I was a big fan of the Ghostbusters canon growing up — the movies, the cartoon (my all-time favorite cartoon, easily, by far, no contest), the action figures, etc. Not the NES video game, that abomination broke my heart, but otherwise pretty much everything else.
So I was excited to see the new film. And I just watched it, just now.
And I enjoyed it!
And I have some thoughts.
This is likely more intended for people who have seen the thing, as there might be a couple minor spoilers ahead. Or maybe some major ones, I dunno.
Within the Mystical Realm of Comedic Cinema: A Contextual Overview
It was funny. I say that as someone who doesn’t usually like modern comedies. By “usually,” I mean, if it ain’t Coen brothers, I can’t remember really liking a new comedy movie since Little Miss Sunshine.
But this, this Ghostbusters movie, it made me laugh many times. That was great. I suspect that my particular sense of humor has much to do with this appreciation; when it came to themes like awkward interactions and strange wordplay, that is my jam. I can dig it. However, I can definitely respect if someone else did not find it funny, as some of the jokes were really a stretch, and speaking in an overall sense, if you are not plugged into the unique frequency this project was aiming for, you could certainly walk away feeling left out and disappointed.
Now, I am no professional critic… I am a mere layman in the arts of critical analysis. I do suspect, though, that whereas the quips of the original Ghostbuster film relied more purely on the strength of character chemistry and their well-scripted dialogue, this new Ghostbuster leans on the exaggeration of individual caricatures.
In other words: The line “Yes, it’s true. This man has no dick” works in the original because of Bill Murray’s masterful dry delivery coupled with a sublime lead-in. The character Jillian Holtzmann works in the new Ghostbusters because Kate McKinnon performs shamelessly in a weird role that pays off with treats of unpredictability in physicality and tone alike.
Well, it worked for me, anyway. Both are slices of comedy, just in different flavors.
The Logo is a Filthy Consumerist Whore: On In-Jokes and References
Okay, wow, the fan servicing was almost overwhelming. I mean, it was nice, and a couple spots truly made me smile, but dang, whew. Okay.
Like, it was so present for me, that it is difficult to imagine how I would view the film as an outsider, as if I had no prior experience with this canon. This is not a bad thing inherently, just interesting to me, I guess. Bring back some familiar faces, trigger a positive response: A cheap tactic, perhaps, but an effective one I won’t complain about too much.
Speaking of Triggers
There is no trace of controversy here. I mean, for all the whiny manbabies out there who actually did have an issue with an all-female Ghostbusters effort, this was a harmless product overall. I probably should not even bother addressing the topic. But there it is: Any detractors of the concept just come out looking dumb, and some who did those extra-nitpicky “46 Things I Hate About This Movie”-type videos are likely now exposed as the agenda-toting cavemen they are.
But I Do Have Quibbles
Besides the overarching “it ain’t Citizen Kane” angle you can take with any example from the Comedy genre whole, I do have a couple more-specific complaints.
Am I the only one who got the sense that a lot of things were glossed over strangely? I haven’t exactly dug into lots of reviews, so for all I know maybe this is a common observation, but nonetheless.
It felt like, multiple times throughout, the movie rushed past stuff that either was meant to have more gravity but now did not, or I just feel like should have had more weight but did not.
Introducing the proton packs? A hurried explanation from Holtzmann, a trip to an alley, a test firing that ends up launching a character like a pinball, a quick cut back into home base for the next bit of exposition.
How about the grand unveiling of the newly customized Ecto-1? We get a few angles, a shrug from Holtzmann, and, um, not much else, honestly. Really, am I insane? Not that a paint job and some branding has to be a Grand Moment, but it was hardly there at all, to me.
That was the one element that I felt that kept the movie from being great: The lack of seriousness was so profound that no payoff could ever reach any great height. Maybe that’s how people like their comedies, light and breezy. Maybe I just don’t like comedies. But. Still. You can do a comedy and still act like the story has some merit and justice and authenticity to it. And as much as the writing affects this, so too do many other aspects of filmmaking as well. You can light a scene in a way that adds more gravitas. You can hold onto a shot for a couple extra seconds to really emphasize a reaction for the viewer, to send it home even further.
Or you can make all the ghosts neon blue, I guess.
One more note on this pacing/editing thing: The scene at the concert, where they use the trap? It was jarring to see wide shots of all four ghostbusters firing their rifles, only to keep cutting back-and-forth to the closer shot of Holtzmann, messing with the trap, clearly not firing her proton pack… all four are firing, now they’re not, now they are, now they’re not…
• Physics and Consistency
This is actually an aspect that my wife brought up first, and we got to discuss. How do the physics works in this iteration of the Ghostbusters universe? Do the proton beams harm the ghosts (clearly do, sometimes, apparently), or merely harness them (wait, no, this is a thing, sometimes), or harness them but also enable them to be sent away as a projectile (a sudden strategy implemented in a late scene, it seems)?
Do the ghosts interact with their environment, or not? If the Devices were needed to Break the Barrier, then where did the first few come from, or was that because of a localized lampshade of convenience, and what was with the window thingies if the street was just going to crack open anyway, and how much goop can a ghost hold if they constantly drip and barf, and whoa wait he can just straight-up mind control entire crowds now, but if that’s the case then why doesn’t he just hm, and My Gosh are the Ghostbusters rather supremely lucky that Slimer decided to drive Ecto-1 back to the exact same spot at that exact right momen–
I get it. I really do. This is a mindless popcorn flick, one cannot reasonably expect detailed explanations from it.
However, this is my point: Storytelling is stronger when the in-world rules are coherent.
Especially when you already have odd pacing moments that are glossing over stuff you are maybe supposed to care about anyway. Right? Maybe?
My Favorite Bits
I like Kevin. I am pro-Kevin. Kevin can stay. When there’s a loud noise and he covers his eyes, that brings me a chuckle.
Despite all that critiquing up there about gravitas and whatever-the-hell-else-I-was-talking-about, I actually liked that bit near the end, where Erin has to leap into the Green Tunnel to Presumably Some Sort of Hellscape after Abby. I dunno, I just thought it was kinda cool.
Holtzmann’s weird speaking-singing stuff. All of that. Just, like, yes. Outweird me, go for it.
I actually really liked the opening scene. That whole tour-guide monologue, with the “and this is the room where P.T. Barnum first had the idea to enslave elephants,” that was delicious, and hit some strange, subversive notes. That was a highlight. I would like to go on an expanded version of that tour.
The whole concept of your co-author friend selling your book on Amazon without your permission and you having to hear about it secondhand from someone who heard about it because of a reblogged reddit post was delightfully contemporary.
I don’t even remember the specific scene, but there is a conversation going on, and Patty does not say a word, but the face she makes was the best part of the whole exchange.
Let Us Conclude
Ghostbusters (2016) is a fun romp, good for some laughs, with bonus takeaways for franchise fans. It compares favorably within its genre. I am glad I experienced it, although I would not place it on too high of a shelf as far as All Films go.
Also, I just wrote a lot more about this movie than I meant to. Neat!