Screencap from "Ghostbusters" (2016), Columbia Pictures

Review: “Ghostbusters” (2016)

Post by Ryan Pumroy

On the interwebs, the Ghostbusters reboot has caused mass hysteria (cats and dogs living together). Ryan Pumroy comments on the online backlash, looks at what critics are saying, and provides his thoughts on the film.

Ghostbusters may be Hollywood’s most controversial comedy of the summer. It’s not surprising that the reboot got caught in the internet’s jaws. Studios retreading on any franchise decades later set themselves up for a Phantom Menace/Force Awakens dichotomy. Using Jay Sherman’s vocabulary, does it stink or not stink?

Casting all women for the leads also set itself up for misogynistic and anti-feminist backlash. That’s not to say they were “asking for it” – far from it. It seems that casting leads or major characters as non-white or non-male always spurs some level of controversy online. Think of Finn in Force Awakens, or Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

One example of the harsh reactions can be found in IMDb’s user ratings for film. Currently, 46.7% of users have rated the 2016 Ghostbusters with a 1, the lowest rating possible.

To a degree, I get the backlash: cynicism over studios’ track record of rebooting  franchises, usually for financial reasons, with less than great results. Fans and audiences have been burned before. The Pringles and Papa John’s product placements don’t help.

But it does seem like the internet and certain crowds jumped too quickly against the movie.

Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates critic’s reviews, has scored the film 73% and “certified fresh.” Yet, despite its fresh rating on the site, critics are mixed.

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter calls it an “unfunny mess.” Christian Science Monitor film critic Peter Rainer pans it, calling it inept. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal is less than lukewarm.

On the more praiseworthy side are Andrew Lapin of NPR, plus the New York Times, and Slate.

Manohla Davis, critic for the Times, calls the movie “cheerfully silly,” and later takes something of a girl power approach, writing “Girls rule, women are funny, get over it.”

Slate‘s Dana Stevens offers some of the best comments about the reboot. Not only are these action-comedy leads all women, three of them are more than 40 years old. That’s a rare sight in a $144 million dollar movie. “When the fearsome foursome show up for the first time in full battle gear—striped jumpsuits, proton blasters, and all—there’s a thrill in seeing an action-movie team made up not only of women,” writes Stevens, “but of women who fall blissfully outside the narrow definition of the Hollywood hottie.”

I personally lean more toward the praiseworthy side. I liked the new Ghostbusters, but I can’t say I loved it. The plot isn’t anything special, largely rehashing the original 1984 film. We meet our characters, the team forms, they bust some ghosts, ultimately climaxing in a big Times Square showdown. Kristen Wiig is Erin, a socially awkward ex-physics professor, complemented by Melissa McCarthy’s brash scientist Abby. McKinnon plays Jillian (better known as Holtzmann), the group’s scrappy tinkerer and engineer. Leslie Jones plays Patty, transit worker turned Ghostbuster who knows New York City in and out. Together, the group fights Rowan, demented “fan boy,” as he’s called in the movie, hellbent on unleashing a ghost apocalypse on the world.

There are plenty of funny lines and moments. Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth are absolute scene stealers. Yet, there are also a number of missteps. Some jokes don’t fly, and others get muddled in the situation. The screening I attended had a lot of laughter, but it was uneven.

There is the occasional serious, somber moment – most prominent of all is when Erin (played by Kristen Wiig) tells the group that she was bullied as a child for believing in ghosts. But this falls a bit too flat. It lacks the punch often felt in Judd Apatow’s films, Dan Harmon’s writing, or even Jason Reitman’s work (son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman).

The main problems with the film aren’t that the leads are women, nor that this is a reboot of the Aykroyd/Ramis/Murray/Hudson movie. What holds the movie back is that these characters don’t seem to really believe their own movie. The 2016 installment feels too pristine, too glossy.

The basic flaw is that it is unbalanced. It plays to a goof factor, but it wants us to care for these characters at the same time. The stakes aren’t established. The human drama doesn’t work, if there even is one in it.

The 1984 film shines in this regard. The threat of Zuul seems legitimate. When Venkman (Bill Murray) says “I love this plan!” to crossing the streams, he’s saying “Geronimo!” to the fact that they all might die.

This aspect doesn’t show up in the new Ghostbusters. If we are to believe, even in the fantasy of the cinema, that it’s the end of the world, we need to feel it. But there’s little danger here.

In the end, not all of the pieces fit, but for those that do, it’s a largely enjoyable comedy. Plus, it’s nice to see women take the lead.

Ghostbusters (2016)
Directed by Paul Feig
Screenplay by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. 
116 minutes
Rated PG-13
United States
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4 comments

  1. Nicely done, Ryan. All those courses in Rhetoric paid off. Lean in Dr. Bryan’s doorway and thank him. I’m sure he could use a boost with Tim gone and Springfield expecting universities to run on moondust and pixie farts.

    Doubt I’ll see it, though. Not because of the absence or presence of a Y chromosome in the leads. More due to burn out leading up to it with the whole “Bill Murray in or out on a third film?” nonsense and that really horrible Saturday morning cartoon where Carlton Your Doorman voiced Venkman, Slimer was that series’ version of Scrappy Doo and Egon was drawn to look like Fred Armisen or Fred Schneider, not sure which.

    R.I.P. Russell Ziske. Say “Hi” to Ox and Sgt. Hulka. Going to heaven’s like invading Wisconsin.

    Liked by 1 person

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