For all of their mishandlings in the last few years, the Ghostbusters reboot might be Sony’s most tragic. There’s a parallel universe where this movie is a really strong start of a new franchise, a breath of fresh air into the studio’s wheezing lungs, and it doesn’t even look all that different. The most critiqued element of the film – the female cast – shines the brightest. It was everything else that fell apart – the terribly received first trailer, the mediocre effects, the generic writing, and the fact that they just spent way too much money on a film that feels a little out of place in 2016. Ghostbusters is a really fun movie and a worthy entry into the franchise but it probably signed its own death certificate a while ago.
The newly popular requels (franchise entries that capture the essence of the original film, with new characters and a similar story) that studios have been putting forth have been hit or miss, money wise. For every Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there’s an Independence Day: Resurgence that struggles to make its money back. Generally, these are fine movies with good casts, but they don’t bring anything particularly innovative to the table. They feel like rehashes, and fans of the original come out of the woodworks to decry the senseless cash grab they feel the new movie is.
That’s not to say that misplaced nostalgia entirely doomed Ghostbusters, though it certainly didn’t help. The backlash against the first trailer was a little fair, a bit nostalgic, and really sexist, a sad combination that turned the video into one of the most disliked in Youtube’s history. The biggest problem with the film is the fact that they spent an egregious amount of money on it – almost $150 million for a comedy. They wanted to kick of a new franchise the right way, but the budget put the film right in summer blockbuster territory. They only opened to about one-third of their original budget, and they will have a hard time making their money back.
The biggest factor that plagues the film is its thin and generic script. The film often mistakes describing things that just happened as humor, and a lot of the jokes fall flat. Kate McKinnon provides many of the films best one-liners as Holtzmann, an eccentric nuclear engineer. She feels like a breath of fresh air in every scene she’s in, and McKinnon (who has already been trending upward for a while) will be a star. She even gets the best action scene in the movie, by far. Leslie Jones is great too, as a world wise subway worker that falls in with the Ghostbusters. When she joins the group, the chemistry is palpable and the movie hits its stride. Even Chris Hemsworth gives a delightful performance as Kevin, their dumb, handsome secretary. Unfortunately, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig – two very funny, talented actresses – are working with material that’s far beneath their abilities. They both spend much of the film simply describing the plot and playing off the other characters. Neither of them get the time to shine and when the climax of the film revolves around their friendship, it feels shoehorned in.
If the original film can be described as a comedy with some supernatural action, this film is more of a straight action comedy. The movie sets the tone with Zach Woods getting attacked by a ghost in an ancient mansion and ends with a major battle for the entire city of New York. The action makes the movie fun and boisterous, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to most modern blockbusters. Marshmallow Man was kinda funny and a little scary in 1984, but in an age of big blockbusters with terrifyingly lifelike villains, he felt out of place. And yeah, I understand that this is supposed to be a comedy, but the very first scene had an interesting and terrifying villain and it would have helped the film if they could have done that on a larger scale.
All that to say, it’s a perfectly enjoyable time at the movies. The cameos are nice throwbacks, even if they feel a little contractually obligated. If you’re inclined to compare this film to the original, it more than holds up in tone and quality – and it respects the original material, sometimes to a fault. It’s sad that we’re still a world where a female cast is somehow controversial. The absolute worst thing that could come from the meager success of this film is that the franchise gets discontinued and it becomes a cautionary tale about casting women. Of course, that’s a worst-case scenario, and there’s still a chance that Sony will continue with the franchise on a scaled back budget. I hope they do – supernatural comedies are too rare, and if they can strike the tricky balance between scary and funny without all the backlash they received on this film, I do think they can be successful.