That's A Big Twinkie: An In Depth Analysis of Ghostbusters 2016

07/19/2016 11:43 pm ET

**I’M SURE IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, BUT SPOILERS**

 

Ghostbusters (2016) was the most talked about film of the summer well before its theatrical debut last week. While audiences were still waiting to confirm that the airport scene in Civil War was going to be the costumed catharsis that staved off superhero fatigue for another summer, and while many had only heard rumors of the genius that was Swiss Army Man, the internet was on fire with polemics assailing the female-led reboot, the criticism of the reboot, and criticism of that as well. Given that, that, I will attempt to keep analysis of the media quagmire brief and confined to the introductory paragraphs of what, I admit, is a lengthy piece. 

I believe that I enter into this issue from some kind of a middle ground (don’t we all?). I am a longtime Ghostbusters fan- my father showed me both of the 1980s films as a young child and I watched both cartoon series soon after- and I was someone who thought a female reboot was a novel and potentially radical reinterpretation of this particular story. Like everyone else, I did think that the trailer was abysmal, but I also thought the reaction was repugnant, if unsurprising. Since the trailer came out, I wrote a ten page philosophy paper about the 1984 Ghostbusters and mentioned my distaste for the trailer in a previous article, so when I went to see the movie, I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t sure the film would be functional, let alone any good. Turns out I was half right.

Simply put, I didn’t like the film. I found it to be an unfocused, loud, and- no pun intended- soulless copy of the original. I try to let reboots stand on their own, and not compare them to the source material, (i.e. Batman vs Superman” is awful in a vacuum, not just next to “The Dark Knight”) but this film deeply indulges in the plot points and even some of the actual jokes from the original.

After a phenomenal opening scene from Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods, we meet our four Ghostbusters, the most boring Kristin Wiig and restrained Melissa McCarthy I’ve ever seen, an off-the-rails Kate McKinnon, and a boxed-in Leslie Jones, whose only crime was being the lone black woman on SNL when this movie went into development. Jones actually comes out the best of the four (in the film. She has suffered one humiliation after another in real life). Despite the incredibly regressive character she was given, she manages to be the only Ghostbuster I cared about throughout the proceedings.

McKinnon has been alternately praised as a revelation and compared to Jim Carrey on an off day, and she does fall somewhere between those characterizations. She makes huge choices each scene, and some (such as the scene in the mayor’s office) are among the funniest in the film, but many don’t stick the landing nearly as well. Wiig and McCarthy, both great in character roles, seem to be solidifying themselves as leads, as we only see their character voices when they start improvising. Chris Hemsworth has been praised for breaking out of his Marvel persona, but Thor’s always been kind of oblivious anyway, so I see it as taken to a logical, though very effective extreme. I also enjoyed the small amount of Neil Casey the film allowed.

The film also does improve a few things about the original, mostly by taking notes from the cartoons. The focus on the Ghostbusters’ technology was always lacking in the original films, leaving it to be explored on television, where there would be more time to explain it. The new film makes it a priority, and manages to pull it off rather well. The second act break engages with death in a way that the originals wouldn’t (but the cartoons did), and the updates to the modern world were pulled off with very little strain.

The third act, though, is where the movie starts to collapse under its own weight. The final battle is cliché almost to the point of parody, and there doesn’t seem to be much emotional weight to any of it. It textually pays off an anti-sexism message that was only metatext and subtext up until that point, (excepting the weirdly self-reflexive YouTube comments scene) and it pays off a character relationship I didn’t know I was supposed to care about.

In the original, Venkman, Stanz, and Spengler (played by Murray, Akroyd, and the late Harold Ramis, respectively) already knew each other, so when Winston Zeddimore (Ernie Hudson) joined the team, the screenwriters needed to give him character moments with the other Ghostbusters. These come in the second act when Venkman goes to investigate Dana Barret’s (Sigourney Weaver) home alone. Zeddimore and Stanz discuss the existence of God, and later join Spangler at the firehouse for a speech about Twinkies and psychokinetic energy.

The new film wants these moments, but they don’t give Wiig (our de facto Venkman) a reason to separate from the group, likely to make room for the big action scene. So, the audience is already confused when the other three Ghostbusters are celebrating Neil Casey’s apparent demise, and this is further compounded when after saving McCarthy from possession (as seen in the trailers), Jones’ character, Patty protects McKinnon’s Holzman multiple times and expresses the idea that no one is to mess with her. This was in no way set up, but is played as a big moment of secondary character payoff.  

As a reboot, Ghostbusters (2016) checked nearly all of the right boxes for fan service. Bill Murray gave a disinterested cameo, dressing like and waiting for his next Wes Anderson role. Dan Akroyd mansplained some ghost technobabble and shouted a classic catchphrase, Winston was related to the only black character in the film, and Harold Ramis had a tasteful bust in his likeness on display. Rick Moranis elected not to appear, but Annie Potts’ return to Janine was one of the most joyful moments throughout.

I found Michael McDonald’s rock club owner to be a perfect replacement for Michael Ensign’s hotel manager from the first film. I wasn’t a fan of the jump scares, but it was a smart inclusion of modern horror elements. But, I thought, as a society, we had decided not to write ‘hip’ new theme songs for reboots anymore. My impression was that we had switched to tasteful orchestral covers, because that Ghostbusters rap from the same rock club scene felt straight out of the 90’s and was the only moment I felt as if the film had committed outright blasphemy.  

The fact that I’m even using the word should betray the depth of my fandom for the franchise. I’m not someone who thinks that this film will in some way ruin the original film, but I do care about what the original wanted to say, and how I don’t believe that this is something that the reboot was interested in engaging with at all.

The original Ghostbusters was a “going into business story,” according to its director, Ivan Reitman. It was set in the Reagan 80’s, and is considered one of the most libertarian films of all time. It maligns academia as welfare for intellectuals, it perpetuates the “small business is the backbone of the economy” myth, and the secondary antagonist is an agent of the EPA. Despite all of this, I still love it, and thought that the reboot would be a great chance to improve on the politics of the original.

When a female reboot was announced, I thought it was genius- a way to show what it’s like for women to start a business, especially one in the most economically unequal moment since the Great Depression. I was looking forward to some interesting updates on how the American attitude toward a business had changed, but aside from a joke about not being able to afford the fire house from the original, this is mostly left untouched. The Ghostbusters in the new film don’t even really seem to be interested in the business aspect of their ghost extermination company.

They miss similar chances to show what it’s like to be a black person in the same situation. Patty is obviously intelligent in the film, but it never addresses why she’s working for the MTA (or why she’s the only non-scientist in the group). None of the Ghostbusters address their financial problems, despite the fact that none of them have other income, and they have a live-in receptionist, for some reason. Finally, an opportunity to ridicule for-profit colleges is missed as well, preferring only a joke about science spelled with a ‘y’.  

I’m aware of my high expectations for the film, but this was integral to the themes of the original, and a slam dunk for a remake that cared about the source material. Instead, the new movie cares more about one-off jokes from its, admittedly very talented, improv performers. The film is very respectful to a lot of the trappings of Ghostbusters, but I don’t think director Paul Feig knows exactly why fans still love the original to this day.

Watch this scene from the original film. See how Venkman and Spangler step to the edge of the elevator after the proton pack is turned on? The joke is, of course, that those two steps are going to do nothing to protect them from a nuke in an elevator. The new film does the same joke in an alley, but the audience is unable to see the wide shot, so the joke is ruined because one can’t see don’t see how ineffective their shuffling is. This is done so they can get one of Kate McKinnon’s lines shot correctly. The line is still pretty funny, but Feig destroys one joke to make room for another.

The initial ghost encounter scene is another example. In the original the ghost merely screams at the Ghostbusters, but in the new film, it slimes Kristen Wiig for the “every crack” joke in the trailer, and is part of a running gag with her and the slime. The new film is a different style of humor. Whereas the first film was a drier wit, the remake seems to aim for broader physical comedy and improvisational appeal.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t immensely talented writers involved in this new style of comedy, or that there was no improvisation on the sets productions done in the old style (Ghostbusters specifically did change quite a bit from the original script), but throughout this film, I saw lip service paid to some of the best gags from the original film, but that’s all it was. 

 The worst thing about the new Ghostbusters is that it was made by accountants. Someone decided it was time for a new Ghostbusters, so meetings were held, and scripts were written, and casts were decided so that this film could gross a couple hundred million world-wide, and hopefully move Sony’s stock price up a percent. They didn’t care why fans liked the originals, and Paul Feig did what he was hired to do (well enough since the film has already been confirmed for a sequel). So while I may not be afraid of ghosts, I am definitely afraid of what Hollywood is going to dig up next. (Hint: It’s Tetris)

NOTE: A brief post-script about the backlash. We cannot let Sony keep tricking us into seeing their mediocre movies. By creating a controversy, they make us think seeing their films is a political act. They did this with patriotism after North Korea banned The Interview, and now it’s feminism with Ghostbusters. Stop falling for it, America.

             

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

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