Thursday, 28 July 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)



Well, time to get into what is undoubtedly the most hotly contested release of the year, and we’re off to a good start as it seems that no matter what side you fall on, there’s backlash. You’re either a misogynistic Neanderthal because you see the gender-swapped cast list and sense something is wrong, or a PC agenda-pushing feminazi because you’re agreeing with the gender-swapped cast on principle and for no other reason. So nice to see the entire Gamergate debacle encapsulated into a single film reaction; you know, where everyone comes across as a complete idiot. Now, this is all generalization that usually fuels such arguments concerning gender roles in media, so I don’t give any points to either side. How fitting that, in a year where we had a film called Civil War, we have a fandom civil war brewing over this little piece of cinema. And to make matters worse, when dealing with a film this divisive, the worst place to be is on the fence. Let’s dig in and I’ll explain. This is Ghostbusters.

The plot: Erin (Kristen Wiig), after years of trying to distance herself from her past of paranormal research with Abby (Melissa McCarthy), a haunted house report bring them back together with techie Jillian (Kate McKinnon). As more spectral sightings come in, the three of them team up with subway station worker Patty (Leslie Jones) and dimwitted receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) to become the Ghostbusters to fight against the ghosts… and it seems like the city will soon be in dire need of their help.

Well, might as well start off with a casual warning: If you are among the people who are already somewhat sceptical from the trailer, you are actually more likely to not like this film by its very nature. I say this because there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of scenes where the in-universe media (especially YouTube) is giving flack to the Ghostbusters, and yes their gender gets brought up amongst that. Said references to real-world scepticism are always the butt of jokes where we laugh at their critics. You know, say what you want about what Alex Proyas ended up posting on Facebook, at least he had the wherewithal to not make his feelings a focal point of the movie itself. I don’t know how much the reactions to the trailer would’ve ultimately affected the film in production, but this smells a little too accurate to just be a coincidence. There is a very not-so-humble undercurrent that it ends up providing which makes it feel like it’s attacked what could still be its potential audience. Not everyone went with the full James Rolfe, after all, and if they’re even a little hesitant, chances are they wouldn’t like being talked down like this. I know that this may seem like a pretty minor point, but as I’ve stated before, I absolutely hate judgement calls regardless of who makes them. #NotAllMen opinion incoming, but I don’t think anyone appreciates all of the vocal sceptics being represented as the guys who drove Leslie Jones off of Twitter. The fact that it happens so frequently, usually with smarmy winks to the audience, just makes it downright annoying to sit through.

To make matters worse, beyond the admittedly well-executed opening, this film only starts to prove the sceptics right. I’ve given praise to Melissa McCarthy’s work before, and I don’t have nearly as much issue with Kristen Wiig as quite a few others do, but these main characters are extremely obnoxious. McCarthy stays in stoic mode for the entire film, which honestly fits right alongside her character so it’s nice seeing her work on screen without her talking about playing hearts like accordians. Wiig probably comes off worst, especially when she’s paired with Chris Hemsworth’s mimbo secretary. McKinnon, by contrast, seems to be the most comfortable in her character, basically being this film’s Egon while giving it its own identity in the process. Jones is rather flat as a character, but she does get some decent moments throughout. Our main villain, played by Neil Casey, is honestly really fun to watch as he has the soft-spoken psychopath performance down pat, while giving a weird charisma that makes his mentality and reasoning fit with what we can see. This all seems good or at worst mixed, but when they all collide, it results in a lot of pointless-but-meant-to-be-funny conversations that are just plain painful to sit through. It’s like the learning curve of McCarthy’s other films, only nowhere near as smooth.

This is probably not helped by how we don’t get a lot of real character here, and it’s here where I start talking direct comparisons between this and the original two. Even ignoring the original’s mostly white cis-male cast, which can be argued is just the thematic default, they still had actual characteristics outside of them just being guys who happen to be scientists. Here, it really feels like the only prominent thing about them is that they’re women. They have shades of what the original cast had, like Abby’s lust which mirrors that of Peter and Patty’s role as the common man/woman of the city much like Winston, but otherwise it feels like the writing put all their focus on the distaffing. It shouldn’t be that way. I may not even like what they did with Hemsworth’s character, especially when compared to the real personality and iconic nature of Annie Potts, but that at least showed some effort to branch out with this reboot. This is even worse with Patty as, between the gaudy jewellery and the very exaggerated vocal inflections, it seems like her ethnicity was put into her developmental spotlight as well along with nothing else. Since character conflict ends up driving a bulk of the film’s immediate humour, it sucks that it’s attached to people who are just labels with moderately different body proportions.

And then the third act kicks in. This is where things get complicated. Once we dive head-first into the villain’s climactic plan and the final battle starts to approach, this film does one of the fastest turn-arounds I’ve ever seen. It basically puts everything that made it annoying aside, namely the lame jokes and the irritating blandness of the characters, and pushes what it really has to offer to the forefront. And there’s a lot of it. The ghost animations and overall design is really good, and I like how they went the Real Ghostbusters route when it came what kinds of ghosts to feature. Rather than just all being full-torso apparitions, we get some really creative ideas for spectres here. We get ghostly Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons here, people, and not even Pennywise could make those things creepier. Not only that, the action scenes where the Ghostbusters bust them are really well done, proving that the talent Paul Feig showed previously regarding action has not been dulled. Between the ghosts and the newly-introduced tech that is actually pretty cool, this is almost as good as Kingsman was at making me grin like an idiot during an action beat. And on top of that, the characters smooth out as well, particularly Hemsworth who really gets to cut loose and have fun during the last act. Even their mid-fight banter showed a major improvement in the dialogue.

All in all, this is a tough call to make. On one hand, it’s rather irritating in a very obnoxious way, not to mention patronizing to a certain degree given how often it fires back at the haters. I wasn’t even a sceptic and I felt like I had been slapped in the face. On the other hand, when the film gets good, it is seriously among some of the best stuff I’ve seen on screens all year. I feel like I’m reviewing Chappie all over again, only this time there’s possible backlash no matter what side I pick. I’ll leave it at this: If you already like Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig’s style of humour, chances are you’ll be in tune with the film from the very start. And even if you aren’t, the final act is legitimately that good that it could sway you. In these parts, the feeling you get upon leaving the film is a factor into how they get reviewed, and since this did make me feel like I had gotten my money’s worth in spite of its misgivings, I’m giving this the thumbs-up overall. It ranks higher than Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, as what makes this film work doesn’t need to be read into as intently as with that film. Hey, it’s very well-developed subtext, but subtext nonetheless. However, since what made this film work was relegated to the back end, it falls below The Jungle Book, which kept its enjoyment at a far more stable level throughout. Although, to be fair, when it gets good, it outdoes The Jungle Book.

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