By James Hancock July 14th, 2016
For months the conversation surrounding Paul Feig’s reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise has been mired in one of my least favorite parts of internet culture, namely the ridiculous online wars between people who decide in advance either to champion or rip to shreds a given movie without any concern for how good or bad the actual movie might end up being. In the case of Ghostbusters, it often seemed like the only real concern of the two camps was with the opposing side losing a PR battle and somewhere amidst all the infantile name calling, the movie kind of got lost in the shuffle. In my opinion, most of these people don’t really give a damn about movies in the first place and I wish they would all shuffle off and find another topic that would give them an excuse to insult one another. The reality is that neither side is going to win this silly online war. Ghostbusters (2016) is neither good nor bad enough for either side to say “I told you so.” Ghostbusters is exactly what the trailer looked like, a mildly amusing and ultimately harmless summer blockbuster that kept me smiling for most of the first 2/3 of the story before the 3rd Act finally collapsed beneath the weight of the obligatory final battle between the heroes and an army of ghosts on the streets of Manhattan. I don’t believe this reboot will in any way besmirch the legacy of the classic we all know and love from 1984. That film has withstood the test of time and will always be readily available for new generations of fans to discover. The big question is whether or not the all female Ghostbusters will find enough of an audience to become a viable new franchise. Judging from my half full theater tonight, I doubt American audiences are going to embrace it wholeheartedly, however, it would not surprise me at all if this new movie becomes a hit with international audiences who in many cases are probably totally unaware that the original film even exists.
Before getting into the meat of this review I should disclose that one of my close friends works at Sony and has devoted a great deal of time this year to promoting the film. If that revelation taints my review in your eyes I totally understand if you move on to find someone else’s commentary. This might sound ridiculous coming from someone writing a review, but I find reviews of summer blockbusters to be kind of pointless. Summer blockbusters tend to be critic-proof with most people making up their minds well in advance about whether or not they plan to see a movie no matter what people might write or say about it online. I will say that the movie has completely reinforced my already very healthy obsession with Kate McKinnon. As Holtzmann, McKinnon delivers this incredibly weird, crazed performance with the type of delicious manic energy that deserved a much better movie. If someone were to edit together a highlight reel of all her gags and hero moments I would likely watch it repeatedly. I honestly got chills watching in her action during the lackluster final third of the film. Even when the film serves up a particularly ineffective scene with Kristen Wiig diving into another dimension to save Melissa McCarthy from the clutches of a giant ghost, McKinnon finds a way to save the scene by delivering the only one-liner that had me cackling wildly with laughter. Another detail I loved was the look of some of the ghosts showcased early in the story. Some of these sequences are genuinely spooky. It is only when the film tries to show off its SFX budget that the film loses all ability to impress. The cameos by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson & Sigourney Weaver also feel a little pointless. For younger audiences the cameos will mean nothing and for hardcore fans of the original film, these throwaway scenes are unlikely to persuade skeptics to change their mind about the movie. Their presence only reminded me of how much I would have preferred a new film set in the same continuity of the original two films.
If I had to put my finger on why this movie doesn’t quite work, it boils down to a shortage of genuine laugh out loud moments. While I was often smiling or giggling in scenes like when Leslie Jones describes how she would respond if she were to see the two little girls from The Shining, I almost never was outright howling. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are two of the funniest people alive but they seem to have too little material to work with. With the comedy not firing on all cylinders, all we’re left with is a pretty routine reimagining of the story of the original film but with a criminally unfunny 3rd Act. There is plenty of action but none of it is that exhilarating to watch. On the supernatural front, the film also suffers from not having iconic demonic characters like the Keymaster, the Gatekeeper and Gozer the Gozerian. So it is safe to say I am not in love with this new version of Ghostbusters but I am not actively rooting against it either. If people love it and Sony makes a dozen of them, more power to them. I will say that watching it gave me an irresistible urge to revisit the original, a movie that I find difficult to judge objectively. I was 8 years old when I first saw it in the theater and it just blew my mind. I proceeded to watch it countless times on TV throughout my childhood so it is safe to say that nostalgia and sentimentality are likely making it impossible for me to give this new movie a fair review. If you like what you see in the trailer, you will like the movie. If the trailer leaves you indifferent, so will the movie. If they ever decide to make a sequel, my hope is that the filmmakers will step out from behind the shadow of the original film and tell their own story their own way. A little less concern for how hardcore fans will react and a little more originality will go a long way in making this new iteration of Ghostbusters a fun and entertaining franchise.