Monday, August 15, 2016

Movie Review – Phantom on Ghostbusters (2016)


Previously posted on SupportPhantom.com.

When the first details about the new Ghostbusters movie started coming out I was not excited.

Aside from Freaks and Geeks I was not a fan of any of Paul Feig’s work. Without getting too deep into it because that’s not what I’m here for, I found him to be hacky.

The casting of the four main characters seemed like a stunt to me – banking on the current socio-political environment to get attention and bolster ticket sales with guaranteed support from certain easily led portions of the population. I liked Kristen Wiig, hadn’t enjoyed anything I’d seen from Melissa McCarthy, and was not familiar with Kate McKinnon or Leslie Jones. I didn’t have anything against the casting other than feeling like it was a stunt. But just because something is a stunt doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.

For the record, I think both sides of the Ghostbusters 2016 debate are stocked with assholes. People that are overly excited about an all-female cast and feel that somehow that is an automatic virtue are annoying. People that are mad about the cast and for that reason alone are condemning the movie are stupid. I was in the middle.

Then the first trailer hit. I didn’t find any of the humor to be particularly good, but there were some great-looking ghosts and, more importantly, the characters seemed fun. Particularly Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann. It didn’t necessarily reveal a whole lot, but it piqued my interest. At that point, I was willing to put my crankiness aside and give it a chance. Eager to, as a matter of fact.

It didn’t hurt that the new Ghostbusters was bringing a slew of merchandise along with it. There’s nothing like a little good old-fashioned capitalism to get me excited about something.

I managed my expectations, but was excited to see the movie, if only to find out if it was successful or garbage and report it to you folks. I bought tickets for the whole family and we went to the first local showing at 7 PM on July 14th.


The experience ended up being enhanced in ways I never expected. When we arrived at the theater, the Atlanta Ghostbusters were there with their Ecto vehicle (I don’t know the numeric designation). My son flipped out. Just because of the stuff I do, he has seen a lot of cool stuff in his life, but seeing a bunch of Ghostbusters standing beside a lit-up Ecto was a huge deal. They were incredibly nice and posed for pictures with everyone there. They were in our theater, as well, so it was really cool watching the new movie with people dressed up as Ghostbusters just a few rows in front of us!


There were two other surprises once we got inside. First, each of us got a very nice enamel pin when we handed our tickets over. I can’t remember the last time I got a freebie of any kind for an opening night movie, and I tend to go on opening nights. Second, the missus bought me a drink at the bar called a Ghostbuster. It was green and delicious and came with a free shot glass from Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Skull vodka.

So it was with no small amount of excitement that we sat down to watch this movie. My expectations were still fairly low, but I had certainly been treated to some neat stuff going in.

Here are my spoiler-free thoughts:

The movie is so much fun. The best thing that you can do for yourself if you’re not a stuck-up asshole that’s refusing to see it is to put the original movies out of your head. I know that’s a tall order considering the fact that this is a reboot or remake or whatever. Actually, I’m thinking of it as a reinterpretation. This Ghostbusters presents a different world, new characters, and even different rules for how ghosts work. Reset your brain, sit back, and go along for the ride. Don’t sit there having thoughts like, “But that’s not how that worked in the old ones”. No, it isn’t. But it doesn’t matter because this is the new movie and everything that’s different about it is what’s best. It only falters when it relies too heavily on what has come before.

For the parents out there, I was shocked at the restraint shown as far as adult content went. There are three instances of things that I considered inappropriate, and two of those were things you’ve seen in any Marvel movie. The third is something your kids aren’t going to pick up on, anyway. So massive kudos to Paul Feig and crew for making something that kids can actually see and that parents can (mostly) feel comfortable sharing with them. I wish Michael Bay – or anyone making tentpole popcorn flicks – would follow this example.

The cast is fantastic. Better than fantastic. Each of them stepped up and created wonderful, entertaining new characters. These aren’t female versions of Egon, Ray, Peter, and Winston. At all. They aren’t echoing the past. They can’t even really be pegged as types. Each of the main four has more going on than a single attribute that they could be pigeonholed into. The chemistry amongst the quartet is wonderful and their camaraderie is very natural.

The trailers were not a good representation of the humor in the movie. There were a few parts that fell flat for me, but more often than not I was laughing out loud despite myself. I was expecting the comedy to be tolerable at best. Instead, I found a series of well-laid and clever bits that served the characters and created a fun tone for the movie. It’s a different comedic tone from the originals, but for the most part it works very well.

The story has good and bad. I’ll get into more detail below in the Spoilers section. For the most part it’s solid and it certainly moves along, but I think there were opportunities to give it and the villain a little more depth that were missed in order to throw in comedy scenes that weren’t integral to the plot or just spend too long in other scenes for gags that aren’t worth it. 
Feig isn’t nearly as economical as Ivan Reitman. He doesn’t always recognize a joke overstaying its welcome.

I absolutely loved the effects. The ghosts and supernatural occurrences were all nice to look at. There were also a lot of fresh, new things that were exciting to see and opened up this new world in different ways. Ghosts are different in the 2016 Ghostbusters and things are more interesting because of it.

This movie has some flaws. Some bigger than others. But nothing comes even close to breaking it. Me, my son, and my wife all thoroughly enjoyed Ghostbusters, and I don’t know that any of us were expecting to. It’s big, it’s fun, and the cast is absolutely wonderful. This is the most fun I’ve had at a movie so far this year.

Do yourself a favor and answer the call – go see Ghostbusters and discover a whole new beginning for something that we’ve all loved for decades.

Okay, now for some

***SPOILERS***

The Ghostbusters themselves are almost played more like superheroes. Not that they’re overly competent, they just have a such a zeal for doing what they’re doing – they love it and find joy in every event that occurs. This is a bit of a variation from the originals, where part of the humor was that Ghostbusting was a job like any other. Not that the old cast didn’t find it rewarding, but this is just a different take. Again – where this movie succeeds the most is when it does new things.

Of course, there are cast members other than Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon (who was easily my favorite and had all of the best lines and moments). Chris Hemsworth plays the hilariously moronic Kevin. He’s too stupid to be believed and I sort of feel like I should have been annoyed by it, but he was so funny and the rest of the cast’s interactions with him are so good that it works.

I am glad the dance scene was saved for a credits sequence, though. That would have been way too much and knocked the movie’s tone out of whack. I feel like they did a great job of presenting the villain, Rowan, as an actual threat, but if he had used his powers to make the police and national guard do a dance routine it would have been terrible. It skirted that at one point when he posed them all in the classic Saturday Night Fever stance, but it never went further than that. Thankfully.

More on Rowan – the movie would have been better served to cut certain other scenes out or down and tell a bit more of his story. Prior to turning into a gigantic version of the logo ghost – which I still think was stupid – he is played by actor Neil Casey, who does creepy well. He has a few scenes where we see that he is a weirdo outcast, but it’s mostly because of people’s reactions to him and not through actual storytelling. We don’t really get to know his character that well aside from some lines where he talks about being bullied and being different. Of course, I should probably feel lucky that they didn’t throw in some overwrought subplot about the evils of bullying. It seems that Rowan was a pretty bad guy, bullied or not. 
And that’s good. Sometimes villains just need to be villains. Especially when they’re orchestrating a plot to energize the ley lines that cross New York City so that they can lead an army of ghosts against the living and enslave or destroy humanity.

I like the idea that Rowan is sort of a poor man’s Ivo Shandor. He’s not an architect in the traditional sense, but he is creating a way to bring evil forces from another dimension into our world. While there are slight echoes of the original movie here, it’s handled well and in a new and innovative way. Rowan is placing devices along New York’s ley lines to energize them and bring forth supernatural entities. This is what causes the sudden ghost activity.
One of the scenes that should have been cut down or maybe just cut out entirely was one where the dean of the school where Abby and Kate have been working kick them out. It’s not necessary and it goes on far too long. The dean comes across like a secondary SNL character and is a one-note joke that might not have deserved one note. Fortunately this scene occurs fairly early on and is quickly forgotten, but the time would have been better used with Rowan.

As far as the story of the Ghostbusters themselves, it plays out in a similar fashion to the original, but is different enough to be satisfying. Add to that the great character work of the actors and Melissa McCarthy’s STRONG performance as the heart of the group and the story feels fresh and new, with major differences in the interactions between the Ghostbusters and their approach to the job.

The cameos are all a lot of fun. Bill Murray finally got his wish – though it presented something of a speed bump in the plot, because shouldn’t someone have had more of a problem with that? – and Aykroyd and Hudson got to have some fun. Annie Potts was great and thankfully called back to her first performance more than her second. Best cameo was Sigourney Weaver.

Worst was Ozzy Osbourne. Ugh.

Actually, the whole concert scene that led up to his appearance might have been the weakest spot in the movie. I don’t have any problem with most of the elements of Ghostbusters that were the result of modern humor and filmmaking versus how the old movies were done. These are different times and today’s audience goes for different things. Almost all of that stuff worked. But the concert scene felt really out of place for some reason. If I could discuss it with a group of people – say, on a podcast – I bet we could nail it down. 
For now I’ll just say that it felt awkward and forced compared to the rest of the film. The scenes of the women investigating the venue prior to the actual concert stuff was great, though. And I did like Patty with the ghost on her shoulders. It was as funny in the movie as it is in the trailers.

If you’re going to go and see this movie, you’re going to have to accept some different ghost stuff. Not only do ghosts possess people, as seen in the trailers, they can also be either destroyed or disincorporated. As a matter of fact, while ghost traps are used, this is the more common method for dealing with ghosts in Ghostbusters. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but that’s only because of what I’m used to. The movie explains the “science” of it and the thing is that it makes for much more dynamic scenes of Ghostbusting. Now, rather than having to throw a trap down to deal with a ghost, the Ghostbusters have a lot more freedom to move around and engage with the supernatural in a much more exciting fashion. And the movie takes full advantage of that.

The final scenes of the movie are of an epic supernatural outbreak in New York. You’ve seen parts of it in the trailers and it’s just as impressive as it looks. What you don’t really see is just how awesome it is to watch the Ghostbusters deal with these hordes of Class-5 full roaming vapors. There are some great action sequences that simply wouldn’t have been possible if they’d had to trap every ghost.

They also wouldn’t have been possible without Jillian Holtzmann’s wonderful toys.
There’s all kinds of awesome gear in Ghostbusters. One of the best things about this new team is their pure enthusiasm for what they’re doing. I was a big fan of the new proton packs as soon as I saw them, but there’s so much more than that. Kate McKinnon plays Holtzmann as an utterly delightful nutjob who gets her kicks finding new ways to destroy, disperse, and otherwise discombobulate unwelcome spirits. Some of the best scenes are of Holtzmann working on her tech and of the others using it.

Unfortunately, one of the casualties of the hilarious scenes of equipment testing is scenes of ghostbusting. That may not necessarily be a bad thing or an oversight, as the concept of the Ghostbusters seems to be approached differently here. As I mentioned above, the old movies treated it like a job. The new movie seems to look at it as a public service, like the police or the fire department. It’s an interesting take and indicative of the differences between the 80s and the present day. The movie ends with the Ghostbusters actually working for New York City government. On the one hand I’m not sure how I feel about that, but on the other it almost completely eliminates the possibility of a sequel beginning in the same disappointing way that Ghostbusters II did. It definitely sets up more of a The Real Ghostbusters scenario as far as the kinds of stories that can be told. It also eliminates the financial factor, which means Holtzmann can keep making bigger and crazier ghost busting toys.
One of the things that excited me the most is the amount of potential world-building that I perceived. There are references to other dimensions in a much more meaningful way than there ever were in the original movies. We don’t just see the gateway this time, we go through it. Considering the fact that Dan Aykroyd’s original treatment for Ghostbusters – with the unwieldy title Ghost Smashers – included travel through time and across dimensions, this is an exciting tease.
But that’s all it is. Yet another thing to admire about this new Ghostbusters is how self-contained it is. It’s a full story. There are certainly possibilities for further stories, but it doesn’t lean on anything. There’s no information that will only pay off in a future installment and no significant questions that remain unanswered. In a day and age where movie studios are banking on every film representing a new franchise, Ghostbusters is completely independent. You need never see another movie to appreciate it fully. But it made me want more movies.

Ghostbusters isn’t the best movie I’ve seen in 2016, but it was the most fun and one of my favorites. I’m eager to see it again and I’ll be recommending it to anyone that asks.
If you enjoyed this review, it was originally posted on SupportPhantom.com, my Patreon page, on July 15th. To access early reviews and other exclusive content, go there now and support Phantom!

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