Despite the strengths he had, I initially found him to be the weakest villain of the three villains of the franchise. This was largely because even though he was just as threatening as the others, he was often played off as being too silly or ridiculous. While the previous villains had silly elements, their danger was treated seriously. This guy was treated like he wasn’t much of a threat for most of the film. Now, while I do still wish they had treated him more seriously, after thinking over his plan and how they used him in the plot, I’m warming up to him a bit.

 

That’s it for now. Until next time!

          – Druidan

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