Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

A movie that's tortuously late to the party, headlined by former SNL cast-members, one character that seems as frustrated with the world of the movie as the audience is, a dumb character that may or may not be pretending to be stupid, a walking talking stereotype, one kinda cool character, strange vignettes that pad out the run-time, a musical number, boring pacing, horrible writing, and possibly four jokes that work in the entire thing. But enough about The Angry Birds Movie.
Ghostbusters is a movie that's tortuously late to the party, headlined by former SNL cast-members, one character that seems as frustrated with the world of the movie as the audience is, a dumb character that may or may not be pretending to be stupid, a walking talking stereotype, one kinda cool character, strange vignettes that pad out the run-time, a musical number, boring pacing, horrible writing, and possibly four jokes that work in the entire thing, with a majority female cast. Because of course it is.
For those who have been living under a rock without television for the last thirty years, Ghostbusters is one of the biggest media franchises of all time. Of all time. Two blockbuster movies, one of the most popular songs of all time, multiple comics, two animated series, video-games dating back to the Atari 2600, and a sequel to the movies a few years ago. Action-figures, toys based on the gear, board-games, merch up and down the spectrum with no end for thirty freaking years. You've most likely seen the ancillary material before you've seen the movies, or at least caught the movies on television. If you've never seen the movies, you've definitely heard the theme-song at some point, because they play it on loop with The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack and Thriller every Halloween.
This review isn't going to start with any of the long-winded preamble about me being a huge fan of the franchise and knowing it in and out like I've done for some reviews, partially because I'm trying to not do that anymore and partially because I'm not particularly well-versed in Ghostbusters outside of the two movies. I don't own any of the toys, I've never read any of the comics, I've never played any of the games, and I've never watched either of the cartoons. I either never got around to them or they were just out of my reach. The cartoons were never on TV and I never really cared enough to look them up on the internet. Don't get me wrong, I loved the original movies. I still have both of them on VHS for crying out loud. One of these days I'm going to get them both on Blu-Ray and watch them in high-def glory but for now I'll stick with them on DVD.
While I'm not really an expert on series lore, I do know several essential facts about it. First off, don't cross the streams. Second, you can't kill a ghost, you can only contain it. Third, be careful with the freaking proton packs. They're unlicensed nuclear reactors, you could literally explode if you weren't careful with them. Not just that, it's a freaking nuke for crying out loud. The chain-reaction could literally be catastrophic.
Basically all of these rules are either ignored or never established to begin with. In fact, the only rule they actually did bring up was the "be careful with the gear" thing, after they spent several scenes being incredibly reckless with it in a failed attempt to elicit laughs.
The movie begins with what I believe are supposed to be social-commentary jokes told by a tour-guide in a "haunted" mansion. Some spooky stuff happens, but it's all faked by the managers of the estate to promote tourism. At closing time, all of the fake haunting things get packed up, but actual ghosts show up and mess with him. Cue Ray Parker Jr's iconic theme. For less than a minute.
We cut to Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) teaching in her school. Some guy comes and talks to her about a book she wrote with a friend of hers that she thought was destroyed. A book she co-wrote.
She is informed that the book is on Amazon, and this leads into an insult to people who like audiobooks disguised as a joke. Erin looks this up on Amazon, and finds that the book is definitely on Amazon.
Here's a few problems with this scene. The way everything is timed in the scene, Gilbert clicks once for a search and winds up on the product page. That's not how Amazon works. Yes, she could have seen it on the homepage, but the most likely scenario is that she searched it up first. Either way, the reaction should have come before she got to the product page.
Her boss comes into her office to talk about her application for tenure, and instead of alt-tabbing away from the page, opening a new tab, minimizing the window, shutting off the monitor, or outright closing the browser with one fucking click, she turns the monitor away, covers it with papers, etc, etc. Also, for some reason her computer has Internet Explorer pinned to the taskbar. She's not using it, but it's still pinned to the taskbar. Nobody uses Internet Explorer for gods sake, why is it pinned to her taskbar?
Erin goes to talk to her co-writer, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the book at the college she works at. After some searching, she finds her and confronts her about the book. Abby refuses to take the book down and claims she doesn't need Erin's permission to put the book up. This means that either Erin signed away her rights to control over the book, or Abby forged her signature. If the latter is true, which it seems to be, then Abby has committed several federal crimes and deserves to go to jail over this. But if that happened, we wouldn't have a movie to watch. Can't wait for How It Should Have Ended to cover that.
In exchange for getting the book out of circulation, Erin agrees to introduce Abby and her research partner, Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) to the people in charge of the mansion where the ghosts were sighted. For some reason, after she does that, she accompanies them. They encounter a ghost, it spits all over Erin, and she screams about how ghosts are real, and this gets her sacked from her job before she gets tenure. So she decides to go work with Jill and Abby, who also get fired from their jobs because the dean of the college didn't even realize the department still existed. This is actually a pretty funny moment, because the dean is basically telling the leads what I wanted to tell to the movie. To piss right off.
They leave to find a new place to work out of, and they steal the equipment from the college. Pretty sure that counts as grand theft, mishandling nuclear materials, and several other laws they've probably broken. While the original Ghostbusters were using unlicensed nuclear reactors, they weren't actually caught in the act of misappropriating their equipment the way these morons were.
They shop around for a place for them to operate out of, and they find the fire-station the original Ghostbusters were based out of, but as opposed to the original movie, it's in full working order, and the rent is massive on it, so they wind up working out of the top of a Chinese-restaurant. The Chinese restaurant that Abby keeps ordering from despite them screwing up her orders. This is supposed to be a Ghostbusters movie, cut it out with the freaking food jokes!
Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) an MTA worker sees some guy go off into the subway after talking some crazy things and then witnesses a ghost in the subway, so she contacts the three other leads and they go out into the field and test out their "proton laser" on the ghost. It works, but because this whole scenario is from the planet Outlandish, nobody believes them.
Eventually they adopt the Ghostbusters moniker, as well as the same basic look of the iconic team. They head off to one of their first paying jobs at a metal concert that's some kind of tribute to Black Sabbath. This whole segment is telegraphed horribly. When the crazy dude Patty ran into in the subway, Rowan North (Neil Casey) goes to the concert to unleash the ghosts, he runs into a metalhead screaming about "Ozzy!" Keep this in mind, something stupid is about to happen.
The four leads are told that the ghost was assaulting people before it vanished, and that they need to handle this quietly. They search through the building until they find it, with some stupid "jokes" to accompany it. The ghost phases through the stage, interrupting the band, but the crowd thinks it's all part of the show, because the ghost looks like a devil. As it raises up behind the most country-sounding vocalist I have ever seen performing with a fairly decent metal band.
The four leads track the ghost down to the stage. For some moronic reason, Abby crowd-surfs to where she needs to be and Patty tries to do the same thing and falls flat on her back, making a very stupid "joke" in the process.
Eventually they capture their first ghost, and they come to public attention as the Ghostbusters. Then, out of nowhere as the scene is wrapping up, the camera cuts to Ozzy Osbourne walking on stage. John. Michael. Ozzy. Osbourne. The madman. The Prince of Darkness. The Godfather of Metal himself shows up in this movie. Not to perform, not to really do anything. He basically shows up to say "Eh, what's goin' on?!" and then disappears. This is the second movie from Sony that I've seen this year with out of nowhere, out of place Black Sabbath references.
Eventually, a skeptic, Dr. Martin Heiss (Bill motherfucking Murray) calls out the four leads on television because he thinks ghosts are fake. Because Erin is stupid, she releases the ghost and it kills Heiss by throwing him out the window. Nobody is charged with anything over this as far as I can tell.
Let me repeat. This movie somehow managed to get Bill Murray out of his cave and they killed off his character when he had less than one minute of screen-time. If you're thinking this is what the movie thinks of the real Ghostbusters, then stay tuned.
The four leads are taken to see the mayor and some representatives of the federal government who tell them that they're doing a good job, but they need to knock it off because they're getting in the way of the governments operation. I kind of get what they mean, but the government doesn't seem to have the kind of gear that can support ghost-hunting, so why didn't they ask Holtzman to make them the kind of gear to support that? As is shown later on, they don't have the proper equipment, so what the hell was going on?
Despite being told to knock it off, the four keep up their investigation and triangulate the ghost sightings along ley-lines that intersect at a hotel in Times Square. A place where weird things have happened forever.
There they find Rowan in the basement of the hotel, working on a huge machine to summon ghosts with, but rather than be captured, Rowan kills himself. In the aftermath, they find a copy of the book Abby and Erin wrote, with crazy drawings inside of it of things Rowan has seen in his visions.
Erin tries to inform people of this, but Abby gets possessed by Rowan, and attempts to kill Jillian, but Patty stops that from happening and Rowan posses their secretary, Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) and takes off. He unleashes the ghosts, and the army, police and homeland security try to subdue him, but he takes total control of them and stops them from interfering.
The four leads gear up and fight through the ghost army, running into a Staypuft Marshmallow Man balloon possessed by ghosts, which gets popped by a swiss-army knife from Erin, who has been trying to get around the city in a cab. The cab is driven by a ghost-savvy cabbie played by Dan Akroyd, who cannot be anyone but Ray Stantz from the original movie, because he knows way too much about ghosts, and even spouts the old Ghostbusters motto, "I ain't afraid of no ghost".
Eventually, the four of them fight to where Rowan is, and he divests himself of Kevin's body, and after a bit of seriously stupid action, he takes the form of the classic Ghostbusters logo, who then grows like Rita Repulsa's staff got embedded in his spine and busts through the hotel to wreak havoc. The four route their vehicle with a nuclear reactor on top of it into the portal to summon the ghosts back to ghost realm, and then shoot Rowan in the crotch to get him back in the portal. Despite him being a fucking ghost, this works. They then proceed to rip off the climax of Big Hero 6 with Rowan grabbing Abby as he's sucked back into the portal. Erin ties a rope around her waist and jumps in, shoots Rowan in the fist, and hauls Abby out of the portal. They emerge with white hair for some ungodly reason, and for some other ungodly reason, when the ghosts got sucked into the portal, all the destruction they caused was reversed.
The four get told they can basically have what they want in terms of funding for saving the city, so they get the classic fire-station, and new gear, but for some reason they don't have the kind of cash to support replacing their car, the car Patty borrowed from her uncle, played by Ernie Hudson.
Jillian creates a grid to suspend ghosts in, and her mentor, played by Sigourney Weaver (Who seems to be as fed up with this movie as I am) shows up to examine it, and says that it's a disaster waiting to happen, foreshadowing the grid being shut off in the second movie.
Speaking of which, Patty finds a reference to Zuul on a reel-to-reel audio tape, and then the credits roll. The credits of this film play over the dance scene/musical number that wound up getting cut from the final version of the film.
All in all, while it's not operating on the sheer concentrated level of awful everyone expected the movie to be based on the trailers, it's still not worth watching. If you haven't seen the original, watch the original instead. If you have, then watch the original again. Don't waste your time on this movie, there aren't enough jokes to justify the two-hour run-time, and most of what's there would be the weakest jokes in a good movie. While there are some good bits here and there, the good doesn't outweigh the boring, and the good stuff basically has nothing to do with Ghostbusters. The climax, for one thing, is pretty freaking awesome, but it makes no sense in the context of this being a Ghostbusters movie. They smash ghosts into other ghosts, they chip ghosts with a ghost woodchipper, they blow them up with ghost grenades, they punch ghosts with ghost gloves. They actually main and supposedly "kill" ghosts. They shoot ghosts with ghost guns for gods sake. Yeah, the climax is awesome and so is the fight-scene, but that's not Ghostbusters, that's fucking DoomDuke Nukem! Hell, it's way closer to Luigi's Mansion than it is to freaking Ghostbusters!
In fact, most of the new gadgets they introduce to sell more toys about halfway through the movie look like things that were either copied from or directly inspired by Luigi's Mansion. Their main trap is a ghost-vacuum after all. Combine that with the ghost-chipper and what the hell is the point of ever using anything else?
They also have a ghost bear-trap for some reason. With lasers and motors and glowy crap.
Allow me to explain to Paul Feig why bear-traps are so cool. First off, they're made of nothing but hard fucking metal, they don't have any weird things attached to them, they are a very simple device with a singular purpose, to snap shut on a limb and hold it in place. This is why they got used as jump-scares in Resident Evil 4. Second, they snap shut with a lot of fucking weight. When a bear-trap is sprung, the jaws snap shut so fucking fast that nothing that's not Sonic The fucking Hedgehog can conceivably get out of there fast enough to get out unscathed. Leon S. Kennedy is an elite member of The Secret Service in Resident Evil 4, but even he can't get his leg out of the way fast enough for the jaws to not clamp down tight.
This thing is covered in bleepy bloopy bullshit and snaps shut with the weight of a god-damn toy. I've actually owned toys that have more weight to them than this piece of crap does. I'd ask who thought that was a good idea, but I found my answer. The same person who thought proton-grenades, proton-gloves, and proton-pistols were a good idea. The people who wanted to sell more toys. Toys that have been sitting on the shelf, gathering dust and going on clearance across the country before the movie even came out.
Let's make this clear here, the characters all suck. Even the two characters I kinda wanted to like, Jillian and Erin descended into absolute nonsense towards the end. Erin is the meek kind of character I like, but she's not consistent enough with that portrayal for it to entirely click with me. Kristin Wiig seems like she's worn out and disgusted with the movie as a whole, and doesn't want to be on set, but that's not the majority of the reasons the character is inconsistent. The rest comes down to the writing.
Speaking of actors fed up with the movie, Melissa McCarthy seems to be having to actively stop herself from expressing her utter contempt with the movie with every breath, glance and word. If the rumors are to be believed (And considering the movie turned out exactly the way the leaks said they would, that would seem to add to their credibility), McCarthy is a huge Ghostbusters fan, and signed onto the film back when it was supposed to be inspired by the Ghostbusters cartoons. As time went on, it got further and further from the movie she signed on for, and she's become very unhappy with the film if the Midnight's Edge video on the leaks are to be believed.
In fact, a lot of the actors don't seem to be particularly happy with what they're doing. Leslie Jones doesn't seem particularly invested in her role despite her vehement defense of the movie, and basically everyone but Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth.
I'll be blunt, I don't particularly like Chris Hemsworth's character, not because Kevin is dumb, but because the dumb humor isn't executed properly. Hemsworth at least looks like he's having a damn good time just goofing off on set, dancing around, doing zany stuff. If they were a bit more controlled with his characters stupidity, it would be great, but it's not. The dumb humor just goes too far, and it basically means that most of what his character does is either predictable or just dumb. I think the only way his character can really be salvaged is to reveal that he's not as dumb as he acts, either through him secretly being Q, or a Q-type character all along, or him having been acting like that because he thinks that's funny. However, that would require this movie to have a sequel, and I don't want to see a sequel, I just want to see Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, Don Cheadle and Robert Downey Jr as the Ghostbusters in an actual Ghostbusters movie.
This brings us to McKinnon's character, Jillian Holtzmann. If it wasn't for a handful of scenes, and a handful of lines, I would find Holtzmann intoxicatingly hot. Edit out a few of the really stupid things inserted for no discernible reason, such as her dancing to a DeBarge song, the utterly misplaced queef joke at the beginning of the movie, tone down the neo-SNL loudness, her licking her guns and the obviously bleached hair (Keep it natural or go all the way, just pick one) and have a few more scenes of her as the tech/grease monkey and boom, she's perfect. I really liked the way she kicked ass at the end of the movie, but again, that's utterly out of place in something that's not an old-school FPS. Her character has a few of the funnier lines in the movie, and I'll say this, McKinnon at least seems to be getting into her role.
Apparently Paul Feig wanted her character to be a lesbian, but got shot down by the studio. I have to say that this was actually a pretty good thing, because then she'd basically just be the stereotypical butch grease-monkey, and wouldn't be as unique a character. Not that she's particularly unique as is, she's basically a copy and paste of Charley from Biker Mice From Mars, but without the common sense to not lick a piece of dangerous equipment.
Now we come to Leslie Jones. Her character is basically a bad Madea impression. A Madea impression written by someone who completely missed the point of the character. Plus other wacky stereotypically black antics and dialogue written by someone who took a look at Eddie Murphy's career and missed the point harder than a drunk, blindfolded Stormtrooper. A bit of the tiny amount of energy this movie has is brought across by Jones, who I will give some credit to for that, but aside from a handful of scenes, she looks as irritated with this movie as everyone else in the film.
A quick addendum before we get to the rest of the article. This is something I meant to put into the original draft, but didn't. It was 4AM when I finished up, and I was incredibly tired, so cut me a bit of slack.
The scientific lingo is all wrong. They use "theory" in place of hypothesis like they didn't have a science consultant on the team, they use technobabble in place of actual scientific terminology even when they could conceivably be using actual science. Or they could be using actual science, it's not like anyone could tell underneath all of that smugness.
Then we've got the fact that Paul Feig and Sony alike seem to be oblivious as to what is trendy in technology. McCarthy's character has a cell-phone helmet that looks like something stolen from Doc Brown's workshop circa 1985. She says it's the future, but she seems to have completely ignored Google Glass, which is smaller than that and has more functions, or pretty much any of the other tech we've got today. We don't like wearables that are clunky and make you look like a dork. That's why smartphones have been getting smaller and lighter as time has gone on. Sony makes technology, they should know better! Then again, they put out the PlayStation 4 with outdated tech inside, so maybe they're out of touch with the tech industry these days.
Back to the originally published article!
One of the biggest issues with the movie aside from the writing is the effects. The ghosts seem like they were ripped from Haunted Mansion, and are only one step above being ripped from Luigi's Mansion. None of the ghosts seem otherworldly enough to actually be there in the scene with the actors. This is to say nothing of the CGI ckyline they use, which looks utterly horrendous. They had a really good CGI skyline in The Amazing Spider-Man movies, why didn't they just delete Oscorp tower and re-use that?
Speaking of the city, something which bugged me throughout was the fact that nothing really screamed "New York" about the scenery in this movie to me. I couldn't really put my finger on this until the credits, when they revealed that the bulk of the movie had been shot in Boston and Australia, with a handful of scenes filmed in Triebca and near Columbia University. Then it really clicked with me. That was the main thing that wasn't sitting well with me, the movie had no New York identity despite being set in the city. This is opposed to the original movie, which is very New York in feel, and in look. Sony has made movies with that New York feel in the past, even when they don't actually have all that much actual New York in them, so what was the problem here?
Another fairly major issue, and a complaint that Paul Feig and I share, is that they cut the dance-number from the movie, although I have a feeling we have different reasons. The original script and directors cut have Rowan in the body of Kevin forcing the police and soldiers who have gathered to stop him to partake in a choreographed synchronized dance-number. See, while it sounds kind of stupid on paper, it's a testament to the power and credibility of the villain if he can control a bunch of people like that. It's also a really casual way for the filmmakers to show off what the villain can do. Plus, it really seemed like that was where the whole scene was going, and if I were a villain powerful enough to do something like that, the first thing I would do is march out the president, secret-service and cabinet out onto the Whitehouse lawn and perform Thriller, because I think that would be funny.
While some of the issues stem from casting issues, the majority of the "jokes" in this movie, much less the writing couldn't have been saved by anyone. Not the original cast, not a better cast than this one, not anyone. Emma Stone was approached for this movie and rightfully declined considering the last franchise Sony roped her into. If you changed McCarthy out for her, and stuck Freema Agyeman in Leslie Jones' place, without changing anything? The initial appeal would go up, but it still would have suffered from those trailers, and the movie itself wouldn't have been any better aside from having two prettier actresses in it. Change the cast to all men? Change out the female-centric jokes for male-centric ones? Make Leonardo diCaprio the lead actor and populate the rest of the cast with Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Morgan Freeman? Still can't be salvaged. The issues with this movie lie in the direction and writing, not in the cast.
Speaking of which, this brings us to said director and writer, Paul Feig. Feig is well on record that he thinks that men aren't funny. I think this movie has gone a long way to proving him right, because his direction, coupled with his writing (Katie Dippold worked on the script too, but I detect a bit more of Feig's writing throughout the movie than hers) is some of the worst "comedy" writing I've seen in fucking years. I'm having a hard time telling if the writing on this is worse than the writing in The Angry Birds Movie. They're both very similar, but I think the writing in this movie takes it by a short margin, because it had to live up to the standard set by the last two movies and every other piece of tie-in material from the last thirty years, and they failed, while The Angry Birds Movie just tried to rip off everything under the sun. Then again, the latter film was packed full of memes nicked shamelessly from the internet. On the other hand, this film is full of delivery, direction, jokes, and lines copied straight from various internet comedy series. In fact, I reckon Paul Feig thinks he's an internet comedian. He seems just out of touch enough to think he can pull off the same kind of jokes that work in a rudimentary indie production in a polished Hollywood setting without realizing he's not talented enough to pull much of that off. Paul Feig ain't LittleKuriboh or KaiserNeko, and none of his cast comes anywhere close to the kind of talent Nowacking, Takahata101, Lanipator or Antfish or any collaborator of TeamFourStar's have in pulling off that kind of humor.
Speaking of LittleKuriboh, I will say this, he's absolutely, the movie isn't really worth the half the backlash it got. While you can tell the movie is trying to insult the fans and is trying to insult the haters, it wasn't nearly bad enough for any of that to irritate me. Even knowing that certain scenes were re-shot to incorporate jabs at the internet for the backlash, they don't really come across as nearly as malicious as I expected them to be. That's not to say that the movie has any right to exist, even if the original Ghostbusters had never been made, this movie would have no right to exist. The "jokes" aren't funny, the movie is paced horribly, and it's written like a modern-day SNL skit, and we all know how bad that show is these days.
Despite this film having utterly tanked at the box-office (Paul Feig is on record having said that the movie would need to make north of five-hundred million to actually make money) they've greenlit a sequel for some reason, when they refused to make The Amazing Spider-Man 3 despite TASM2 doing incredibly well at the box-office. Better than X3: The Last Stand did in fact, and Fox hasn't stopped making X-Men movies!
Sony Pictures seems to have a problem with management. They want to reign in Adam Sandler, but they don't. They need to reign in Paul Feig, but they don't. They shouldn't reign in Mark Webb and Sam Raimi, and they do. It's weird.
Not only do they have issues with management, they also have issues with security. Sony has a history of movies leaking out well in advance of their theatrical releases. DVD and Blu-Ray leaks no less. I have it on good authority that the directors cut of the film leaked out on DVD and has been circulating New York City in the form of bootlegs for a good week before the movie came out, and a quick look at The Pirate Bay shows us Blu-Ray and DVD rips of the movie out a good week and a half or so prior to release. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had cam-rips and DVD-rips circulating before the movie had come out as well. This, coupled with the various PSN hacks, plus all of the credible leaks we've seen out of Sony makes me wonder why anyone trusts the company to keep any secrets at all when the idea of "security" seems to be a suggestion more than a rule.
And now, because I seem to have forgotten to leave any space elsewhere in the review to talk about the music, I'm going to address it now. There are a good seven remixes of the classic Ghostbusters theme-song in the movie, ranging from little ditties played on piano, to an orchestral remix that plays during the climax, to an oriental remix, to the infamous Fall Out Boy cover featuring Missy Elliot, to the other four or so remixes listed in and playing during the credits including one by Walk The Moon of all groups! Sony got possibly the hottest eighties throwback group in existence right now and instead of letting their version of the song play during the film, you relegate it to the credits and let the Fall Out Boy version play during the movie?
In case you were wondering, the original version of the song plays for less than a minute early on in the movie during the title-sequence. That's right, Ray Parker Jr.'s original version of the song is barely in this movie. Thankfully, the FOB/Elliot version has a short runtime too, but not short enough.
This brings me to a point I want to make. It's been thirty years since the original movie, and there have been covers up and down the world ever since then, loads of which have been just as good as the original. Why couldn't they have just gotten someone who did a good cover into the main bulk of the movie? Hell, they had Walk The Moon performing the theme-song! Why did they need six other remixes on the soundtrack?!
This seems to sum up all of the problems with the movie, they had a few good ideas, but decided to go way too far and things turned belly-up. Is there a way to salvage a sequel? Yeah. Fire Paul Feig, kick Amy Pascal to the curb and let someone like Joss Whedon handle the movie. Or better yet, turn it back over to Reitman and let him make Ghostbusters III. In the end, I give this movie a 0.9*. I'll see you guys next week with Star Trek: Beyond!

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