The Problem with Ghostbusters (Pssst – It’s Not the All-Female Cast)

Many years ago Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates wrote a book declaring that ghosts are real. Years later, following a rift between them, both are thrown back together when Gilbert, now a successful lecturer at Columbia University, is laughed out of academia following the discovery of her National Enquirer-esque thesis on the supernatural. Invited to an old haunted New York mansion in an effort to prove the doubters wrong, they document their first ever encounter with a ghost and with the help of nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzman and subway worker Patty Tolan, they form the Ghostbusters.

The All-Female cast of Ghostbusters. -
The All-Female cast of Ghostbusters. Source

As we all know by now Ghostbusters 3 didn’t happen mainly because Bill Murray stubbornly refused to commit to playing Peter Venkman for a third time. Just as it seemed that Dan Aykroyd’s lobbying had weakened Murray’s resolve, it all fell asunder once more on Feb 24th 2014 – the day Harold Ramis, co-writer and star of the original two Ghostbuster films passed away. Any talk of Ghostbusters 3 ended there and almost as suddenly a remake/reboot was on the cards, and this remake/reboot was going to feature an entirely female team of ghostbusters. This in turn was quickly followed by a tidal wave of negativity, fans criticising the decision to remake it and maybe more cruelly, the casting of four women in place of four men. I was open minded, I’d rather the remake/reboot hadn’t happened at all but I wasn’t willing to dismiss it just because some of the best female comedic talents in the world today had replaced some of the best male comedic talents in the world in the 1980’s. That was until the first trailer landed. There’s a reason why it’s the most disliked video on Youtube.

Instead of going to see this new version in expectation, I went in hope and if I’m honest a little fear as Ghostbusters is one of those films that my generation treasure, much like Back to the Future or Gremlins. I didn’t want to see it messed with and in truth I was a little surprised by this remake, but sadly not much. Ghostbusters tries very hard to be enjoyable, each of the four leads really give it a good shake and there is a lot of fun to be had… but only if you’re seven years old. Yes, the underlying problem with Ghostbusters is that it looks and feels like it should be a Scooby Doo film. Filled with lurid greens and garish neon pinks and blues, it is far more farcical than it should be, than either of the two previous films. The comedy is too broad; the jokes are obvious and grow tiresome after a while. Where the original had charm and personality, this remake has virtually none. The scares (the few that are attempted) are also cheap and far too lazy. Where the original had a few eerie moments (the ghost in the library for one), this looks and feels like a fun house ghost train ride. It’s just wrong, from top to bottom.

Ghostbusters 2016 bad guy Rowan. -
Ghostbusters 2016 bad guy Rowan. Source

The filmmakers don’t really seem to know what they are going for with this film or who their audience is. In taking a step away from its predecessors, they changed the tone entirely as it does not look or feel like the original and this is commendable. How many remakes have fallen flat because they don’t try anything different? But then this film features so many elements of the previous two – all the original stars have cameo’s bar Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis – and there are so many references to the franchise that any identity it tried to forge is totally lost. As the film wears on you start to get preoccupied looking for the nods to the original, the final section sagging to the point of boredom. Though the finale is a CGI extravaganza it is also a joyless, mirthless, thrill-less 20 minutes of cinema and is further proof that if you don’t have even a shadow of a plot then no amount of SFX is going to disguise it. It also doesn’t help that the bad guy, the villain of the piece, Rowan, is a disaster. When you think of Zuul, Gozer the Gozerian and Vigo the Carpathian you have to wonder what the producers were thinking of when creating a character like Rowan. He is neither odd enough to be interesting, or clever enough to engaging. You don’t fear him nor dislike him. He won’t make you laugh or feel any kind of remorse. Effort really must have been put in to making him as dull and insipid as possible, for whatever reason. It appears as if the script was written with a placeholder bad guy inserted until they came up with a Zuul or a Gozer, but then they just forgot to take him out or create someone better. He adds absolutely nothing to the film and though Neil Casey does try to inject a little bit of life into his demeanour and delivery, he is hampered with a character so thin that he has very little to work with.

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann in Ghostbusters. -
Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann in Ghostbusters. Source

As for the four female Ghostbusters, they really do give it socks. Wiig and McCarthy are their typically witty, natural selves and you get exactly what you expect from them, Melissa McCarthy further reinforcing the opinion that she is one of the best comic actors in the business today. The surprises are Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. McKinnon brings a lot of energy to the character of Jillian Holtzman, combining almost perfectly the sarky attitude of Murray’s Venkman, the boundless enthusiasm of Aykroyd’s Stanzt and the boffin eggheadedness of Ramis’ Spengler. She is the real highlight of the film for both adults and children and, considering she shares the screen with Wiig and McCarthy for the most part, enjoys some of the funnier moments. Leslie Jones on the other hand, while channelling the most natural vibe of fun from the original movies, flounders with being the brash, loud non-scientist of the group. It’s almost like every African-American stereotype was thrown together to create her character and while you will laugh, it just feels like something you’ve seen a thousand times before.  As for Chris Hemsworth; he is given far more to do than Annie Potts ever was and for the most part he hits the mark in terms of making the audience laugh. Where Potts’s Janine was super efficient and had the hots for Egon Spengler, Hemsworth’s Kevin is a total dullard and the object of the entire team’s affections. This play on his lack of smarts gets tiresome, with joke after joke about his inability to answer the phone or remember how to make a cup of coffee grating after a while. But Hemsworth is definitely game and looks like he is really enjoying himself.

Despite the battering I have just given it, there is fun to be had in this film. Unfortunately Ghostbusters has not been aimed at fans of the original but at the children of fans of the original. In that sense it works a treat as many of the seven and eight years olds that made up of the bulk of the audience in my screening bounced out of the cinema telling their parents or older siblings that it was the “best film ever!” And the most enjoyable part came during the end credits when the Ray Parker Jnr theme tune kicked in. As if they had all arranged this before going into the cinema, the children jumped up in unison and had a mass dance and sing along session to one of the best theme tunes of the 1980’s. It couldn’t help but make you smile, it’s just a pity the film itself could have tried a little harder.

Ghostbusters is in cinemas now.


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