Since it had been a couple of years since the first one, I wanted to post my second “Who played it better” article comparing the 80’s Ghostbuster film to the new all-female reboot. I saw it when it was on it’s way out of the theater, enjoyed it, but I can’t do a comparison the way I did for the Dredd’s. The reason is that these are not the same characters. It’s not the same story. And that should have been good, but it wasn’t.
The pitch for both movies, of course, is the same: a group of academics who study the paranormal find evidence of real, verifiable experiences and turn it into a business. The first film holds up to the test of time and was practically perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins. It spawned a less perfect but watchable sequel and rumors of a third installment bounced around, dodged mostly by Bill Murray, until at last, someone said, “let’s do an all girl remake”.
That twist, the re-imagined vision of Phd genitalia, got a lot more flak than it deserved, in my armchair opinion. McKinnon, McCarthy, Wigg and Jones are all immensely funny, deeply talented, and actresses with proven wit and range. The effects of 2016 are far superior to those of the 80’s (though they still hold up, really) and everything pointed to this being a film to silence the naysayers and show that you can do a reboot that differs from the original and still make a good movie.
But that’s not what they did.
Don’t get me wrong. The reboot is an enjoyable film. But the problem is that it had the core of a much better film within it and I think some key decisions kept it locked up behind a shelf full of mediocre ideas.
The first film had some very strong archetypes in the four principle characters: the Charlatan who must reluctantly admit and adapt to the reality of that which he denied. The kid who never grew up, discovering the world is really a neato as he thought. The cold, rational misfit who finds his niche in the bizarre. An everyman who keeps the audience grounded and offers a touch of reality to a scenario that could easily spin beyond the bounds of willing suspension of disbelief.
The new one, however, abandoned those roles for a slightly dry and quirky straight woman to set up gags, a more quirky woman to bring them home, a psychotic, and a wise minority woman who saves the day with down to earth knowledge. They traded archetypes for stereotypes and then decided to serve them poorly.
The first was a comedy with elements of horror, but a lot of heart. We cared for the quartet when they announced they would cross the streams. We felt that there were stakes involved. It was more than a collection of sight gags. The new one, however, kept setting up opportunities for a touch of drama or interpersonal conflict with the characters that might add depth to the movie, but then walking away from them without another mention.
The highlights of the ’16 effort were actually the action, which was really badass. The humor is there, but it’s more the sort that calls for an ironic chuckle rather than laughing so hard you spill your popcorn. They didn’t unsex the characters or just turn them into female actresses portraying male characters, but all of the heart of the original was left on the cutting room floor if it was ever there.
And again, it shouldn’t have been. All of the actresses performed their roles well. Wigg was uncharacteristically restrained, but still funny. McCarthy was brilliant as usual. McKinnon was by far my favorite character, riding on the edge of absurd but still honest and compelling. Jones’ character bounced between subdued and outrageous with ease and comic dexterity that demonstrated her talent.
A surprise was Chris Hemsworth. While he was packed into a stereotype too, namely a vapid pretty boy who substitutes looks for talent, he was handed some of the best lines in the movie. The Thor actor played the role to the hilt and as such raised every scene he was in. There’s even one in the credits that I wondered why it had been left out because it would have taken the movie from “ha-ha” to “OMG, that’s hilarious” in three minutes flat.
It made me wonder if when we see the director’s cut, if there will be some cut scenes that were the moments I was hoping for, scenes that got the laughs by pushing the envelope and making you accept the reality of the storyline through infections commitment. If those were shot and excluded, it might explain the meandering, mis-paced mess that showed up on the screen, a series of plot strangling choke points that turned what should have been a river into a trickle.
Most telling, I think, is the final after the credit’s scene which hinted at where they were going with the very unlikely-to-be sequel to the film, a call back to the original 80’s blockbuster. It suggests that this was intended to be an origin story and that the biggest moments were to come. Given the flak the concept got on announcement, I think that this was a poor choice as they really just needed to lay all out on the first effort rather than rely upon momentum to give us the best parts of the story. I am sure that a script or treatment that will pop up that will make all of us who wanted this movie to succeed all feel sad for the awesomeness that could have been, but was murdered by timidity and business before craft.
I want to compare the two films, but beyond the trappings they share, they just aren’t the same. Judging the 2016 in it’s own right, I don’t feel it wasn’t a waste of time, but rather than giving me nostalgia, it gave me disappointment, making me pine for the things that could have been and the movie that the very talented cast deserved.
I hope to see that cast all on screen again, but the next time, I hope they are backed by a screenwriter who can bring out their magic and that the internet will shut it’s mouth for five seconds and let them shine.