Away From The Hype: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)
In a new series, Sean Fallon takes a fresh look at films that attracted controversy and excess hype during their initial release to see if they hold up today. First up: Paul Feig's all-female remake of Ghostbusters.
Sometimes, a movie is released and the hype/controversy surrounding it are too much for the movie to get out from under. Sometimes this means we sit down in the cinema with expectations and preconceived notions that we can’t escape. Away from the Hype is an ongoing series looking at some of these movies years away from their initial release to see if, without all of the window dressing of hype, expectation, and controversy, the movies are actually any good or not.
I Ain’t Afraid of no Backlash
When Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters was first announced, it was immediately declared to be an outrage by certain corners of the internet. They announced in loud voices that it was feminism gone mad or the work of social justice warriors who were determined to undermine our childhoods by rebooting a classic with an all-female cast. Alas, this uproar did not die down once the movie went into production or when the marketing began. The first trailer became the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube history, and the comments below it are a real lesson in how to be a piece of shit on the internet.
It became impossible to talk about the movie on social media without some complete stranger chiming in to tell you how either the movie’s existence was the work of women to replace men in all fields or that it had nothing to do with women, it was just that the dissenter had remake/reboot fatigue. Intriguingly with that second point, pretty much every other remake/reboot that got announced after Ghostbusters (with the exception of Ocean’s 8) did not face the same backlash. What a weird coincidence.
It is probably apparent where I fell during this time. I thought an all-female reboot of Ghostbusters was a great idea. Paul Feig and Katie Dippold are excellent filmmakers and the cast (Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristin Wiig, and Leslie Jones) are some of the funniest comedians working today. Also, I think MRAs are trash, so I tend to find anything they hate is something I love. Which brings me to the point of this article. When my wife and I went to see Ghostbusters, I was pretty much determined to love it. I honestly felt as though if I didn’t like the movie I was just going to add fuel to the hatred fire stoked by fools who believe that if a women-led Ghostbusters succeeds then all other movies will be erased and remade with female casts. To my relief I absolutely loved it, and afterwards, my wife and I walked home raving about it.
However, I haven’t watched it since that night, which is not a disparagement to the film. I very rarely find myself these days revisiting a movie unless a review calls for it or it is something so good that I need another fix of it like a junkie needing to score. With that in mind, I sat down to watch Ghostbusters away from the controversy and the bullshit of its initial release to see if it was still as awesome as on my first viewing.
Watching it again, I have to say that I still love this movie, but now it is with some caveats.
It still made me laugh, I still love and adore Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, and I still think it is fun as all hell. However, with my second watch, I did notice that it is not without a few quite glaring faults. It suffers a bit from some haphazard editing, so some scenes seem to be cutting away before they’ve even started, and the first hour is hampered by needing to be an origin story for a story we’ve already seen. This means that as the characters discover each aspect of the iconic Ghostbuster identity: the photon packs, the car, the uniforms, the logo, the name – it feels like fan service rather than plot progression.
This fan service extends to the cameos from the surviving cast, which feel quite jarring. This is mostly because there is a feeling that these appearances are meant to placate haters by showing that the original Ghostbusters cast gave their blessing to this new iteration. However, they grind the movie to a halt rather than coming across as organic and fun movie moments (though I did get a kick out of Dan Ackroyd’s moment, which made me chuckle on both watches even if it is actually the most egregiously on the nose of the cameos).
Outside of the fan service and editing, the movie would be improved with a stronger villain, perhaps even a female villain, as the toxic white male character played by Neal Casey is, by definition, pathetic and struggles to pose an actual threat. Casey does play an unhinged man very well, but the plot kills him off during his first interaction with the team, so most of his contact with the Ghostbusters comes from when he inhabits other people. This does lead to excellent scenes with Melissa McCarthy playing him as a dead-eyed psychopath and later Chris Hemsworth as a small chubby man suddenly excited to be Thor, but we’re left with a half-sketched villain whose motivations aren’t a hundred percent clear.
Those issues aside, it is nice to watch something that is having a whole heap of fun and bringing you along with it. It looks as though the cast, especially Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth, are having a whale of a time improvising and messing around, and it’s infectious. The movie also finds its feet around the halfway mark and becomes something a lot less reliant upon familiar images and symbols, and it begins to carve out its own identity. Once the Ghostbusters are established and the villain’s plot revealed, the movie can relax and tell a story rather than having to assure fans (and fanboys) that they know who and what the Ghostbusters are. The final set-pieces with the ghost balloons, the appearance of the glory days of New York City, and McKinnon going into full slay mode are brilliant, fun, and inventive. Feig shows that he’s got the chops for staging CGI in a cool and visually appealing way without losing track of his characters and managing to maintain a steady stream of comedic moments.
Overall, I still thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would recommend it to others. I could see while watching it this time that a lot of the faults that were there all along were overlooked on my first viewing, but they weren’t enough to derail the whole thing for me. It is not very often we get to see a female-led movie that eschews the usual clichés and dispenses with love interests, bickering and competition between the women, and pointless displays of skin. Instead, we get four characters that feel realised and interesting who are taking care of business by themselves by being both the brains and brawn, while looking after each other and having a great time. It is depressing to me that there are so few genre movies like this, especially when this one is such a blast.
Final Thoughts: Ghostbusters (2016)
The above negatives – the fan service, the origin story fatigue, the need for a more engaging villain – are the classic pitfalls of these kinds of franchise starters. Most of the MCU has suffered from similar setbacks with their first movies, where the villain is simply a means to get a character from a normal person to a super person over the course of two hours while hitting a lot of the same story beats each time. It is such a shame that a movie didn’t get a chance to prove itself with a more confident first outing. If the movie had the same self-assurance in its first hour that it did in its second, then maybe we would have seen a Ghostbusters 2.
However, it definitely seemed as though the director, writer, and cast were pretty fed up with the backlash from morons after months and months of the same blog posts, abusive Twitter feuds, and long-winded YouTube jackasses declaring Ghostbusters to be the death of cinema at the hands of rampant feminism, so they probably welcomed walking away from that.
Who knows what happens next. I’m not sure if there are people who are still sitting on the Ghostbusters hashtag or have set a Google alert for any new reviews, so I’m not sure if I’ll start getting the kind of abuse I’ve seen other people get for writing articles and reviews about this movie in the buildup to and after its release. If you have read this and your first instinct is to write an abusive or snide comment, take a deep breath, count to 90, and if you still feel as though it’s worth your time to do it, then go for broke, after all it’s your time you’re wasting, not mine.
What other movies do you feel had their release eclipsed by hype and drama? Let me know in the comments below, and we’ll include them in a future article in this series.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.