Ghostbusters – No seriously, who are we gonna call?

In that great late 80s classic Ghostbusters 2, the plot revolved around a river of slime flowing beneath New York City. The slime was a result of all the collected ill will and debauchery of the citizens of the great American city – a city that is usually depicted in popular culture by the general bastardry of it’s denizens and also it’s vomit inducing patriotism to the American way. The slime rises and rises until it overflows into the city streets, amplifying not only paranormal activity but the bad within each human being.

This gives rise to Vigo the Carpathian, the spirit of a malevolent medieval Eastern European dictator that lies dormant within a sinister portrait painting. By harnessing enough bad feeling, Vigo is able to walk out of his painting and transfer his spirit into the body of a baby boy so that he may live again and usher in a new dark age. He will of course administer a typical patriarchal agenda of endless wars, slavery and general suppression of the human spirit, all fundamentals of a bygone era that no modern civilised society wants or indeed has time for. In the end, the Ghostbusters fight this by countering all the bad will by animating the statue of liberty on New Year’s Eve and breaking Vigo’s spell, and banishing him to the who cares dimension – resulting in this painting.

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There are many who would consider the original crew as saintly. 

With the arrival of the latest all female reboot of Ghostbusters from director Paul Feig, it’s fair to say that things have all gone a bit Ghostbusters 2 in 2016. Rivers of slime enforcing bad feeling. The resurgence of anonymous internet mysogny uglier than Gamergate. Unfortunately, there is no Statue of Liberty to walk down the streets to spread the good will within human hearts. I mean, who you gonna call? Trump? Hilary? John Oliver?

People seem to forget that Ghostbusters 2 wasn’t very good. It’s very existence proves that not even the original cast of the original movie could recapture the greatness of the first Ghostbusters. Regardless, Ghostbusters 3 spent years in development hell, several ideas had been spinning around Ghostbusters finding the gateway to Hell underneath New York City (where else) or even them their ghostbuster business becoming a nationwide franchise. But the threequel never came into being and eventually any hopes of Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston returning to reprise their roles fell through with the passing of Harold Ramis in 2014. There was however, the 2009 video game, which starred the original cast in a third person action game. You can watch all the cutscenes on YouTube.

Unperturbed and absolutely desperate for a hit, Sony Entertainment and the original cast turned to Paul Feig for the modern reboot. Sony even set up Ghostcorps a production company that is presumably, going to make more ghostbuster movies. As with the Amazing Spider Man, Sony are once again seen to be making that fatal mistake of enforcing one film into becoming a big cinematic universe franchise. So hungry they are for this money train, they run before they can even walk.

The odds were stacked against the new Ghostbuster movie even before production started. In the months preceding release there has been so much hate and vitriol surround the new Ghostbusters movie. Rather than being responsible and taking a staunch stance to support their project, Sony have just ridden the wave of negative publicity all the way to the film’s release. I guess any publicity is good publicity.

Just how in fuck did something like a new Ghostbusters movie become the focus of so much ugliness and seething hatred anyway?

THE MOST DISLIKED TRAILER OF ALL TIME. MARVEL IN EVERYTHING IT DOES WRONG.  

The poetics of Ghostbusters is that they are a force of anti-horror.

If there is a ghoul or ghost in your vicinity, you call the ghostbusters. They arrive with their sirens blazing to remove the ghost so that you can sleep soundly at night. You can effectively take the cinematic conventions of the horror genre and turn them on their head, making them a source of comedy. It is something that everyone can enjoy – a group of schmoes or group of quasi-scientists/blue collar exterminators battling the things that go bump in the night. There’s a purity to it. Accessibility.

The original Ghostbusters and indeed the sequel, as well as this year’s remake/reboot – not to mention the many cartoon series is a about 4 losers utilising the power of science to battle ancient supernatural forces. Within a modern atheist society, the very existence of the supernatural implies difficult questions about the afterlife. Classically spooks and ghostly apparition represent unresolved past tensions that linger and fester on the mortal mind, not to mention the idea of organised religion and the belief in an omniscient power greater than all of us. All these are things a modern world has no real time for. If we could just call in the exterminators to take away the supernatural entities and all the big questions they raise so that we may carry on with our lives as oblivious of our own mortality as possible. Science and reason prevails. Horror, religious subjugation and the wrath of God do not.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. Poetics of ghostbusters… where the hell am I? But this is the fundamental greatness of ghostbusters and they do it with cool lasers powered by portable nuclear reactors mounted on backpacks. Aside from just being another lucrative film franchise and a license to print money, in the hearts and minds of all Generation X’ers, ghostbusters are a force of good.

Ghostbusters is supposed to be the anti-horror but the latest movie has rather unwittingly revealed an all too familiar horror in itself.

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John Belushi believed that women were fundamentally unfunny. Belushi believed this so much that he would deliberately try to sabotage scripts for SNL that had been written by women. This brought about a strange logic – the idea of ‘I’m not going to make these jokes work because that would make them funny and women aren’t funny’. John Belushi died in 1982, his friend and fellow Blues Brother Dan Akroyd created Slimer as a homage to him and his excessive lifestyle. He is joined by Lady Slimer in this version of Ghostbusters. Somewhere up there is looking down thinking… nope still unfunny.

Ghostly activity is on the rise in New York City, an unseen baddie, is amplifying the paranormal in several of the city’s most haunted locations. After losing her position at a prominent academic institution, physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is forced to reconnect with her old paranormal scientist partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) to hunt down the causes of all the ghostly sightings. Joined by their punk rock engineering oddball Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and a subway attendant Patty (Leslie Jones) who possesses encyclopedic knowledge of the big apple, the ghostbusters are formed to keep the spooks off the streets and stop the rise in paranormal activity that is bubbling and frothing to the surface to precede something called the Fourth Cataclysm – which is obviously very very very bad news for the living.

Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.Yadda Yadda Yadda. 

Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is essentially a fresh reboot of the series. It takes place in a world where the events of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II never happened. The film does pay substantial homage to the previous movies through a handful of fairly prominent cameos not to mention the whole ghostbusting iconography of proton packs, brown jump suits, Slimer and Ecto 1. The old fire station is present and accounted for, and the ghosts and their ectoplasm maintain the look of the original movie despite being completely digitally animated. Almost beat for beat, Ghostbusters 2016 is a retelling of the original movie just with a different all female cast. You have the effectively creepy opening, in which an innocent bystander witnesses a spook up close before screaming into the camera after which the titles coming drumming up to establishing shots of NYC. You have each of the ghostbusters exiled from their respected institutions, you have their initial contact with the supernatural, the sliming and the triumphant crowd scene in which they despatch a ghoul in front of an audience.

It’s just a shame the third act descends into a rather bland CG action fest that felt like it would be better off as a video game. It’s just a shame that most of the film’s humour dries up in favour for your usual big blockbuster spectacle.  However I would be lying if I didn’t enjoy the moment in which Holtzmann unleashes her proton whips to administer the smack down on a bunch of spectres.

The fundamentals are there for a decent Ghostbusters movie. The new cast are all great in their roles, Kristen Wiig is essentially Venkman, at first skeptical to ghostbusting but coming around and showing a slightly concerning appreciation of the opposite sex. Much of the humour comes from her character being played as the girl who cried wolf, in one of the funniest scenes she pleads with the NY mayor (Andy Garcia ladies and gentleman) not to make the same mistakes as the mayor from Jaws, which is just perfect. Wiig is likable and funny as she always is and she plays off Melissa McCarthey’s character nicely, there is even a somewhat emotional resolution between the characters at the end.

Melissa McCarthey meanwhile is effectively Ray as the heart of the team who believes implicitly in the paranormal and is earnest in her approach to study them. McCarthey is the straightest character of the bunch, less funny as she was in last year’s Spy. Leslie Jones is more relevant to the actual plot than Winston ever was, whilst maintaining the much needed voice of the audience throughout. Out of the four she gets some of the best lines.

For me, the real star of the show is Kate McKinnon, who is basically the group’s Egon. She plays Holtzmann with a gleeful weirdness, always unhinged as the mad scientist that invents all the Ghostbuster’s trademark weapons not to mention a batch of new ones including the proton whips. Whilst Egon was a lovable deadpan scientist with zero people skills, Holtzmann is a punk rock oddity who is seems to always be hitting on her fellow ghostbusters.

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Face it, she rocks.

In typical Paul Feig style, most of the male characters exist to be obstacles of ignorance or just sheer stupidity. No character represents this more than the Ghostbuster’s dumb but hunky secretary Kevin who is played by Chris Hemsworth. Most of his scenes are improvised but the depths of his stupidity slowly reveal themselves, whether he is talking about his dog Michael Hat or asking for advice on which of his topless photographs make him look more like a doctor. Hemsworth is clearly having a blast away from the pseudo-Shakespearian lingo of the Thor movies and you can’t help but be taken up in his end credits dance scene. Indeed, what a mover.

At frequent points the internet backlash of the entitled white male voice is heard. The big bad is basically a manifestation of the kind of people who saw their collected childhoods being raped by four women from SNL in jump suits. The big bad effectively morphs into a giant ghostly Klu Klux Klansman before getting shot by proton beams in the dick. Another point there are references to various internet comment sections deriding women for even thinking about hunting ghosts. In some ways I wished the film got a bit more savage with this as a theme. During the action of the film’s climax, the ghostbusters are effectively fighting off a carnival of ghouls from American colonial times including a spindly Uncle Sam. All figures that are emblematic of the all those patriarchal themes of manifest destiny, control and suppression of people in general. The ladies get to kick the ectoplasm out of these spectres all the same.

I think in the end, what really hinders the movie is it’s frequent attempts to pay homage to the original movie. All the major characters of the original movie make an appearance (no Rick Moranis unfortunately) and whilst some of these are well played, some just do not land at all. Bill Murray’s in particular just feels so badly implemented, appearing as a an unbeliever of the newly formed Ghostbusters. Based on everything we know about Bill Murray, as one of the planet’s coolest dudes, surely he should at least be present to pass the torch on to the new team?

In addition, the movie goes out of it’s way to explain how the ghostbusters got their logo. The logo from the original never had to be explained of course, it was the kind of ingeniously designed logo that spells its message out instantly – seeped in 80s styled no-smoking signs. Fallout Boy’s version of the ghostbusters theme is no where near as good as the original Ray Parker theme (obviously) and the film seems to know this as it isn’t used nearly as much as you would think.

Finally, if you do stay until the end credits – there is a bit in which the word Zool is mentioned but in the laziest way possible The original scene where Sigourney Weaver opens her fridge to reveal a parallel dimension in which that word is uttered is fantastic. All at the same time, it is absurd, scary, funny and imaginative. Here at the end of the credits it just feels like a sequel baiting name check. A hundred movie sites publish the article – Gozer confirmed for Ghostbusters 2. We get it. All the references. We remember the original Ghostbusters.

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It’s disappointing because there is so much to like within the new team but the relentless callbacks feels lazy and distracting to the progression of the story. I love ghostbusters but I don’t need to be reminded of the original movie. I already know it off by heart! We will always have the original ghostbusters. All these moments work to take you out of the movie. It reminds you that this movie is rather nonsensically distancing itself from the original movie yet at the same time retreading what has gone before in the laziest way imaginable. It feels as if a boardroom sat over the script to hit all the target that would register with a nostalgic audience who ate up the new Star Wars and Jurassic World movie.

In the end, the problem with Ghostbusters isn’t that it pisses all over the original, it pays too much homage to it without realising what it already could actually be very strong on it’s own two feet.

A Ghostbusters made by Sony Entertainment was never going to be the vehicle to solve the real problems of gender equality in today’s society but suprise suprise, it is nowhere near as terrible as the internet commentators would have you believe. I found a lot to like in the new Ghostbusters movie, which is miraculous when you consider how badly Sony Entertainment are at making movies at this present moment in time. Bizarrely, the problem with the new Ghostbusters film is that it pays too much homage to the original movie. The film successfully establishes a brand new team of kick ass Ghostbusters but gets so caught up in endless cameos and call backs to the 80s original, it starts to unravel. As a result the film never really feels as if it is standing on it’s own two feet, which it bloody should be doing in the wake of all the shit that has been surrounding it’s release. Had it charted more of its own course rather than constantly referencing back to its source material, the new ghostbusters could have been something truly special. 

More Holtzmann, more fucking of the patriarchy please. Your work as Ghostbusters isn’t finished yet. 

Recommended Viewing: Ghosts and Busting

The Frighteners (1996)

Peter Jackson’s take on Ghostbusters is a 90s cult classic.

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Cabin in the Woods (2012)

As a genre, horror has seen better days. It’s easy to get confused between your paranormal activities, your sinisiters, your insidiouses. Cabin in the Woods is Joss Whedon’s take on what the horror movie has become and it is brilliant.

Casper?

I don’t know it’s just a stupid kid’s movie.

The obligatory It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia clip

Little Green Ghouls buddy!

 

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