Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I went ahead and reviewed co-writer/director Paul Feig’s controversial Ghostbusters reboot without seeing it first:
A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus. Eleventeen stars out of six. Two thumbs and five “WE’RE #1” giant foam fingers up. Two standing ovations, twelve “Good Job!” happy grading stickers, four Employee of the Month certificates, three Peabody Awards, a two-year supply of Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat!), and one honorary “Joe Bob says check it out!” Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Ghostbusters “One of the year’s best films!” based on the fact that I just felt like typing those words in that order for this purpose. Since I haven’t had a man card to my name in ages, this is the kind of arbitrary whim that really impresses my wife.
…because someone had to bring balance to the internet. That someone didn’t have to be a guy, of course.
As of last night, now I’ve seen it for real. And every movie I watch in a theater for real gets an entry, even if I technically covered it already, even if the rest of America has already moved on to the next movie discussion.
Short version for the unfamiliar: A misfit quartet, three of whom have TV sketch-comedy experience, harbor a belief in the paranormal and the necessary STEM skills to do something about it. After losing their day-job backing, they decide to go into business capturing or dispelling otherworldly spirits after a particularly intense, ectoplasm-tinged encounter at a Manhattan site of historic significance. They hire a secretary who’s really not helpful. Their first outing as a team leads them into a large ballroom and ends with victory and a paycheck from a fussy manager.
For a while, business is booming. Too, too booming. The authorities raise an eyebrow at their experimental devices and unrefined hunting methods. One government agency wants them to knock it off, but the mayor is less skeptical than expected. The trail of clues and ghost sightings leads them around Manhattan and into a nighttime standoff involving more than one combative manifestation, a ringleader who can leap hither and yon, and a big white poofy Final Boss who takes a form not of his own making.
That’s the framework for the original and the reboot. But replace Ernie Hudson and his three amigos with Melissa McCarthy and the Axis of SNL — Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones. Inside that framework, though, is room for a lot of different choices, takes, end results, and thirty years’ worth of ghostbusting hardware advancements.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Chris Hemsworth, in between Thor franchise jobs, is the dumb sexy blond secretary. Mayor Andy Garcia holds court and has my favorite line (“Never compare me to the Jaws mayor! NEVER!”); his assistant is fellow SNLer Cecily Strong. The presence of Homeland Security injects some 21st-century sensibility with agents played by Veep‘s Matt Walsh and Omar from The Wire. New Yorkers in need of help include Zach Woods (Gabe from The Office) and the 1980s’ own Ed Begley, Jr. Charles Dance (The Last Action Hero) has a few minutes as Kristen Wiig’s disapproving male boss.
In addition to a few cameos by random famous people, a lot of the original cast returns in bit parts: Murray! Aykyroyd! Hudson! Sigourney! Annie Potts! Slimer! The Hook & Ladder #8 firehouse! Even the late Harold Ramis (to whom the film is dedicated in the end credits) checks in as a university hallway bust.
For anyone who’s such a hardcore fan of Paul Feig that they watched any of the eight existing episodes of his Yahoo! Screen sci-fi sitcom Other Space, those select few should recognize at least two faces: Karan Soni (the main character/ship’s captain) as McCarthy’s Chinese-takeout delivery guy; and Neil Casey (the crewman with unsightly incest issues) as the movie’s Big Bad, a dweeb who vows revenge on anyone who’s ever refused to take creepy dudes like him seriously, which would be most of non-creepy humanity. At least three other Other Space cast members pop in around the periphery. (Full disclosure: we covered this on MCC when we saw the pilot and met Feig, Soni, and friends at C2E2 2015.)
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Eleventy-hundred other sites have covered the feminism angle in sufficient depth, and I’m not the guy to bring new insight to that dinner party. I will say this significant aspect came off more subtle and subtextual than I expected. It’s possible to relax and overlook the subversion of tropes (e.g. Hemsworth the beefcake) and the occasional jabs at Our Heroes by the various men surrounding them, but writers Feig and Katie Dippold (a Parks and Rec vet) are the kind of thinkers to bring multiple levels to what they do. Once the Ghostbusters prove themselves to the public, their only real sexist detractor beyond that point is the schmuck of a villain instigating their haunting issues. But the road that leads them up to professional ghostbusting is littered with guys who didn’t take them seriously as scientists, because chicks.
The world of 2016 is a much different place than the more primitive world that Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zedmore defended. With so many empirical sightings, massive public disturbances, and instant YouTube evidence, the citizens of this Manhattan are readier and more willing to believe in ghosts. No one here wastes half an hour of running time swearing there’s no such thing as ghosts only to receive their wacky comeuppance from a highly amused friend of Casper. In that way it’s a smarter world, albeit one unprepared for fighting its own phantasms.
But supernatural scammers still abound. One sharp scene takes “reality” shows like Ghost Hunters to task for staged shenanigans that give a bad name to the real Ghostbusters out there.
Nitpicking? As noted above, the structure and several elements are nearly beat-for-beat from the original. I laughed more often than not, but some jokes don’t quite land where they aim, especially a few that were just tired exclamations. Any scenes of extended conversations felt more like TV than movie and seemed staged accordingly, though none of them were as distracting as the Pringles product placement posing as a quick-cut gag.
At first much fuss is made about ghost containment, with the button-activated traps and such. The situations escalate into all-out street war in which ghostbusting gives way to ghost-destroying, and the traps get left behind. There’s no real conversation about it because the reason they switch methods is that zapping ghosts dead just looks cooler on screen than trying to herd them into portable tractor-beaming shoeboxes. An extra scene arguing over their methods might’ve been a nice touch.
I’m not sure the Ghostbusters logo needed an origin story, but it gets one, and it’s a major plot point. The final shot at the Final Boss engages one of the tiredest man-jokes of all, abandoning that whole “subtlety” thing I was complimenting earlier.
The most annoying part is a bit more meta. Our family was on vacation in New York the week of the movie’s release. I figured a movie that takes place in Manhattan ought to have its world premiere somewhere in Manhattan. I was disappointed and puzzled to learn the premiere would be in California. After I saw the movie, I learned a logical reason for this disconnect: most of this movie, set in the Big Apple, was filmed in Boston, even using their Chinatown instead of NYC’s. This is wrong.
So what’s to like? As someone whose Ghostbusters fandom was ruined at age 17 by Ghostbusters 2, and as a guy who would fail various forms of machismo testing, I just didn’t have it in me to hate the new Ghostbusters. It borrows a bit too heavily from the original and the visual effects are intermittently creaky, but it’s inventive, it’s smartly fine-tuned to changing technology and sociopolitical sensibilities, it makes better of Chris Hemsworth than Thor: The Dark World did, and it’s got those awkward-comedy rhythms of The Office and Parks & Rec that are very much my jam. None of the four action heroes comes off as anything less than master of their domain, and I’d proudly watch any of them again in these roles. Bonus points go to Kristen Wiig as the “straight woman” to the other three showier characters, always the hardest job in any given comedy, not as easy as it looks.
I’m sorry to see it hasn’t been as successful as Columbia Pictures thought it would be. Here’s hoping the home-video release makes it more convenient for reticent audiences to see the film and jump-start new discussions about what was actually in it, hopefully forever burying the memories of the flame wars over what the internet was afraid might be in it.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the Ghostbusters end credits. In fact, every minutes of the end credits has something to watch — for the first few minutes, it’s the movie’s multiple epilogues and the movie’s actual ending. Through most of the fine-print names, a movie-you-just-watched clipfest alternates with a series of topless headshots from Kevin’s acting portfolio. And then there’s one last scene at the very, very end of the end credits with a quick gag for old fans. For those who fled the theater prematurely and really want to know without seeing it a second time…
[insert space for courtesy mild spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship]
…Our Heroes chill out at HQ. Holtzmann reveals another new invention she calls a “Nutcracker” that either is or isn’t what it sounds like, depending on the first thing that pops into your head. Patty, listening intently on headphones to a recording for any signs of spooky sounds from beyond, goes wide-eyed and ushers everyone over to her table with an innocent question, to the effect of:
“I heard something really weird. What’s ‘Zuul’?”