“Ghostbusters” Review: Made with Nothing but Love

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

While watching Ghostbusters (2016), I found myself experiencing a strange tingling feeling. No, there wasn’t a real-life paranormal event occurring in the theatre. There was an even more startling realization: The Ghostbusters reboot is inches away from greatness.

Not just on the verge of being a great movie, but on the verge being the best film in the Ghostbusters franchise. Winning awards. Being an all-time classic. It comes close, but it doesn’t quite reach that level.

Which is kind of disappointing, isn’t it? I mean, after everything this movie has been through throughout this past year. After all of the negativity from nearly every corner of the internet, wouldn’t it have been cool for the movie to step up to the plate and hit a homerun? It doesn’t, but it hits a double.

If you aren’t familiar, Ghostbusters is the fated reboot to the 1984 ghost-hunting classic starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson. One of the main forms of controversy behind this update is that the rag-tag team of small-business ghost fighters have been replaced by four ladies: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

This caused a lot of commotion on the internet. While many were excited by this move, there were some that were upset their childhood was being replaced by women. Some claimed reverse sexism and there were targeted attacks on all of the trailers for the film, so let’s start with that. (Skip 3 paragraphs if you want to get straight to talking about the movie)

These people are ridiculous. First off, this movie has nothing but love for the original film. Between all of the cameos, references and nods, it is blatantly obvious that the filmmakers love the original (in fact, many of them worked on the original). The goal of this movie is not to spit on Harold Ramis’s grave, it’s to make his work more accessible to a new generation.

Second, the movie empowers its women instead of exploiting them. One of the most common arguments made against this film (a year in advance, I might add), was that the all-female cast was just a marketing gimmick. It could have been easy to make this a movie that monetizes off of marginalized groups to make old, white men richer. Considering that the director, Paul Feig, is a man, this is a thing that could have happened. However, it is clear that this film is all about giving voice, rather than taking it away. Not to mention that the movie promotes female scientists… how cool is that?

Finally, let’s take a step back. If you are upset that an all-male cast was replaced by an all-female cast, let’s reflect for a moment. What is it that could have prompted this? Could it have been that movies have historically been made by and for men? And despite the fact that this art medium could be used to promote diversity and share voices from all different walks of life, we continually get stuck with the same perspective movies over and over because the same people are making these movies? And that while this is a step forward, the vast majority of blockbusters will not star women in real roles until there is real and systematic change in Hollywood? So maybe the next time you complain about all movies being the same, you stop to consider the fact that it doesn’t have to be this way. That there are so many more interesting stories that could be told that aren’t being given the chance. So maybe Ghostbusters is actually just shining a light on Hollywood’s narrow-minded ways. Look, as a white dude I know this all doesn’t mean all that much, but I get frustrated by wasted potential.

Maybe that’s why this new Ghostbusters film is simultaneously fun and frustrating. On one hand, this movie could be astonishingly good. It has all the elements. On the other hand, it’s not. It’s just fun. And that’s almost entirely because of some really awkward editing.

Because Ghostbusters is a mixture of comedy and horror, it needs some really strong editing. Editing that can make both the jokes and the scares land. And who ya gonna call other than Melissa Bretherton and Brent White. The pair edited Spy (2015), and that turned out to be both hysterical and action-packed. The problem is that Ghostbusters is a very different movie than Spy, and needs a much different editing style.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

For one, the editing here is very fast-paced, whereas all of the jokes feel like they need space. In fact, this cutting is extremely noticeable and it gets old fast. Even the simple conversations feel like a game of ping pong because there is so much back-and-forth. The result is one that works for many types of comedy movies (particularly ones with lots of improv), but not so much here. Throughout a vast majority of the sequences, it feels like the movie could be so much funnier if only the camera was a little more stable.

This, however, reveals something important about this Ghostbusters reboot. It is very character driven. Instead of just featuring a lot of loud, dialogue-heavy jokes, most of this movie’s gags are visual or off-hand lines. This leaves a lot of breathing room for each of the main characters to be developed. They all have different personalities and backgrounds, and that’s what makes the pairing all the more exciting.

Both Wiig and McCarthy are very subdued. In a surprise move, these two comedians provide the heart of the team, and really allow the rest of the cast to shine. And shine they do. Leslie Jones is hysterical as the new hire (akin to Ernie Hudson in the original, only they actually give Jones’s character something to do). Chris Hemsworth is the secretary, and he proves once again that he is a comedic force to be reckoned with. The star of the show is Kate McKinnon though. As the mad scientist archetype, she pierces through the screen with just a single glance. Every line is a riot, and she is played with such intensity that she can’t help but steal every scene she is in. But most importantly, the team dynamics are there. The actors all contribute, and they work well as a cohesive unit.

The screenplay is also exactly where it needs to be. Co-written by Feig and Katie Dippold, all of the plot points are there and the movie builds momentum as it goes. It’s funny but also sincere. It’s really easy to make an outrageous movie without any stakes or consequences, but Ghostbusters is a solid mix between insanity and reality. The third act does seem a little truncated, but when compared to the original, it doesn’t seem so noticeable.

Let’s also talk about the original for just a minute. Aside from nostalgia, was it actually that good? I watched it for the first time earlier this year, and I wasn’t that impressed. I can see why it would be a big hit at the time, but my-oh-my is it dated. The concept and the actors are pulling so much weight, and the rest of it seems to be built off of merchandising. Maybe that’s why I get so upset when people call this movie a gimmick. It’s like, have you seen the original?

Honestly, if it weren’t for the editing, this could be one of the best films of the year. The script is on point, the cast is on fire and it’s just the editing that holds it back. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. The editing undercuts many of the moments (both funny and scary), and oftentimes destroys all momentum the movie has. But the movie still has a lot going for it, and that shines through to the film’s energized climax. It’s not the movie it could have been, but it sure isn’t the movie some people on the internet think it deserves to be.

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