It don't look good.
Warning: This review discusses aspects of the plot. You’re strongly advised not to see this title so these spoilers won’t matter.
The Ooh Tray had not intended to review Paul Feig’s remake of Ghostbusters but the editor, David Frames, watching this critic sit at a blank screen and a flashing cursor insisted, saying ‘type something would you, we’re paying for this stuff’. Yes, that’s just the first of many egregious references to the 1984 original, in keeping with writer Katie Dippold and Feig’s starting point for their unnecessary and markedly inferior karaoke version.
Though J.J Abrams disguised Star Wars remake, The Force Awakens, did it better, and with far greater reverence for the tone of the movie it was attempting to capture, the new Ghostbusters leaves us with the same question. Why, when a film is so well known and so indelibly etched into the annals of popular culture, would the cultural vandals who insist on a reboot trade on that knowledge, rather than trying to do something new? Fan service is laziness, but it’s also a cover for lack of invention. Feig may think we want conspicuous nods to Ivan Reitman’s movie, even scenes that trade on that familiarity to play with expectations, but it’s a fool’s strategy; it reminds us of the superior film we wish we were watching instead.
Ghostbusters 2016 makes you feel like the floor of a taxi cab. It makes you want to ape the words of Walter Peck and shout, “shut it off!” If a Twinkie represents a normal bad movie, then Feig’s would be a Twinkie…thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds. Enough, you get the point.
The worst thing about Feig’s movie is that its failings were foreseeable and, like most modern tragedies, foreseen, which begs the question, why wasn’t the film made differently? As documented by The Ooh Tray, and no doubt elsewhere, modern mainstream American film comedy is in the grip of a downturn that makes the 2008 financial crash look like an ATM malfunction.
We’ve talked about the problem with reference to Dippold’s The Heat, Tina Fey’s Sisters, and Feig’s own Spy, in which the Ghostbusters disaster was heavily trailed; movies in which wit and grounded comedy, of the type once popular when an audience was thought to have the nous to appreciate it, has been substituted for pratfalls, hyperactivity and knowing stupidity, or nomedy, with self-aware (and therefore trying characters) plying their shtick in a heightened comedic universe. If you want to understand how filmmakers’ attitudes to audiences have changed since 1984, watch the two versions of Ghostbusters side by side. Reitman’s movie is a high-concept comic fantasy in which oddballs and cynics collide with the real world, with all the outré goodness that comes from the tension between the weird and the ordinary, while Feig’s is a live action cartoon that tries to make you laugh with silliness, mugging and camp. Reitman’s movie is witty and intelligent, not to mention coherent and well-paced. Feig’s is broad and flamboyant schlock.
Of course the pre-movie controversy was idiotically about the casting of four female leads, presumably because fans of the original so closely identify with Reitman’s male quartet. But the so-called “haters” were wrong to fear the women. They should have feared the sensibility of the director. If the 1984 film was the supernatural spectacular, the remake’s the movie that spectacularly misunderstands the original’s appeal. Feig thinks that jokes about flatulent vaginas are funny, or characters so stupid that they keep their glasses clean by jettisoning the lenses, or, fuck me, Slimer having a disgusting blob girlfriend with blonde hair and lipstick. But that tells you the extent to which, though the basic plot and iconography of the original has been copied, the joyous deadpan and matter-of-fact sci-fi has not. Feig, of course, was under no obligation to take the approach of Reitman, Ramis and Aykroyd, but there’s a reason their film has endured for 32 years – it’s perfectly judged. The arrogance of a filmmaker who thinks, “I can improve on this by stripping the intelligence out of it” is breathtaking. If the aim was not to improve on the original, why do it?
The women are fine. It’s the script that’s weak, all surface, nonsensical – all the shit the misogynists usually stick on the girls.
Feig’s movie shares no DNA with the grounded comedy of the original, camping it up from the outset. Our new heroes battle their own logo, in one of many ‘having decided not to invent anything new, we’re stuck with certain elements, how can we do new things with them?’ moments. They shoot it in the genitals. Katie Dippold has a thing for shooting male, or presumed male characters in the dick. She wrote a similar scene in The Heat. In an inverse blockbuster misandry’s the new misogyny. Ghostbusters 2016 features a villain so underwritten that he explains both his plan and his motivation to himself in front of a fucking mirror (I suppose integrating these things into the story is a real pain) and sketches his scheme in comic book form for the benefit of any heroes who may need to know it later. We’re asked to believe he built a storage facility in the basement of a major New York hotel while working as a porter, showing greater scientific aptitude than McKinnon’s physicist who’s failed to engineer the same technology (but has invented proton packs and traps), and all without being noticed.
All of which needn’t break your heart if you’re the kind of undemanding doe-eyed viewer with a double digit IQ that Feig, and more importantly Sony, hope will revive a dormant brand and launch a new franchise. As a modern franchise movie it’s all preamble – the Ghostbusters only becoming the fully realised same at the end, rather than 40 mins in, as in the original. A movie in its own right? That would just be burning up future revenue. Still, the man sitting next to me enjoyed it, but he looked like the kind of chap who’d given up T.V for videos of people being injured on YouTube; the sort of man who’d urinate in his own sink.
The sad, dehumanising cameos from the original cast might be too much for your ol’ pump though. Bill Murray, who wouldn’t make Ghostbusters 3 on quality control grounds, would make an excruciating and unfunny appearance in this piece of shit – though perhaps just to underline, once and forever, the superiority of the original; a warning that these things shouldn’t be touched. You always wondered why Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis inserted a clause into their Back to the Future contract that vetoed any remake in their lifetime. Now you know. After this, you may want to write to them and restate your thanks.
Still, it’s done. This pop culture touchstone is sullied. Ghostbusters II is redeemed. The fanboys rallied against the project and it turns out, despite this movie’s in-story attempts at mocking them, those fuckers were onto something. In the words of the late, great Harold Ramis, who understood the weight and tenor of a comic line, and to whom this film is brazenly dedicated, “this looks extraordinarily bad.” So it did. So it is.