Sunday, December 11, 2016

Better Late Than Never Thoughts: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)


I was never against the existence of a new Ghostbusters movie at the outset - at least not on the basis that they had re-cast the Ghostbusters as women. That twist, at least, seemed a better excuse to make the movie in the first place than if they had done four male actors in the role. After all, it feels the vast majority of movies that get made lately are remakes or adaptations, so at least when they remake something I like that already exists as a very good movie, that original movie still exists. And I don't care what anyone says, making a crummy remake would only increase the profile of the original, because it makes you appreciate it better.

(I figure it's worse when something you like in another medium gets its one and only chance to be a movie and it stinks.)

I mean, besides not really being a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I couldn't really see any problem with the people who made Bridesmaids bringing that same sensibility to the premise of a quartet of women hunting and trapping ghosts. I feel like that's at least a rich enough premise to sustain at least one more variation.

This Ghostbusters movie is different from the past one in a very significant way, down to the core, and your opinion of that change probably informs your opinion of it (if you're able to go in with an open mind, at least.) The first is actually kind of a weirdly serious movie, starring famous comedians. The ghosts aren't played for laughs, and neither is the version of New York that the Busters inhabit. They themselves are comedic characters: Earnest Ray, detached intellectual Egon, and of course deadpan Bill Murray as Peter Venkman. The main vein of comedy in Ghostbusters (1984) comes from Bill Murray's character being face to face with the existence of an impressive paranormal power and reacting the same way you would if you were bored at lunch and messing with your waiter.

Ghostbusters (2016) takes place more in a world of comedy. Characters who perform otherwise perfunctory roles are given comedic dialogue, whether it's the line about "anti-Irish fences" at the Victorian estate being toured at the beginning, or the constant issues with Chinese soup delivery experienced by the McCarthy character. The movie is more made up of "bits," probably because Paul Feig has conceived of it as you would a comedy movie, constructing "bits" with each moment, and Dan Aykroyd, while a noted comedian, also really cares a super-lot about the paranormal and takes it pretty seriously. It's only in a movie with the tone of Feig's that you're going to get cameos from original castmembers.

But just because it is markedly different (in one way) does not mean it is not also very, very good.

My main concern was that the movie would go too far over the top: too many gross-out gags, goofy ghosts, pratfalls, and winking references. And there were a lot of all those, but oddly enough they a) work for half the audience, and b) don't detract from the rest of the movie. So when there's the inevitable "testing new equipment" scene that ends with a character being hoisted about like a wild firehose, it's a bit of an eyeroll but it doesn't drag the movie down too much. Mostly it's defined by clever back-and-forth and really well-disciplined comedy. And a disproportionately great line about the world's tiniest bowtie. The "comedy world" approach enables the filmmakers to play around a bit more with the ghosts themselves, the way of fighting them, as well as side-characters like Chris Hemsworth's (possibly synesthetic) Kevin.

Paradoxically, the emotional lives of the Ghostbusters in their 2016 iteration is also richer, establishing the background of Abby and Erin's friendship and interest in the paranormal. That alone feels like enough of a raison d'etre for the movie, beyond better VFX" and "increase the wacky." (That increased wacky, the manic mood of the movie, has its hits and misses - there's a lot of great bits in there, and a few moments that feel off, like trying too hard to be funny for the sake of funny.) The climactic battle and rope rescue scene were top notch, though - I loved seeing NYC swarming with ghosts in a way that was simply not possible in 1984.

The plot of the movie mostly tracks with the first one, which is a value-neutral statement: it's both the easy way out and a soothing familiarity. It's the same thing that happened with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and your mileage may vary on whether you were into it in that case or this one.

For me, it was fine, a good enough clothesline to hang the new gags on. I felt like Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones could have been better done-by (although mostly great, McKinnon's dance to DeBarge was a miss for me, one of those "wacky for wacky's sake" gags with no real context or point.) Jones in particular gets a lot more development and more to do than Ernie Hudson got in the first one. Complaints about Chris Hemsworth's character are completely unfounded, as he is one of the most consistent sources of laughs in the movie.

This was a good movie, guys, and if they get to make a second one it could get even better from there. I just hope that, per the tease at the end (spoiler alert?) they don't do Zuul again. They just remade the Zuul story with a new coat of paint with this one, so why bother?

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