GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

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Ghostbusters.

Is it possible for a film from one’s childhood to be ruined?

In the unneeded opinion of this scruffy critic, the short answer would be probably.  Following a film’s release, it’s a natural tendency of us humans to poke holes as time goes by in such areas as plot structure, character dynamics and cinematography, and when a film one grew up with receives a sequel or remake, it can either be viewed as an exciting continuation of a beloved story or a half-hearted cash grab no one wanted.  I, for example, happily spent my early years a die-hard fan of the first three Indiana Jones films, however the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in May of 2008 unfortunately did cause me to now look back on the original trilogy with a bit of disappointment.  After all these years, we got THIS?

To encapsulate my thoughts about the Ghostbusters franchise, and the film that started it all, is a series of blog postings in and of themselves, postings that may never truly come to fruition thanks to the potentially long-winded, drawn-out, rambling length that would no doubt surface.  To summarize as best I can, Ghostbusters helped define my childhood and still remains an important film to me, a perfect mix of comedy and science fiction in which I still find new things to chuckle at as time goes by.  The 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters 2, is an underrated classic, while the Real Ghostbusters animated series (and subsequent Kenner line of toys) gave me something to do after school and something to look forward to on birthdays & Christmas.  Few moments compare to the sensation of unwrapping the Fire House Headquarters or the Ecto-1, and to learn that these toys now command obscene prices on eBay only serves to make me a little more upset that I didn’t hide these toys away in some proprietary hermetic vault like the nostalgic scoundrel I am.

A third Ghostbusters film has been in the works since the early 1990s, one that always seemed to carry a premise revolving around the original four Ghostbusters handing the reins over to a newer, younger team of recruits.  A list of actors including Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and even Emma Stone were all rumored at various points to fill out the roster of new ‘Busters, with the main villain once written as a demonic, Donald Trump-like character (how fitting that would be nowadays), a setting that took place in a hellish version of New York City and all sorts of nifty gadgets our heroes could use & eventually turn into toys for which we’d actively go out of our way to obtain.  Unfortunately, said third film has always tended to alternate between, “actively in pre-production” and the dreaded, “development hell”, with writers such as Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg (veterans of The Office) and Etan Cohen all taking a crack at the screenplay from time to time with little to no results.  Although Ivan Reitman remained committed to directing a Ghostbusters 3, and Ghostbusters stars/scribes Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis continued to soldier on with help from outside screenwriters as well as their own ideas for the film’s story, a variety of problems continued to present themselves as truly standing in the way of a proper sequel.

The problems were usually viewed as emanating from Bill Murray, who seemed both unwilling and uninterested in playing the legendary Peter Venkman once more.  Stories would surface about how he would destroy a new draft of the script as soon as he received it, and this alleged behavior coupled with his lackadaisical attitude when asked about his involvement in a third entry seemed to solidify that, should this film move forward, it would be without the franchise’s most memorable character.  While I can’t blame Murray for feeling this way-he certainly isn’t obligated to appear in another sequel, plus his work with Wes Anderson and career-defining role in 2003’s Lost in Translation has only proven he’s a man with an undeniable gift for quirky comedy-it’s hard to imagine Ghostbusters 3 without Venkman.

Nevertheless, Murray was an active member of the cast of 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which brought the entire original cast together-with a few exceptions, such as Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully-and was viewed by many as an unofficial third film, in many ways.  However, the death of Harold Ramis in 2014 seemed to place the final nail in the filmmaking coffin and seemingly cease any and all movement on a proper theatrical sequel-despite talk of Channing Tatum wanting to enlist himself and Chris Pratt as new Ghostbusters recruits for another proposed third film, word spreading about potential new directors at the helm and up-and-coming screenwriters publicly sharing their own ideas for the film’s premise, it would seem that our beloved Men In Grey wouldn’t be embarking on another paranormal adventure.

(I’d like to take a moment to personally thank my mid-to-late ‘90s scrutiny of ancient movie sites like Corona’s Coming Attractions and Dark Horizons for laying the foundation for my Ghostbusters 3 research.  Countless hours of my life spent on my family’s Compaq Presario with a Luxo Jr.-esque desk lamp illuminating my studies has not gone to waste.)

It was in 2014 that Paul Feig entered the picture.  Feig, fresh off directing a string of hits including 2011’s Bridesmaids, 2013’s The Heat and last summer’s Spy, not only seemed to know his way around nostalgic franchises-he had helped produce last fall’s The Peanuts Movie and was the mastermind behind cult classic TV series Freaks and Geeks-but also knew how to bring out excellent comedic performances in women, especially in the aforementioned films.  Bridesmaids, for example, starred Saturday Night Live veteran Kristen Wiig & helped make a bonafide star out of Melissa McCarthy, both of whom delivered hilariously in the 2011 comedy and, while women have been funny in film since the dawn of the medium, Feig’s tendency to consistently place women in his leading comedic roles seemed to serve as a reminder to most that the concept of a hilarious performer who happens to be female was possible.

The idea of a Ghostbusters remake was nothing new-in fact, Reitman had once posed the idea during an interview indicating that it might be a decent option going forward.  Furthermore, it came as no surprise when, upon the announcement that Feig would be directing a new Ghostbusters remake/reboot/sequel, the internet buzzed with incessant chatter about how Feig would more than likely fill the main cast with women, with Wiig and McCarthy at the top of the list.  This was eventually proven to be true, as Feig announced in late 2014 that Wiig and McCarthy would be joined by Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, two other Saturday Night Live cast members, echoing the original’s cast which also contained a number of SNL vets such as Murray and Aykroyd.

As mentioned in my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, rebooting or remaking a franchise is nothing new, and I’m sure many people feel the same way about, say, Robocop-another film that was subject to a recent reboot/remake-as I do about Ghostbusters.  I suppose no film, or film series, is completely off-limits to today’s crop of ambitious directors, but when one of your favorites finally enters this process, one can’t help but feel wary, especially when the director chosen to helm this film makes such a drastic casting change right off the bat.  Mind you, it wasn’t the gender of the main cast that bothered me, but rather Feig’s actions-I’m sure I would have felt the same way if he had announced that the new Ghostbusters were, say, happily riding penny-farthing bicycles instead of a modified ambulance, and that the Ghostbusters themselves were actually aliens.  Feig now struck me as a whiny, temper-tantrum throwing brat jumping around yelling about how, “Women are funny, and this must be emphasized with each film I make”.  It just seemed more and more as though he made this casting choice simply for the sake of making it, which now made me question his motivations, as well as his idea for how this new Ghostbusters would play out.  Feig had now been given control of one of the greatest sci-fi comedy series in history, and in my opinion, he’d better have an outstanding story to back up his cast.

HOWEVER, as the film began production and details began to emerge from the set, it soon became apparent that this might actually be a film worth watching, with Aykroyd himself mentioning how the remake might even be better than the original, and with all original cast members-including Bill Murray-signing on for cameos (with the exception of Moranis, again).  These positive vibes and the reminder of how funny Wiig and McCarthy were together in Bridesmaids caused this GB fanatic to take pause and consider the possibility that this had potential to be a great film…that is, until the release of the new Ghostbusters’ first trailer in the spring of 2016.

Wow, was that dreadful.

With a slew of bad jokes, special effects that looked stolen from any early 2000s-era video game and nothing to suggest that the story would be any different from the 1984 original, these were among the many reasons this trailer became the most disliked trailer in YouTube history, much more so than the fact that there just so happened to be four women were leading the film.  Unfortunately, many online commenters believed the latter was in fact the real reason for the backlash, to the point that Feig once again entered the debate, labelling the fanbase misogynists, with this mentality continuing as the cast hit the press circuit in the months that followed.  To say it was messy is an understatement.  To say it was controversial isn’t even close. 

Things weren’t exactly looking so hot for Paul Feig’s little project-even upon its release in July of 2016, reviews were decidedly mixed, though usually tending to lean in a positive direction.  I knew I’d see this film eventually, despite my own objections, and on July 21, 2016, I did just that.

Much to my surprise, I had a damn good time.

Not surprisingly, the premise is nearly identical to the 1984 original-three washed-up scientists team up with a streetwise New Yorker to rid the city of paranormal activity while investigating a larger, possibly related menace, on the horizon.  Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy both elicit a few chuckles from time to time (even if McCarthy can't help but pronounce Ghostbuster terminology like, "P. K. E.  Meter" awkwardly at best), but are largely saddled with roles as straightwomen, leaving Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones to pick up the slack in that regard.  I must disagree with the majority of reviews and largely agree with Mike’s that McKinnon’s shtick gets old immediately, and borders on irritating from time to time.  Jones, however, effortlessly garners laughs and plays her part with ease, as does Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted receptionist Kevin.  And yes, all cameos from the original cast are handled well, some better than others, and keep your eyes open for a quick moment for the late Harold Ramis.  Even an appearance by Andy Garcia as New York City’s mayor along with a few seconds of Ozzy Osbourne at the Ghostbusters’ first big battle are both amusing in their own ways.  While I don’t believe character actor Ed Begley, Jr. or Zach Woods (The Office) brought anything to the film whatsoever, the small parts both play at the beginning are sufficiently performed so as to ensure continued work for both in equally small roles going forward.  Carry on, you wonderfully underappreciated knights of cinema.

McKinnon isn’t the only low point in Ghostbusters’ cast, as Neil Casey, another Saturday Night Live writer, plays the film’s villain, a long-suffering man named Rowan obsessed with the supernatural who’s bent on world domination, not at all unlike Zuul, Gozer or Vigo the Carpathian.  It’s absolutely cliché, and his motivations are fuzzy at best, although Casey himself is acceptable in the role. 

Fans of the original films will be pleased with the amount of Easter Eggs present from start to finish, from the first few ghosts our intrepid team encounters, to the Fire House, to our cherished green ghost Slimer, even if the latter could have benefited more from the practical method in which the beloved character was brought to life back in 1984.  That being said, the special effects overall are actually not too bad-yes, CG is overused, but it could have been worse.  Plus, the scenes of the team firing up their gear and jumping into action are honest-to-God exciting, even if one wonders where exactly the ‘Busters found the time to construct so many different types of Proton Pack or other ghost-catching variants.

Finally, the score is actually pretty rousing-Theodore Shapiro has done a fine job of taking what Elmer Bernstein gave us 32 years ago and creating something all his own, while still including enough throwbacks to the original soundtrack to pleasantly remind us of the music we all grew up with.  Be prepared, however, to hear the Ghostbusters theme song many, many times, in many variations-fortunately, I still love it, so I’m not complaining.

The new Ghostbusters is decent enough, one that takes some time to pick up speed but never slows down once it does.  The jokes are plentiful, the effects look fine, the music appropriately fits the film and any shortcomings in casting or writing are buoyed by another well-placed throwback to the original.  I never thought I’d say this, but I believe it’s worth a purchase once it hits store shelves, and while I don’t believe it to be necessary, I await any potential sequel with far more optimism and-dare I say-excitement than I had for the remake.

My childhood is safe.