Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters Logo

Here it is: The controversial Ghostbusters remake. The movie that got Milo Yiannopoulos permanently banned from Twitter. The film whose trailer got the Angry Video Game Nerd a ration of on-line grief. A movie I had no desire to watch whatsoever until my friend and fellow writer Rawle Nyanzi suggested we see it so we can better speak about the controversy and the larger cultural implications. Because Ghostbusters has become more than just a summer movie. It has become an event, a cultural litmus test–If you don’t like this movie, you clearly hate women. If Americans are good at anything, it’s elevating silly stuff to epic status.

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So as promised, Rawle and I went to see the movie so you don’t have to. I wasn’t planning on it, but Rawle convinced me that we should:

 

…I had no desire to see it. But then, in speaking with my friend and fellow blogger Rawle Nyanzi, he mentioned he is going to see the movie to tell for himself whether the politics is are as blatant as its creators and defenders make it seem or if the movie is just, you know, a movie featuring four women in the lead roles.

Seeing something before rendering an opinion…what a novel idea!

So we grabbed a bite at Chik-fil-A and prepared ourselves for what I expected to be a thoroughly mediocre movie.

 

I wasn’t disappointed.

Or I was depending on how you look at it.

SPOILER ALERT: This movie is painfully average, dare I say beige.  It fails to recapture the fun and the heart of the original two films (I’m a Ghostbusters II apologist and proud of it!) and fails to do anything new despite having ample opportunity to do so. TL; DR: Don’t bother seeing this movie.

But that’s not why you’re here, so keep reading.

*     *     *

Since I had been reading about empty theaters at showings of Ghostbusters, I was not surprised when, at 7:05 for a 7:30 showtime, the theater was totally empty save for Rawle and me.

People actually showed up, just late. All told, there were 15 or so people, including the two of us. Far more than I expected on a Monday night. And interestingly, it was a mix of young families with their kids, teenagers, and some folks older than me who must’ve been fans of the original.

Enough set-up! Did the movie do the original proud?

Do you even need to ask?

I’m going to break this discussion up into two parts: The Political, given the controversy surrounding the movie, and about The Movie Itself. I’ll give my take first, and then Rawle’s.

The Political

Ghostbusters is as feminist nor as political as advertised.

I have argued previously that there is nothing wrong with appreciating a work of art even if you don’t like the creator’s politics. Here, there’s nothing to worry about since there really isn’t any politics to speak of. Or nothing overtly political.

One could argue that having a movie where the girls act “just like the boys” is political, as it reflects a cultural shift very much driven by politics. But that’s a bit of a stretch.

To answer the burning question that has driven this movie’s marketing, either intentionally or unintentionally: There is nothing really “feminist” about this movie, other than having women act like teenage boys, which is just forced and unfunny.

Okay, there are a few “man,” jokes (“Safety lights are for dudes”), and the villain is a beta-male sick of being bullied (“It’s always the sad, pale ones”), but most of the jokes are actually at the expense of the women, (them being “sad and lonely women,” “‘Ain’t no bitches gonna catch no ghosts,'” etc.).

If there’s anything offensive about the jokes in this movie, it’s their construction, timing, and delivery.

And oh God, the bad jokes. Needless to say, this is not a good movie. It’s cultural impact will ultimately be nothing more than a strange footnote describing a temporary period of mass-hysteria over nothing.

The Movie Itself

Ghostbusters is the definition of “Meh.” It’s not as bad as advertised, but it’s not good. It’s a big, dumb, loud summer blockbuster with everything that entails. Maybe I’m getting old, but modern movies really don’t do it for me. Everything I dislike about the past 20 years of movie-making is in the forefront in Ghostbusters. I’m not going to go through the plot point-by-point; instead, I’ll give my general impression and observations.

After a promising and honestly creepy start, Ghostbusters devolved into a sloppy, one-note exercise in visual effects that failed to deliver emotionally or comedically. This is largely because of bad writing and paper-thin characterization.

Ghostbusters notes

This is a page from my notes (yes, I took notes). Circled, I have written “nobody talks like this!” This was a huge problem throughout the movie.

Ghostbusters’  subscribes to that Judd Apatow/Will Ferrell school of comedy where everything is “banter.” Everything. I’m assuming it was largely improvised, since it involved a lot of repetition and jokes that were of the “Oh, X isn’t going to happen!” and then smash-cut to the next scene where precisely X is happening. This worked a few times, especially near the beginning of the movie, but it wore thin as time went on. Why? BECAUSE NOBODY TALKS LIKE THIS!

Even though Ghostbusters sets out to be a spooky horror comedy a la the original, it fails the believably test: If nobody in your movie acts or speaks like people in real-life do, you’re not going to buy the fantastical and supernatural stuff happening on screen.

What’s more, women don’t talk or act like this either. If this movie tried to portray women in a “strong” and positive light, it failed. All it did was show that women could be as stupid as Hollywood thinks men are.

And then there’s Leslie Jones. I’m going to leave the on-line stuff aside and say she was actually one of the funnier characters despite being the stock “sassy black working-class woman.” I didn’t get the vibe that she was being shown disrespect due to her race. The biggest crime here was mediocre writing.

How were the other leads? As one-note as you’d expect in an average summer blockbuster. Kristin Wiig is talented, and her uptight character came off the best, being the only one to have a character arc to speak of. Melissa McCarthy’s shtick wore thin for me years ago, and she does nothing to dispel that impression here. Kate McKinnon’s character is the “quirky” one and just comes off as unbelievable and embarrassingly lame. And Chris Hemsworth was there, I guess: His clearly mentally handicapped beefcake receptionist had a few funny quips (“Which picture makes me look more like a doctor: Me holding a saxophone or me listening to one?”) but mostly he, like everything in this movie, was overdone and went on for too long. Most of the jokes landed with a dull splat, and the banter and bickering felt forced and stilted.

So here’s where politics intersects with movie-making. I argue that the characters are not believable because the screenwriters’ politics influenced them to write females the way they wish women acted instead of how women actually act. I’ve known many women in my life and they don’t behave the way that Hollywood screenwriters think teenage boys do. These characters are supposed to be adult females in their late-30s to late-40s. And scientists to boot. The original Ghostbusters movies got it right, with the characters actually joking around the way adults do. This was just ridiculous.

And it wasn’t just the leads. Everybody was an idiot. And the villain  was just a placeholder until they could get to the overdone special-effects extravaganza at the end. He had no motivation and therefore made no emotional connection. Like a lot of things, he was just there.

Interestingly, another thing I wrote in my notes several times was “too fast.” This movie, like many modern movies, never had time to breathe. The pacing was rushed: Scene into scene into scene, little vignettes with no connective tissue, like episodes on a sketch comedy show. Which is sort-of what Ghostbusters felt like.

Ultimately, Ghostbusters had the elements of a passable film. The set-up was good and it had some decent plot-twists. The screenwriters were just in my opinion too lazy to tighten it up into something memorable. I think they were too busy spending the bulk of their time insulting their fans. If they had just kept their mouths shut, we’d probably be talking about how the movie did alright at the box office and that the movie-makers are promising a better sequel. Instead, Ghostbusters is a financial dud. I can’t say I’m surprised.

Ghostbusters is the definition of beige. On a scale of 1-to-100, I’d give it a 50.

*     *     *

And now, here’s Rawle’s review of Ghostbusters:

MY TAKE ON GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

The new Ghotbusters movie wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be (my expectations going in were pretty low), though I would say that the bad outweighed the good in this case, and I would not recommend the movie to others.

First, let’s start with the good: the girls were allowed to act dumb. Judging from all the pre-release hoopla, I was expecting the creative team to go the Force Awakens route and make the girls into unbeatable Mary Sues with no relevant flaws, but this did not occur at all; every girl, even straitlaced Erin Gilbert (the skinny brunette), made a fool of themselves in one way or another repeatedly. Even the dumb male receptionist didn’t come off as that stupid since the girls were no better.

Also, Patty was the funniest of all the girls, since her “angry black woman” shtick was such a strong contrast to the three white leads, who weren’t quite as forceful as she was.

Ghostbusters shooting proton packs

But a movie can have too much of a good thing, so here comes the bad: it was all the same overdone joke. Virtually every silly moment was “Abby (the fat one) and/or Holtz (the blonde) does something stupid.” It was endearing and funny at first, but by the middle of the movie I grew tired of it and my mind wandered. A comedy needs different types of jokes to keep the laughs fresh, and this movie could’ve done so while keeping Abby and Holtz’s utter stupidity a part of their character.

Another bad thing was that virtually everyone in the movie was an idiot. It’s fine to have the dumb receptionist and the dumb scientists, but there was no point to making everyone in the movie a fool. It actually made Abby and Holtz less funny since they had no real contrast to perform against, just Erin, who is one character.

Lastly, the plot just jerked around; scenes didn’t really flow into each other. It was “this happened, then this happened, now this.” While the events were connected, it didn’t seem that way–everything went by way too fast. It wasn’t a major flaw, like the two above, but it did detract from the movie

So while the movie wasn’t a total stinker like Dragonball: Evolution, it is nonetheless a flawed movie that is merely watchable rather than good. I do not recommend seeing this movie.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade, and Rawle at @RawleNyanziFTL

And check out my Instagram here.

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