Review: Ghostbusters (2016) — Too Obsessed With the Past to Make a Decent Movie

At the risk of being labelled a ‘GhostBro’, Luke Miksa has feelings about the controversial Ghostbusters reboot.

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A reboot of the beloved sci-fi comedy blockbuster of 1984, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) presents a Ghostbusters for a new generation. When strange apparitions being appearing in New York, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) joins her old colleague Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and her quirky new partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), along with historical New York City expert Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Dubbed the Ghostbusters by the media, together the four women — plus their new space cadet assistant Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) — set about to foil a plot which will bring about the apocalypse, right on their doorstep.

"Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts"

“Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts”

Surprisingly, Ghostbusters has become one of the most controversial films in recent years, and it’s mainly due to loyal fans of the original two films. A second sequel to Ghostbusters with the original cast has been in development hell for over twenty years, but with the death of Harold Ramis, the decision was made to completely reboot the series; a bitter pill to swallow for some die-hards. Things got worse when word came out that the busting of ghosts will now be done exclusively by a team of (gulp) women! This resulted in a veritable shit-show of online misogyny, including the first trailer being one of the most down-voted trailers in YouTube history (Look, it wasn’t a good trailer, but a quick look at the comment section will tell you the whole story).

But now the film has been released, which means it’s finally time to judge it on its merits, and not just prejudice and tears. And what’s the verdict? Unfortunately it’s not good.

Recent history has shown that the best way to reboot a franchise is to tie it in to the existing films, in whats known as a legacyquel; a cross between a distant sequel and a soft reboot (examples: Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, and Creed). This method seems to work, as it remains in the same universe that people are fond of, often with the older characters passing the torch to the new upstarts. But Ghostbusters bucks the recent — successful — trend, and we find ourselves with a hard reboot; a completely new universe where the events of the previous films don’t exist.

This method can be quite beneficial for the filmmakers, as they are not beholden to existing characters and storylines; a blank canvas. But the big issue with Ghostbusters 2016 is that, despite existing in a fresh space, it is completely obsessed with the previous films. The whole thing is bursting full of references, winks, and the cast from the originals. Generally this can be forgiven in a legacyquel, as it can be considered world-building if done correctly. But considering this is a hard reboot, the cameos and references come off as pandering and distracting.

Slimer. Because fuck you!

Slimer. Because fuck you!

For the references, you’ll see everything from Slimer to Mr. Stay Puft, for no reason other than ‘because’. This movie’s big baddie even winds up being the freaking Walking Ghost from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon! Even Holtzmann’s look reminds me of Egon from the same cartoon. Not to mention the reference made after the credits. There is no subtlety, and it’s nostalgia gone bad, as ultimately it serves no purpose towards the story or characters.

And the cameos: they evidently roped in every actor from the originals that was available, and because it’s a new universe, they are playing different characters and the whole thing jars the narrative flow and makes it harder to invest in this new universe. Some cameos are better than others: Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson were spot on, but man alive, Bill Murray is practically sleepwalking through his role (an actual character, not just a cameo).

The main cast — the four Ghostbusters of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones — is quite good, and they share a palpable chemistry on screen. The problem is the only relatable and fleshed out character is Jones’ Patty, who made the most of her screen time and was very enjoyable. It’s a long way from Jones being the absolute worst thing about the original trailer, but I guess that’s why you hold your judgement until after you’ve seen the movie (and also most trailers are terrible).

She is pretty cool

She is pretty cool

McCarthy’s Abby Yates and Wiig’s Erin Gilbert were milquetoast, and played unremarkably straight, with a relationship that I’m assuming was largely left on the cutting room floor. Wiig is one of the funniest people on the planet, yet she continues to appear in movies that don’t allow her to shine. And I still, days later, cannot decide whether McKinnon’s weird, oddball portrayal of Holtzmann is aggravating or genius, although I can see her performance becoming a breakout cult favourite, whether I like it or not. As McCarthy made a career from Bridesmaids, McKinnon will make a career from Jillian Holtzmann.

I dig Paul Feig as a filmmaker — most recently having a good time with last year’s Spy — and his loose and improvised brand of R-rated comedy is generally the best in the business. But Ghostbusters is a family-friendly PG blockbuster, and that restriction does not play to his strengths. While the comedy is still improvised, it is completely neutered. Most of the gags are soft and lack any real punch. Bar a few interactions — notably a discussion about a dog called Michael Hat — the humour reminded me less of what I’ve come to expect from a Ghostbusters film, and more of what I’ve seen from films like Pixels.

The huge problem is when you take out the nostalgic callbacks and the surface-level humour, the plot of the film barely exists. The characters just seem to move from one scene to another without any significant progression or flow. When you boil it down, it’s just so damn generic, but even more so once the movie lumbers towards the third act, which can only be described as blockbuster finale filmmaking 101.

The black-light aura of the ghosts was rad.

The black-light aura of the ghosts was rad.

What I dd like was the design of the ghosts and the focus on technology. There was a lot of potential there, but come the finale the Ghostbusters aren’t even out to catch ghosts, just shooting at them like a cut-rate Zach Snyder action sequence. That’s when the film breaks its own rules, as the crew only captures a single ghost in the entire film (which they later release) despite most of their tech being designed to restrain and capture. It sums up the whole experience, really.

My harshest critique of the new Ghostbusters? Ghostbusters II is better.

Llama Score: 4Due to the egregious references and cameos, Ghostbusters is a reboot that struggles to find its own voice. It’s full of gratuitous nostalgia, the laughs are minor, and the plot is slight. The only reprieve is the chemistry between the main cast, but even then the characters are bland, albeit likeable. Ghostbusters is ultimately disposable.

Award: RecycleAward: Converse All-Stars Vintage 2004Award: FuryAward: Lorne Michaels

Highlights Banner

  • The design of the first few ghosts is badass.
  • Cool new tech.
  • Breakthrough performances from Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.

Lowlights Banner

  • That Fallout Boy version of the classic Ghostbusters theme is pure filth.
  • Another city-wide destruction in the finale. There’s even a vertical beam of light heading towards the sky!
  • Distracting cameos and references.

Further Viewing Banner

  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • Spy (2015)
  • Pixels (2015)
Directed by: Paul Feig Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig Produced by: Ivan Reitman, Amy Pascal Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Kenneth Williams Distributed by: Columbia Pictures Run length: 116 minutes Australian Release: Out now in all major cinemas
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