'Ghostbusters' Review

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures
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As a 31 year old man who has watched the original Ghostbusters for years, this writer isn't far off from the demographic of those who have ranted and raved online about the new Ghostbusters being women for two years. But here, this reboot is being judged with an actual open mind, an actual love for women in comedy, and rated more against the high past standards of co-writer/director Paul Feig and of stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

Unfortunately, it is by those standards that Ghostbusters falls a little bit short, or at least doesn't get as high as it should have. Yet it must be stressed that the shortcomings have nothing to do with gender, since the women have to work overtime thanks to the wasted opportunities from the man directing and writing them.

Wiig's Erin Gilbert is actually trying to bury her former belief in ghosts and succeed in legitimate academia, yet a book on the paranormal she co-wrote with McCarthy's Abby once upon a time resurfaces online at the worst time. However, when she tags along with Abby and McKinnon's kooky inventor Holtzmann, they all discover that ghosts are real and that someone is working to bring more of them into our realm. With additional support from Jones' MTA worker Patty, and much less legitimate help from dim bulb receptionist Kevin, the newly christened Ghostbusters head out to save New York and the world whether it believes them or not.

After a funny cold opening with Zach Woods in a haunted museum, Ghostbusters really kicks off with what is nearly a fatal mistake. The original film had Bill Murray and company as true believers right from the start, and didn't need the framing device of one of them being a skeptic/former believer embarrassed by their past work. By placing Erin in that unfortunate role for starters, it sets up a needless opening conflict that undercuts Wiig early on and gets things off on the wrong foot.

Fortunately, Erin being slimed for the first of many times solves that problem about 15 minutes in. It is also the first piece of evidence in favor of the film's IMAX 3D, as ghosts and slime fly right at the audience without the side effect of getting anything icky on them.

Once Erin doesn't have to be the stick in the mud disbeliever anymore, Wiig is able to get much looser and funnier as things go on. They even add helpful backstory of Erin's long history of seeing ghosts, and being mocked and disbelieved for it until she found an actual friend who believed her. Between that and the Ghostbusters being constantly framed as hoaxes by City Hall even when they save the day, these moments are the ones surest to resonate with women, outcasts and others undercut and discredited in spite of their hard work and no one believing them.

However, these moments really offer just a hint of what Ghostbusters could have been, as Feig isn't able to go the extra mile with it. What's more, the central friendship of Erin and Abby falls flat more often than it should because Feig lets down McCarthy, of all people. After all Feig did with her in Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, and after Feig has looked like the only one to bring out the absolute best in McCarthy for years, it is very surprising that he has the least for her to do out of all the Ghostbusters.

Feig and McCarthy are each doing things differently in their fourth film together, since this is the first time they have united in a PG-13 movie. But an R-rated Ghostbusters probably would have given the haters more reason to say Feig is demeaning the franchise, and it’s not like Feig and McCarthy are inexperienced at cleaning up their act after years of TV work. Nonetheless, this is the first time Feig hasn't done right by McCarthy, which weighs down a few other important things.

As mentioned earlier, Feig gets a share of mileage out of the Ghostbusters' constant lack of credit and acceptance. Yet in truth, Feig had more success at exploring women proving themselves after being underestimated in a man's world in Spy last year. Perhaps since Ghostbusters centers on four women and not just one, and since more special effects, nods to the past and big budget action is packed in here, Feig gives himself less room to strengthen an emotional center.

The primary goal should be for laughs, of course, but Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold's script is frustratingly hit and miss in that regard. Although Feig's first foray into big special effects works well with his 3D ghosts and monsters, a downturn in his writing appears to be the trade-off.

When jokes, exchanges and running gags fall flat, they do so with a thud, as it falls upon the actresses and Chris Hemsworth to lift up the material more than they should. The most symbolic example is in the end credits, which features a possessed Hemsworth leading minions in a dance that is pretty much pointless, but redeemed solely by Hemsworth's absolute commitment to his wacky dance moves.

The more freedom the leads have to uplift what they are given, the better off they are. The proof lies in McCarthy being handcuffed almost throughout, while Wiig is gradually allowed to come to greater comedic life, and Jones gets to be just as much of a force of nature as she is on SNL. But none of them are allowed to run rampant the way McKinnon is.

Although the first Ghostbusters trailer was roundly panned and the most disliked in YouTube history, it still had to be watched multiple times to catch all of McKinnon's faces and gestures in the background and foreground. The movie works in the same way, as it has to be watched more than once if only to relive McKinnon's movements, and to catch any that were missed the first time. She even gets the biggest action showcase during the climax, further adding to her embarrassment of riches in 2016 between this, her SNL Emmy nomination just hours before the movie's release, and whatever lies ahead for her Hillary Clinton impression this fall and perhaps beyond.

For all the various forms of attention around the female Ghostbusters and Hemsworth, there are many other notable people with them. However, it does seem pointless to cast the likes of Michael Kenneth Williams, recent Veep Emmy nominee Matt Walsh and Charles Dance for about a few minutes of screen time each. Yet Andy Garcia and especially Cecily Strong get funnier material in their few minutes as the Mayor and his aide, though.

As for the original Ghostbusters that are still alive, most of their cameos fall on the pointless side. Murray's goes a long way with little real payoff for him, while Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver all show up for about 15-30 seconds each. Only Dan Aykroyd gets a good laugh or two in his brief appearance behind the wheel of a taxi.

Aside from marginalizing the original team, the element guaranteed to really set the "Ghostbros" off is Neil Casey's arch human villain Rowan. As a self-proclaimed bullied nerd, it practically writes itself how the online protestors will see him as the movie's personal attack on them, and on male nerds in general. But one can view Rowan and the women as almost two sides of the same coin, only with Rowan turning to evil, revenge and a need to cleanse the planet with ghosts as a response to being discarded and ridiculed, unlike the Ghostbusters.

Maybe in that context, the angry online 'bros' and women in general have more in common than they might think, only the 'bros' are too easily set off and overly sensitive to see it as well. Yet like with other things in Ghostbusters, this potentially promising theme is only briefly touched on, leaving any hope for common ground out the window. What’s more, one can all too easily dread how the protestors will interpret the final battle with Rowan, specifically the form he takes and how it is ultimately defeated.

Shutting the most hateful opposition of this movie up, or at least creating more fans that can drown them out, are just some of the many reasons why this reviewer was rooting so badly for the new Ghostbusters. But these last several months of backlash and online sniping have all been leading up to a movie that is on the absolute borderline between a thumbs up and thumbs down. As it turns out, it has nothing to do with the movie disgracing the Ghostbusters name, and much more to do with Feig taking a step down from his own past legacy.

Ghostbusters seesaws between getting a 5.5 rating and a 6, but gets bumped to a 6 on the TMN scale through sheer force of good will, the moments that stand out in between the duller parts, the hints at how much more meaningful this could have been with a tighter reign, the noisy but impressive new ghosts, and the times where Feig just stands back and lets Wiig, Jones, Hemsworth and especially McKinnon take over.

One can call that bias in the other direction or not, as well as the remaining hope that Ghostbusters takes off in spite of being a slight letdown. Given how much more terrible movies have been big successes at the box office regardless, even with little or no possible redeeming value and meaning to people other than male fans, it wouldn’t exactly be the harbinger of the apocalypse if Ghostbusters made more than the movie itself might deserve too.

If coming out ahead this time leads to a second shot down the line, it would need to do more to earn it. But considering that the first Ghostbusters franchise had a classic original and a much less loved sequel, it would be a fitting irony if it was the other way around in this one.