It's finally here. After the better part of a year discussing every morsel of news in great detail, Paul Feig's rejuvenation of the Ghostbusters franchise is now in theaters around the world.
I'm no critic, I'm a lover of film. And obviously as this is a Ghostbusters fansite, posting a review would have an incredible bias against it. But if you're looking for my thoughts and in-depth analysis, stay tuned to future episodes of our podcast the Interdimensional Crossrip, where we'll be discussing at great length. But being that this is the first live-action Ghostbusters film hitting theaters since 1989, I can't help myself. After the first viewing, here are some of my thoughts.
It goes without saying that spoilers are present throughout the below. Proceed at your own risk.
This film is a love-letter not just to Ghostbusters and all of the characters and situations that accompany it, but also a love-letter to films from the 1980s in general. While the film didn't receive that great of critical acclaim, I felt the same way about Ghostbusters after watching Kevin Smith's Cop Out, a film that was a perfect 80s movie (the latter being a throwback to the R-rated buddy cop comedies that were made by the dozen in the mid to late 80s) made with modern technology. The same holds true to Paul Feig's Ghostbusters. It's a movie of the 80s, made with all the bells and whistles and style of 2016. It's fun. It plays absurd situations with absolute sincerity and without the snarky cynicism that seems to be the modern status quo. There's a playfulness to the film from the opening frames featuring The Office and Silicon Valley's Zach Woods all the way through the closing credits. In a world where darker and grittier is often perceived as being better, I'm glad that this film didn't follow in that current trend's footsteps.
Like many films of the 80s, it's not perfect. There are a few holes here and there, but nothing that's not easily overlooked in the moment of watching the film. After my first viewing, the third act of the film seems like it was stitched together after several omits where you do get a sense that you're glossing over something that was previously there. You know what really would have helped and have been "so totally 80s" that it would have been perfect? A montage in the middle of the film showing the four Ghostbusters honing in their skills, gaining more and more notoriety, and Rowan breaking the barrier more and more. Just a little bit of a slide from point A to point B would have gone a long way (and would have been a great throwback to the oft-used device). Substance takes a backseat to style in the closing moments of the film, which isn't necessarily a new thing to the Ghostbusters filmed franchise (or the cartoons for that matter). But the end result is so satisfying and fun to watch that you don't really mind.
Tonally, aesthetically, and vocally you can tell that the film took a great deal of care in making sure that every detail was right for the property. The casting is spot-on, the sets and costumes completely and totally on-point, from the minute the theater darkens to the minute those house lights go back up there is no doubt that this is Ghostbusters.
As many have said and as I'm sure was completely intentional, the four lead characters are most definitely not the same archetypes as Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddemore. Instead, characters are all their own, not fitting into the standard "brain," "mouth," "heart," "everyman" qualities.
Interestingly enough, our main POV throughout the film seems to be through Kristen Wiig's character Erin Gilbert. She incites the adventure at the beginning of the film by receiving a tip about the haunted Aldridge Mansion. Gilbert is a scientific genius, but a little socially awkward. Her sense of dress and style at the beginning of the film is a point of contention with her overbearing senior played by the always effectively menacing Charles Dance. Gilbert's arc is fun to watch as she goes from a wound tight professor concerned about obtaining her tenure and maintaining a level of professionalism (wanting to call their new business venture the Conductors of the Metaphysical rather than something childish like Ghostbusters). Toward the end of the film, she's confident, has a new sense of style and self-confidence, and embraces being a hero.
From the first leaked photography on set, the fans loved Holtzmann. And rightly so. As expected, she's the stand out character of the new film and when all is said and done, is the most unique and previously unseen. She's one part mad scientist, one part whimsical child, with reckless but astounding results. if Egon Spengler was the New Age Spock, it seems that Jillian Holtzmann is the Millennial Doc Brown. A character like this can easily be overplayed to a point where its taxing on the audience and completely unmotivated (ala Lex Luthor in the recent Batman v. Superman) but Kate McKinnon handles the role with grace and ease. She sells over-the-top lines like, "Look over there - THE EYES!" evenhandedly, even throwing in television announcer references and quotations reminiscent of Stephen Furst's character in The Dream Team, leading you to believe that everything is an elaborate alternate universe of her own. She flirts with Erin Gilbert, but then again she flirts with Matt Walsh's heavy Homeland Security character as well. She's unpredictable and incredibly memorable.
Once again, Melissa McCarthy defies a stereotype and overcomes preconceived notions of the characters that she plays. People who dismissed her character in The Heat as an oafish slob that rested on the laurels of "fat jokes" were completely wrong about the hard-ass, super cop character that she actually played. But here, Yates is sharp, incredibly enthusiastic about her work, and if any of the characters could draw lines of connection to their predecessors, she does feel like the most "Ray Stantz" of the group. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Her exasperation when her soup arrives sans wontons understandable. The subtext between the rift that grew between her and Gilbert makes a lot of sense as one character continued to remain the same, while the other decided to "become an adult" and suppress her childlike wonder. If there's a new heart of the Ghostbusters, it seems to be Yates.
Leslie Jones' character takes on the role of Winston of sorts, being the every day average civilian brought into the extreme circumstances. She says things that the audience is absolutely thinking, turning a corner to see mannequins in storage and exclaiming, "Well that's a room full of nightmares." Jones' extroverted and "loud" nature seems to always take center stage in describing her character, as if people were relegating Sam Kinison to just being "that guy who's loud and screams a lot." While both of those statements may be true, it's really in Jones' comedic subtleties that she shines. Grumbles under her breath and asides provide some of the biggest laughs from Tolan.
The film is packed with drop-ins and cameos of some of comedies biggest names. True to form there are a lot of surprise cameos that I won't spoil in this review but it's really Chris Hemsworth's well-meaning but dumb as a box of rocks Kevin that takes center stage. Faced with the difficult role of making such a deplorable klutz of a human likeable, much like Rick Moranis' brilliant Louis Tully, you understand why the characters take Kevin under their wing. His lack of intelligence or competence is completely unforgivable. But his charm and his aloofness make him endearing. Andy Garcia and Cecily Strong as the government officials pull a complete 180 of William Atherton's Walter Peck, rather than playing the role of antagonists, they show that the government means well and wants to help but has their hands tied by public perception. It's an interesting spin on politics and our view upon government now versus back in the 1980s.
DESIGN AND VISUAL EFFECTS
One of the prevailing critical statements against the first handful of trailers for the new Ghostbusters was that it looked like the computer generated effects had taken over completely - but the blend between the practical and the digital is so fantastic, that much like ILM and Stan Winston's brilliant Iron Man suit effects, you have a tough time telling where the practical ends and the digital begins. Actors in harnesses wore interactive glowing lighting effects and were filmed practically, then supplemented by the digital artists in post-production to great effect. The third act is a marvel of design with so much happening in the frame but a very easy to follow focal point. Where most films that have brilliantly elaborate animated effects throw everything and the kitchen sink into a frame to a point that it's complete indecipherable chaos, Ghostbusters makes sure that you're following the plot, never losing sight of the focus in the frame.
Much of that might be attributed to the cinematography of Robert Yeoman, whom I continue to adore. Where he builds entire worlds for Wes Anderson (and yes, made me fall in love with the landscapes of California in The Wizard), Yeoman's cinematography embraces that this is a big, high-concept comedy and really plays with brilliant highlights and saturated colors. Pops of color everywhere (yellow curtains in the Higgins lab, ethereal green glows in the Mercado) go a long way, a testament to the production design of Jefferson Sage as well. The surprise appearance of a familiar firehouse in various forms shows that a meticulous recreation of the Firehouse 23 was recreated on a soundstage in Boston to great effect.
Blending of genres often proves a difficult challenge for composers, note how Elmer Bernstein handled the first film versus how Randy Edelman handled the 1989 film. Bouncy and light is tough to blend seamlessly with the creepy and macabre. Luckily Theodore Shaprio's score is absolutely brilliant, kicking things off with a throwback "scary music" homage to Elmer Bernstein that also sounds so in tone with the Ghostbusters universe that fans have both compared it to the animated The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters, showing just how on-point it is. Choral elements and chanting really accentuate some of the darker operatic moments of the film, while a Theramin and even rattling chains are used to be unsettling spooky effects. A stand-out among the score is the use of Ray Parker Jr.'s hook on the Ghostbusters theme song as a slowly building hero theme that debuts the moment the team sees their first ghost and turns into a full-on robust theme in the third act at the height of one of the most heroic moments.
Interestingly, given the heavy-hitters on the pop soundtrack - all of the needle-drop in the film for the most part is used as source music, with only the Fall Out Boy collaboration and Ray Parker Jr.'s original theme song being presented front and center. If you're waiting for a "Saving the Day" moment where the pop album takes over to the visuals, it won't be happening as the film rests on Shaprio's amazing score. Curiously, the stand-out song in the film, No Small Children's rocking version of the theme is absent from the US release on iTunes and on CD releases of the soundtrack. Hopefully it will be available as a single soon.
If I were to run into Paul Feig, Katie Dippold, Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd or heck, any of the cast and crew that worked their tails off on this film and on top of having the challenge of completing a very difficult and elaborate film had to deal with the scrutiny, almost pressure-cooker-like atmosphere that quickly surrounded it - I'd have to give each and every one of them a giant hug and thank them from the bottom of my heart. This film could have easily been a soulless, heartless, cynical shell with intellectual property stamped on top of it, but it isn't. It's obvious that everyone involved was well-versed in the source material, understands what made it work so well, and embraces each and every aspect. For the reasons that I don't think I enjoyed certain other big IP films because they exhibited a fundamental lack of understanding of the world, the constraints and perimeters of the storytelling, and the characters and voices that must inhabit the property - Ghostbusters excels. The heart and the soul that made the first two films fun, make you smile, make you laugh, and just all-around get you excited about a fantastical world that's just out of reach are all present here.
It's a shame that it's taken so long for this film to happen, because it's a love-letter to the hard work of those that came before, I know there are several people that are no longer with us that would have loved to have seen it. And I know that after all of the struggle, after all of the red tape, after the huge mountain it took to climb to get a property like Ghostbusters back on the silver screen, they'd share the same sentiment that I do right now...
The future is bright for the Ghostbusters franchise. And this movie is to thank.