The Anticipated: Ghostbusters

In All, Movies by David

So often nowadays, the noise around a film has almost as much impact on a film’s success as its actual quality. If ever there was a test case for this, we have this week’s selection for The Anticipated, the rebooted Ghostbusters. This movie has been dealing with a deluge of naysayers and hate since it was first announced. Atomika looked at some of the causes of the hate the movie’s trailer received, but now that the film has been out, what is the verdict? Let’s find out.

Spoilers Ahead

Ghostbusters (July 15th, 2016)

How was it? 

Overall, the film is pretty good. It is a little all over the place. The beginning of the film is very uneven, as the movie struggles a little bit with finding the best way to utilize its different characters, and seems to be trying too hard to justify its own existence. Instead of trying to be its own movie, Ghostbusters (2016) tries way to hard to be like the originals, and this is kind of distracting. Also, Kate Mckinnon is overused early on, because neither Kristen Wig or Melissa McCarthy can balance her out. None of this is necessarily bad, but it all feels so pedestrian.

Then the film slowly begins to find its way. First, with the introduction of Chris Hemsworth character, who offers a way for the group banter to start to feel more diverse, and then more importantly with the introduction of Leslie Jones’s character. She helps balance out McKinnon and allows everyone to slot into their proper lanes for the film. This is really helpful for Wig and McCarthy, as their roles are too similar early on, which keeps both of them from standing out. Once the ensemble is fully formed, the film is able to pick up quite a bit–the humor really starts hitting, and it builds to some really cool action sequences at the end. Overall, by the end of the film, everyone has figured out what makes this movie different from the originals, but man, it does take its sweet time getting to that point.

Also–and I don’t really want to dwell too much on this, because going out of my way to praise the one prominent male protagonist in this film heads into some weird territory when it comes to this movie–Hemsworth really is amazing in this role. In fact, Ghostbusters may have found the best way to use him in non-Thor roles, because he is a great over-qualified side character. After his time as Thor is done, he might be wise just taking on more roles like this instead of trying to be a leading man in roles that really don’t suit him–a path that can lead to career trouble, as actors like Taylor Kitsch and Orlando Bloom have discovered. This kind of thing is probably Hemsworth’s best chance to rebuild his image before he solidifies himself too much as box office poison.

Once you figure out who should do what, you four are awesome!

Still, the film’s biggest problem is its villain, who is well, umm, a dude that is angry because the world sucks to him, I guess. The film isn’t that interested in his motivations, and it suffers because of that. What’s sad is there were a lot of really interesting versions of this villain that are hinted at, but never actually explored. At times, he looks almost like a representation of the angry online male nerd culture that screams about how unfair the world is to them–ie., the group that seemed most deeply offended by the idea of an all-female reboot of Ghostbusters–but this idea is cast aside. At other points, he looks potentially like a mirror version of the main characters themselves, a person who uses his understanding of ghosts to strike back at a world that dismissed him. That, too, is an interesting idea that is ultimately ignored. Instead, we end up with just an angry dude who is a villain because, well, the film needs to have a villain, right?

Of course, all this really does is further showcase that Hollywood simply has no idea how to make great villains anymore. Instead of crafting complex motivations, lazy screenwriters just put a person in opposition to the main characters and assume it will all work out. This has especially been a problem for most of the recent super hero movies, and seeing as these films have basically taken over the entire industry, it is not surprising that the rest of Hollywood has started to really suck at making villains, too. So thanks, Marvel, for being so bad at making villains that your only interesting one in ages not named Loki was just Iron Man being slightly more of a dick than usual. (And honestly Loki isn’t so much a good villain as a good character that happens to be a villain, so…). Anyway, the villain of Ghostbusters fits right in with the typical modern movie villain. He has a plan to destroy the city because reasons, and sort of does so entirely so we can get scenes of buildings being destroyed and people running away in fear.

Ghostbusters does deserve credit for not falling totally into the Avengers trap. The Avengers films always have an invasion force show up at the end, and the result is messy, unsatisfying action. The enemies are faceless mooks designed to be taken down be the Avengers, so there is never any real sense of conflict, just aliens or robots being taken down left and right in jerky action sequences that never look that good or compelling. Ghostbusters does have a horde of ghosts attack the city, but the film smartly allows the Ghostbusters to take on these ghosts in pockets. There is a focus to the action that allows you to appreciate what is happening, and get a sense of what kind of ghost is actually being fought. McKinnon really shines here, as she gets an amazing action sequence in which she gets to take down a horde of ghosts all on her own in extremely badass fashion. The action is slick and crisp, and you can see each ghost she is fighting, which makes her feat look even more incredible. All this helps the film have a wonderful ending, even if the build up to that ending is a bit lackluster. Combine this with impressive visual effects and solid performances from the core cast, and this reboot ends up being a mostly enjoyable experience that eventually discovers how to get out of its own way.

Isn’t this based on…?

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but more reboots? That is horrifying.

This is a reboot of the original Ghostbusters series. You may have not heard that, as certainly no one has brought that fact up incessantly.

Did it warrant its selection in The Anticipated?

Oy, that is a tough question. This film has done well, but it hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in terms of critics or box office returns. The critical response isn’t really much to warrant delving into. Most people (including myself) seem to like it well enough, but it isn’t receiving universal praise. Sure, there were plenty of stories that were like, “Yeah, the women were funny and everyone freaked out for no reason,” which is good, I guess. Except that these stories should have never been needed to be written in the first place, because the controversy over the female cast was always coming from people that we should all just ignore at this point anyhow.

The box office perspective is much more interesting, because Ghostbusters (2016) is both a success and failure all at the same time. It had a good-but-not-great opening weekend of over 65 million dollars, the type of opening weekend that, when coupled with a $144 million budget, will mean the film will be profitable. And if this film was a one-off, that would be fine. The problem is, this movie is supposed to be the beginning of a whole new franchise, and that’s not the kind of money a franchise makers generates. Combine this with the fact that this film won’t be shown in China because of the whole “no ghosts” rule that affected Crimson Peak, and Ghostbusters probably isn’t going to be the money maker that Sony hoped it would be. So this means the film has both lived up to and let down the hype at the same time, which is kind of impressive.

Defining this film’s success is a wee bit complicated.

But okay, I’ll answer my own question. Yes, Ghostbusters (2016) probably does deserve its inclusion in this column. This film will still ultimately go down as a success, as it will have made enough money to justify continuing the franchise. The silly people who worried that letting women into their boys club nostalgia movie have once again proven themselves not worth paying attention to, as this film certainly didn’t hurt the franchise in the least.

That said, there are two takeaways from this picture. First, while this version of Ghostbusters justified its existence, it didn’t exactly justify the need to reboot the series in the first place. The demand for more Ghostbusters is proving to not be nearly as high as many thought, and this is just the latest example of the fact that just because everything can be remade at this point doesn’t mean it should be. In the cultural conversation, the movie spent so much time trying to convince wrong-minded people it had the right to exist in this form that it never quite convinced everybody else that it needed to exist at all.

The other thing that is becoming apparent is that, while a talented director, Paul Feig may have a far lower ceiling than we once thought, or at the very least doesn’t really care to try and reach his full potential. Feig has done some really good work, but that’s just it–he seems to be satisfied with simply doing good work, instead of great work. I thought he had turned a corner with Spy, which had some really fantastic stuff in it that hinted that Feig was ready to take the next step up, but instead he was a bit too conventional with this film, staying too beholden to the original films instead of going off in his own direction. Compare this to the new 21 Jump Street films, which certainly have a lot of callbacks to their source material, but still always feel like they’re traveling their own path. Feig deserves a lot of credit for what he has done to make comedies that put women front and center, but at some point it would be nice if he would start making something more different and more ambitious.

Would I recommend it to others?

Yes, this is a fun movie that is extremely competent and full of humor. Considering how mediocre this summer has been film-wise, that is noteworthy, but Ghostbusters is good enough to be worth a watch even out of the context of this summer. It is also fun to watch in theatres, and seeing it in 3D is actually probably worth it, but at the same time this could definitely be a rental or VOD kind of movie without too much being lost.

How would I rate it?

This reboot does a lot right, and does serve as a nice starting point for a new franchise, but it being only a slight success does limit it, so Ghostbusters receives 7 ghosts out of 10. The film has likely done a lot to show that not all films starring woman need to be smash hits to justify their existence, which is good, because that is an impossible standard to live up to. So it should be appreciated for that.

For an actual rating: This film starts slow, but ends with a flourish. Still, the beginning did happen, and the film took way too long to figure out its identity, so ultimately that leaves me to score this film 3.25 stars out of 4. I just can’t forgive the terrible beginning enough to justify a 3.5 star rating, even if the end of the film is amazing and the comedic chemistry between McKinnon and Jones is off the charts.

That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. Next up is… umm, yeah, I’ll get back to you on that because there are a lot of choices. Just tune in next time.

-David Robertson