Sunday, 17 July 2016

Film Review - 'Ghostbusters'

Since the moment that it was first announced, it seems as though the reboot of Ghostbusters has been the target of a truly impressive amount of anger from people who simply don't want it to exist. Whatever the reasons for this may have been (and, they really aren't worth going into, here), they all seemed to be variations of the same basic theme – that a reboot of a film like Ghostbusters was destined to be terrible.

So, let's just get this out of the way, up-front. The reboot of Ghostbusters doesn't measure up to the original – even as someone who didn't share any of the anger directed at this film, I have to admit that. If I'm being honest, I would probably put it on roughly the same level as the original's less impressive sequel (you know – the one that Bill Murray hated so much that he's been dragging his feet about doing another, ever since). In that sense, the people who were against this film, from the start, were right.

But, that doesn't mean that it's the complete failure that many seemed to expect, or want, it to be. There is, after all, still a fair bit of middle-ground between a film that truly matches the originals, and one that is utterly terrible – and, in the end, that is where Ghostbusters falls. As Bill Murray once said, though he was talking about Ghostbusters II at the time, "it's got some moves".

Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert (Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig) are life-long friends who were, once, entirely convinced in the existence of the paranormal. Since that time, though, the two have had a falling out – and, now, Erin has abandoned paranormal research in favour of a more respectable career. Abby, meanwhile, has pressed on, alone – eventually teaming up with eccentric genius, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).

When Erin is contacted by the owner of a museum who has managed to get hold of a copy of the book that the former friends wrote together, though, the three are thrown together as they find themselves investigating a very real haunting. Later, too, they are thrown together on a much more premenant basis, when the results of this attempt to prove the existence of the paranormal leads directly to all three women losing their jobs.

As they attempt to set themselves up as respectable paranormal investigators, they are soon contacted by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who has had an encounter of her own in the New York subway. From there, the newly formed team of 'Ghostbusters' are rounded out by Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) – who is hired as the team's receptionist.

As the team continues with their efforts to prove the existence of ghosts, by capturing one in one of Holtzmann's outlandish contraptions, they become aware of the fact someone else seems to be using similar technology to deliberately provoke violent paranormal activity, for reasons of their own.

Ghostbusters isn't going to change the minds of anyone who was aggressively opposed to the idea of a reboot – it simply isn't a good enough film to be capable of that. Despite it's best efforts, for example, Ghostbusters just isn't as funny as it clearly intended to be. Those moments of awkward, and forced, 'humour' which made such a poor impression in either of the film's trailers (such as the 'crowd surfing' scene, for example) really don't work any better in context.

As someone who just isn't a fan of this sort 'slap-stick' physical comedy, I found myself cringing a little whenever a moment such as this began to play out, on-screen. Worse than that, though, was the fact that these moments of forced 'comedy' often seemed to come at the expense of what could have, otherwise, been a genuinely great scene. I really didn't appreciate, for example, the way in which the film's first proper appearance from a ghost was ruined by sudden projectile vomiting. I hated that moment in the trailer, and I hated it just as much in the film.

The film also seems to have some fairly significant pacing and structure issues, as it seems intent on simply rushing through its various plot-points. One moment, for example, the team is still struggling to come together – then, after a couple of encounters with ghosts, they are suddenly confronted by a threat to the entire city, and respond with the effectiveness of a team of action heroes. Whether it was due to the script, or the way that the film was edited, the constant impression I had was that everything was happening much too fast – and, as a result, none of the team's progress and development throughout the film really felt earned. The rushed quality of the film, as a whole, became even more painfully apparent as we reached the film's climax – as the rapid pacing of the action sequences in the film's final act left me feeling as though the whole confrontation was a little too easy to resolve.

Arguably the weakest element of the film, though, would have to be its villain, Rowen (Neil Casey), and his poorly developed plan to unleash an army of ghosts on the city. Now, I have to admit that I just don't know what the thought process would have been in creating a character like Rowen, and in deciding to place him at the centre of the action – but, he quickly became another element of the film that just didn't work for me. As an obsessive, and eccentric, loner who just seems to hate the world, and everyone in it, Rowen as a frustratingly underwhelming villain – and, one who never seemed to pose any genuine threat to the team (although, I did get some amusement from the thought that he was intended as a bit of a comment on those 'fans' who have been aggressively negative about the film since the moment it was announced). He did, admittedly, become much more entertaining in the film's final act (for reasons that I wont reveal, here) – but, due to the pacing issues I've already mentioned, he still wasn't able to make a stronger impression.

While the film does have its share of issues, it should be pointed out that they don't include either the casting, or the quality of the performances. In fact, it would probably be fair to say that it is entirely due to the film's cast that Ghostbusters succeeds, at all. While the moments of 'slap-stick' comedy didn't work, for me, there were still moments where the film was genuinely funny – mostly as a direct result of the quieter moments of banter shared between the cast.

Abby and Erin, for example, quickly settle in to a bickering, yet still somewhat respectful, relationship that I found entertaining – and, which is well played by both Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. Holtzmann quickly establishes herself as being entertainingly eccentric – and, may be directly responsible for many of the film's most successful moments of humour. She is played in such an over-the-top, and affected, manner that it could have easily become grating – but, Kate McKinnon manages to pull it off. Leslie Jones, meanwhile, seems to be saddled with some of the film's weakest moments of forced humour – but, beyond those moments, she plays her role with the same feeling of genuine enthusiasm as the rest of the cast. As the team's dim-witted receptionist, meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth's role in the film was clearly something of a one-note joke (as well as a logical extension of the film's 'gender swapping' gimmick) – but, it is one that is well-played, and often genuinely amusing.

Ghostbusters is also, more often than not, a genuinely great looking film. Sure, some might find the film's use of CGI to be a little too garish, and cartoonish – but, for me, it fit with the style and tone of not just what this film was going for, but the original films, as well. Whenever they were on-screen, the various ghosts all looked great – and, there were some examples (such as the weird and genuinely creepy 'conductor' ghost in the film's final act) that I genuinely wish could have featured more heavily.

So, in the end, Ghostbusters wasn't really as good as it wanted, or needed, to be – and, it certainly isn't going to silence those who were critical of its existence, from the start. There are pacing and structure issues, the humour is somewhat 'hit or miss', and the villain at the heart of it all is underwhelming. But, it is still a film built around some genuinely great performances from a talented, and entirely committed, cast. Given the direction some of the more vehement criticism has taken, over the past few months, it actually feels somewhat fitting to be able to say that the film's cast is actually its best feature.

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