Busting Did Make Me Feel Good

I went to a late showing of Ghostbusters one Monday night. I had meant to catch it over opening weekend but we got too busy. I’ve been a fan my whole life of the series. As a kid, I’d run around playing pretend as a Jedi-Ghostbuster. I was going to bust all the Sith ghosts with my proton-saber. In college, I became engrossed with works of Reitman and Ramis. Somedays, I would just leave the film running with the commentary of them running in the background to inspire my writing process. Listening to them talk about how much they loved working together gave me the determination to start creatively writing in the first place.

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Needless to say, I had high hopes for the new film. Of which, I wasn’t disappointed.

First I have to say–did they really think they’d get away with using DMX’s ‘X Gon Give It to Ya’ so soon after Deadpool? Like were they out of dance party hardcore raps to dance to? Okay, now that I have that out of my system:

I’m going to share an unpopular opinion here and say, I think this film would have been an all-out blockbuster if the originals didn’t exist. That is to say that if this film had been made instead of the OG Busters, it would have been the better of the two. The best things about the original were the scenes they suggested happened that we never saw. The ghost at the disco? Off camera. Does Spengler ever actually attempt to drill that hole through his head? Off camera. What is it like owning an occult bookstore in NYC? Off camera in number two. Why does Venkman keep a chocolate bar to reward Spengler at all times? Off camera. The new film instead leans heavily into showing everything, leaving the exposition to the imagination of the viewer. That tiny change in storytelling approach made this film sing.

So why do I think this film was so good? It was all about the actors. Frankly, I didn’t think McCarthy could tone it down to share the laughs with so many other people. I didn’t think Feig would let Jones be a fully fleshed out character. I didn’t think Wiig could be relatable in a horror scene. I really had no idea what McKinnon would do front and center. All that proves is that I was SUPER wrong. This cast was explosive and touching. Their on-screen chemistry is palpable (much like a similar quartet I can think of).

In fact, the only bad thing about the characters was in the editing and screen time they didn’t get. Some scenes had quick cuts where they should have lingered just a second longer. Some of the interactions had depths of emotional weight if only they could have teased it out a few more minutes. The best example of this is McKinnon’s Holtzmann. The whole time she is awkward, textbook mad scientist, and erratic. All, ALL, of this, actually has deep character specific rationale but none of that was allowed to show through until nearly the end of the film. She gives a speech that, for me, completely filled in what had been missing from her character the whole time. If they’d move that scene, a toast over a victory dinner, from the end of the film to just after their first big bust, it would have allowed her character to flourish. Instead, she is a late blooming personality that we only experience through wacky slapstick explosions until it’s too late to make a meaningful impact. That’s not a character’s mistake. It’s a writer’s, director’s, and editor’s mistake.

Another aspect that was lovely about the film was the sexuality without overt romance subplots. One of the weakest plots of the 1984 film was the romance plot. It just didn’t mesh well with the rest of the film. In fact, it had some pretty creepy subtext (why would a psychiatrist take sedatives on a first date?). In the 2016 film, Wiig is a walking sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. Having that small twist on the old trope is one of the small things that adds so much to this film. Her constant advances were comical, built her character, and rib the old film in playful ways that get the right amount of negative feedback from with the other characters in the form of constant reprimands to her advances. Originally, all of Venkman’s advances on women were passed off for laughs even though they were nearly always too forward or overtly rapey. But then, there are Holtzmann’s sly eyes at Gilbert. It’s easy to miss but I believe there was some implied sexual tension at their first meeting. Her background antics become ninja-flirting and, again, the viewer gains much more insight into the characters without having to be hit over the head about what is happening.

My biggest fear going into the film was Leslie Jones’ Patty. I was afraid she’d be nothing more than the loud angry black character trope. Though I think Jones and McCarthy could have swapped places and nothing would have really changed thematically (and I heard this was the original plan and OH MY GOD I want this version of the film now). Patty grew over the film to be a more dynamic and important contribution to the film. Hudson’s similar role in the previous films seemed so diminished in the first Ghostbusters that I really don’t know why they included him at all. It wasn’t until the second movie that he really added anything of value to the film. Which is a travesty because his acting was a delight in both. This was more of the fault of when his character was added to the film (i.e. a writer’s problem) and not the character (i.e. how awesome Hudson was). Zeddmore is a wonderful character but was not given enough screen time till the second film to really show that off. Jones instead is given an early introduction and then organically grows into the role. She still supplies the part of the outsider to allow the audience some explanation of the events unfolding but she is more than just the yelling angry woman in the commercials.

That said, others had very good points about how her character was handled/mishandled. I wanted to speak to some of this but I think Tanya D. does a much better job than I ever could over at Polygon.

Side note–it’s weird that in this film the characters are more of straight scientists whereas the older films they really came off more as occultists with a science hobby.

With how good Jones’ character was, it was sort of weird to see Wiig’s fall short. Wiig sets up the call to adventure and has many great scenes. However, between McCarthy and McKinnon, she really didn’t have much to offer the team. I think this was a failure of the script itself. They needed to share those roles more equally. Having two particle scientists on the team seems redundant if both don’t work together. Wiig just kind of seems to sit back while McKinnon did most of the footwork. She was important in other ways to balance out the ensemble and make a straight (wo)man to play off of–but she could have been utilized more to do.

I was worried by the choice of director. Feig’s physical comedy is impeccable but not my first choice for a film series like the Ghostbusters. The originals seemed to latch more onto the spoofing of spaghetti-western-comedies and horror-science-fiction of the times with tense eyes and quiet moments. I probably would have thought Simon Pegg or Taika Waititi would have been better fitted for the project. HOWEVER, Feig’s brand of comedy not only captures some of the best aspects of the original, he actually gave the film more chuckles-per-minute (CPM if you will) than the originals. In the 80’s films, there were long stretches of film that had little or no comedy at all as it leaned into the atmospheric side of horror more. Whereas the 2016 film uses concentrated horror in small dollops to heighten the pacing of the film. All this makes for a film that feels much more current rather than a pure rehash of the original. It also kept the overall energy of the film moving forward.

The biggest reoccurring theme that struck a dissonant chord for me was the amount of gratuitous spectacle. In the opening scare sequence (featuring Zach ‘OMFG’ Woods) there was stupendous acting, world building, mood setting, and practical effects to create a cohesive vision that would be carried out for the rest of the film. Then the scare starts. I for one am a complete scaredy cat. This scene nearly had me cover my eyes. It was so tense (and not just because I was lost in Woods’ eyes). Then they threw a lot of CGI at the screen. Then it literally barfed CGI all over the audience.

Later in the film’s climax, there were numerous CGI-for-the-sake-of-3D-sake shots that were unnecessary and only included for the technology shock value. Many of the fights and actors didn’t need them. The scenes would have been carried well without the added spectacle. It was Avatar all over again in a few places. “Hey LOOK! It’s like I’m coming RIGHT. AT. YOU! Woo, spooky!” I mean, that’s fun but when it gets in the way of the film it starts to sour the tone. The spectacle and the tone should mesh and complement one another.

Don’t even get me started on the dance number… I think it was mostly cut from the film and just used in the credits but it nearly jumped the ghost shark right there.

Along this theme of the gratuitous spectacle was the cameos. Yes, there are a ton of cameos. Most of them fun. Nearly none of them add to the greater plot. Unless this is a long con (which I doubt), none of the cameos really added anything to the movie. Bill Murray looked like he was having fun (and had some great gags around his role) but for the most part, they were just there to deliver a famous line and then “exit”. Sort of like the cut ‘two bums in Central Park’ gag from the original–weird and out of place. Then there was Ozzy for some unknown reason. Was he a producer? Was he in any of the trailers? Why did he have to appear at all? Why not get off a great gag with him and the bat-demon losing a head? Why? Why? Why?

His part was minor yet cringe-inducing.

All this gave the film a more Scooby Doo feeling at critical times in which it should have felt like a Ghostbusters film. Again, this is a problem that could have been fixed in the post through editing and effects. Instead, it felt like it drifted farther toward the softer end of the PG-13/Saturday morning cartoons than an adult horror-comedy. This may have been intentional but it felt disingenuous to the rest of the film.

So, in reality, the worst parts of the film had to do with unnecessary nostalgia and references to the previous work. Funny enough, that was sort of what brought down Ghostbusters 2. There were random unneeded cameos and unnecessary effects there as well. Which, I suppose, actually adds to the credibility of the film as a Ghost Corps product. Personally, this film had so much luggage that it spent too much of the film trying to unpack itself for the rabid fanboys who didn’t even appreciate what they made. In that way, the closing scene is very prophetic to what I believe will be the future impact of the film.

On a good note about the nostalgia of the film–it was very much in step with the themes, styles, and aesthetics of the comics, cartoons, and video games which I’m sure it borrowed from. In this way, it was actually truer to the bulk of the source material that’s out there and not the original films alone.

The last thing–it was weird, but like a good weird, that the whole thing felt scripted like a video game. The story elements, pacing, character progression–EVERYTHING felt like the good parts of a video game but in a movie format. In that way, it could be the best example of what a video game movie should be like. Too bad the tie-in game didn’t get that treatment.

TLDR: the film is a gem and you should see it. Probably see it in 3D (I didn’t and found out there is a lot of 3D content in it). The best part of the movie are the actors and their chemistry (just like the old one). The worst part is all the nostalgia and spectacle tossed in for no good reason.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it.

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