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Wednesday, 20 July 2016


'One sentence' review:  
A clumsy start gives way to a fun, if insubstantial, explosion of neon ghosts.

'Significantly more sentences' review: 
"Please don't be the Mayor from Jaws" is probably my favourite line from the new GHOSTBUSTERS, and it creates an interesting parallel for the film itself. It's delivered by Erin (Kristen Wiig) as she pleads with the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia) to do something about the impending ghostly apocalypse. The joke works because we know what the Mayor from Jaws was like, as it is an archetype used in multiple films right to this day - it is familiarity and expectation wrapped up into a one-liner, things that plague this new version of everyone's favourite paranormal investigators in both good and bad ways.

For instance, the NY Mayor knows about the ghosts, and actually has Homeland Security working on the problem. That's a bit different (although later on it looks like HS expect to take the ghosts on with conventional firearms, which doesn't make any sense at all). It's a shame this neat twist on expectations isn't full realized over the course of the film.

After a video of a ghostly encounter in a mansion comes to the attention of her boss, Erin loses her respectable Physics teaching job and ends up forming a paranormal investigations team with her old childhood friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and Abby's new colleague Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Soon enough they're joined by Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) a fantastically dense beefcake receptionist, and Patty (Leslie Jones) a subway worker who turns up at their office after witnessing a weird glowing bomb-thing explode, followed by an apparition.

Turns out a creepy janitor called Rowan (Neil Casey, all bug-eyed and pasty) is planting the 'ghost bombs' around New York in order to summon spirits. Once he's done this enough times he plans to unleash the aforementioned spooky apocalypse, for reasons and in a manner I won't spoil. I actually quite liked this "villain" even though he wasn't scary or anything, because there are clear echoes of Janosz, the pasty creep from GHOSTBUSTERS II - he's just a weird, vaguely pathetic guy who's finally found a way to get power over those around him.

Of course the general plot will be familiar, since this is a remake (although why on earth they didn't just make a sequel I'll never understand, as it could work so easily) - but the biggest criticism I have is everything's a little too easy. For example, two or three times the Mayor's office publicly labels the Ghostbusters frauds (in an effort to cover up the ghosts, because they don't want mass hysteria) - except this has literally no impact on them at all, save for bemoaning the fact they've been labelled frauds. It doesn't stop people calling them with ghost sightings; it doesn't see them getting booed at or ignored. No effect at all.

Patty displays extensive knowledge of New York, which would make her a perfect fit for the team - except this knowledge is only used to present interesting facts for places the team go to anyway. You could argue she provides context, but it would have made a lot more narrative sense had her knowledge been called on to help figure out where Rowan was using as his 'apocalyptic nexus point' 
ie. "He needs somewhere with an extremely high psychic disturbance, but this is New York so that could be anywhere, arf arf!" 
"Hey, I can think of a few places, such as THIS and THIS. Let's go INVESTIGATE!"

Erin and Abby, too, start off as enemies (or frenemies) as Abby published a book she wrote with Erin about ghosts, without telling her. This is swept under the carpet pretty quickly and provides zero further tension. Abby does say she's doing it as a revenue stream, except the team have got no money worries at all, aside from not being able to afford the iconic fire station as a base. In the original, they form Ghostbusters as a business as much as due to a desire to investigate ghosts. This version never feels like a business, which might be an odd nitpick, but it ties in with the whole 'easy' notion. They can magically afford to hire a receptionist, rent a place and buy all the clearly specialised scientific stuff Holtzmann needs, even though they've lost their jobs and have no funding. 

Holtzmann is this team's Egon (with all her own entertaining idiosyncrasies), and comes up with all the equipment they use to bust the ghosts - although pretty soon all the weapons are capable of obliterating the spirits completely, so they don't even need to bother trapping them. Just zap 'em and move on. Part of the fun/tension of the originals was whether they'd successfully capture the ghosts and just how much damage they'd cause in the process - it was chaos every time they fired up the proton packs. There is also, sadly, no reference to 'crossing the streams' this time around.

Having said that, a couple of the new weapons are pretty cool and Holtzmann gets a moment to shine in the climax with her own special equipment. This sort of trade-off happens throughout - there'll be a weak riff on the original film, followed by a decent use of the new version of things. I do particularly like the way they get their logo, how Rick Moranis's panicked knocking on the fancy restaurant windows is referenced and how the villain's final form is requested/chosen. Almost everything Kevin says or does is delightfully idiotic and the four ladies have excellent on-screen chemistry (as you'd well expect, given their comedic histories). GHOSTBUSTERS is a very easy film to watch, which is both part of its charm and downfall.

It's also easy to just point at the original film and go "that was better", but why? How? I loved the original ghost effects (and being around 6 years old when I first saw any of it, they scared the crap out of me but also fascinated me - as in "What IS that?"*) but I also like these new neon ghosts, despite the lack of variety and scariness. Are the original films scarier? I would say so, partly due to the general lack of tension and unsettling weirdness in the new version. Plus, there were a few little kids in the screening for the new one, and none of them sounded or looked too bothered by the ghosts, so I'd hazard a guess they didn't find it scary. Although to give credit where it's due, the first ghost made me jump when she changed, even though I knew it was coming haha.

What I do think this film should definitely have kept from the originals is the rich sense of mythology. They could have very, very easily used a copy of Tobin's Spirit Guide to reference the types of manifestations. In the originals, there's 'real' history and menace to the ghosts - in this one, they're just ghosts. Not ancient gods or conquerors. Just...ghosts.

However, and in case it reads like I'm being grumpy in a "the original is far superior wah wah wah" way, this lack of substance is actually what helps make the new version so easy to take in. The special effects are cool to look at and it doesn't tax your brain to figure anything out. Stuff just happens. The team feels like a team. Some jokes are terrible but there are more than enough decent ones thrown in - the script is at its funniest when the humour comes from the situation, rather than when a character is clearly making a joke. The cameos from the original cast (minus Moranis) are fun to look out for. 

As a final thought, despite one (actually decent) joke involving terrorism, this film is remarkably free of any real world terror. You'd think finding a bomb-like thing shooting out weird neon light in a subway tunnel would cause total panic, or there might be the suggestion that the ghosts could be a symptom of a chemical weapon, etc etc etc but thankfully the film never goes this route. They're ghosts and they're real. It is refreshing, in a world where news and social media offer a constant barrage of horror and fear, to be able to spend two hours soaking up pure escapism. And I cannot see anything wrong with that at all.


nb. from what I heard of it in the movie, the new theme tune by Fallout Boy and Missy Elliott didn't sound too bad (and if you've been eyeballing this blog long enough it's pretty evident that my taste is a lot darker/weirder than them), although I do really enjoy this "trailer" theme:

* I distinctly recall being at junior school in London and one of my friends brought a Scholastic Ghostbusters book in to show us all, that had loads of photos from the film in it. We were all scared by the library ghost's  monstrous form and took it in turns daring each other to open the book at that page and look for as long as possible at the photo. And now look at me hahaha

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