It’s agreed upon by many psychologists and sociologists and too easily accepted that humans are inherently prejudiced. This is not to say that all societies are rampantly sexist/racist/homophobic, but as with all animals, humans can only perceive the world around them and learn to assess threats based on pre-judging what something is based on their past experiences.
Whether that means remembering not to touch a hot surface or a rat memorising a maze, these determinations are based on extrapolating from previous experiences, but it is only through challenging those that new things can be learned. Of course not everything can be pre-judged, and there are certain phenomena which occur that cannot be quantified or explained by conventional thinking.
This is the world of parapsychology, and in turn, the world of ghosts and Ghostbusters, or as director Paul Feig cheekily digs at his detractors in the opening scene “GhostCorps,” with many fans of the originals who were unhappy at the reboot suggesting it be given a different name. After a remarkably long hiatus for such a strong and established brand, Feig finally brings us back to the world of the paranormal.
Since Ghostbusters 2 came out in 1989 it seems odd that few have attempted to fill that void other than some very forgettable Scooby-Doo antics and the Men in Black inspired R.I.P.D. but nothing has really captured the ectoplasm in the twenty seven years have passed, so what can a new cast and new director bring to the table? Importantly, set in present day New York, this film establishes a new canon which ignores the previous films, beginning with a little tour of the supposedly haunted Aldridge Mansion.
When the basement turns out to be really haunted, the owner tracks down local scientist and author of Ghosts from the Past: Both Figuratively and Literally, Doctor Erin Gilbert (The Martian’s Kirsten Wiig). This is a surprise for the noted physics professor of the illustrious Columbia University as it was written twenty years ago with her college friend and they had agreed never to publish it. With her tenure in the balance and her boss (a wonderful cameo from Dracula Untold’s Charles Dance) on her case, Erin visits co-author Abby Yates (The Heat’s Melissa McCarthy) to pull the book until her position is secure.
Hearing about Aldridge Mansion, Abby and lab assistant Jillian Holtzman, (Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon) cannot pass up the opportunity, and capturing the ghost on film the story breaks all over social media, costing the three scientists their job. Joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones), also spooked at work, the intrepid Ghostbusters rise to fame, only this time the ghost sightings all seem to be linked and they must work out how before a great tragedy befalls NYC.
Despite the conscious effort to separate this film from the original, when it follows the template so closely comparisons are inevitable, and when most summer blockbusters are remakes and sequels sadly the test of originality is where Ghostbusters stumbles, failing to do anything new or different to stand out from the rest of the pack, a formulaic pattern of set pieces, leading to a contrived and unsatisfying conclusion which lacks its own identity.
With the juggernauts Marvel offering polished products seemingly every three months, the visual effects of Ghostbusters are cartoonish and bear a striking resemblance to the Eddie Murphy vehicle The Haunted Mansion. The cinematography of Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is fine and follows smoothly with no annoying lens flares or screen wipes but there are infuriating continuity errors which should have been addressed before release. The music of Theodore Shapiro (Trumbo) is a disappointment, and alongside a poor cover of Ray Parker Jr’s classic theme by Miss E Elliott and Fallout Boy it is not very atmospheric
The characterisation is poor, principally because of the dialogue they have been given, McKinnon spouting garbled “science-sounding” terms, presumably to come across as eccentric and enthused, but instead just seeming rushed, with only Jones coming through with some great lines which don’t compensate for her having no clear reason to join the group. Even the main two stars McCarthy and Wiig, have insufficient to work with, a shame as they show glimpses of what could have been, McCarthy trying to steal scene but Wiig the perfect foil for her, as though most effort was spent on Feig’s previous collaborators and all else was designed around them.
Of the rest of the cast, the dim-witted but attractive receptionist Kevin Beckman (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) can be slightly amusing at times, over time he becomes grating and forced, the two homeland security agents (a nod to Men in Black) are also shown as inept, and whilst principal villain Rowan North is well played well by Saturday Night Live writer Neil Casey, the “angry bullied nerd who hates everything” cliché is tired and again feels like Feig venting about his internet critics.
Finding himself chosen to direct franchise project with an established fan base and universe, Feig has suffered a lot of criticism and accusation and Sony have spent a lot of time and money battling the reputation of this film since long before released, with arguments of sexism and counter-arguments against the deconstruction of a canon universe and a soulless cash grab have blighting production, yet it seems any original vision and wit have been replaced by a desire to strike out at those vocal so-called fans.
The purported dumbing down of all male characters, the toilet humour and the digs at the original film all noticeably detract from the tone and pacing of this remake. Had this been taken on by Edgar Wright, for example, this could have been an excellent addition to the existing series or a starting point for a new one. Instead, though it will make money despite its flaws and most likely already have a sequel in the works, it’s a shame that Feig could not produce something which might actually have been more original yet faithful in tone and satisfying, rather than, in the words of the team, “not terrible.”
Ghostbusters is now on general release and also screening in 3D and 3D IMAX