Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ghostbusters / **½ (PG-13)

Erin Gilbert: Kristin Wiig
Abby Yates: Melissa McCarthy
Jillian Holtzman: Kate McKinnon
Patty Tolan: Leslie Jones
Rowan North: Neil Casey
Kevin: Chris Hemsworth

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Paul Feig. Written by Kate Dippold & Feig. Based on the 1984 movie by Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Running time: 116 min. Rated PG-13 (for supernatural action and some crude humor).

The new reboot of the “Ghostbusters” franchise comes with a load of baggage, mostly having to do with the quite progressive idea of recasting the lead characters as women instead of men. I’ve never seen a beloved franchise so maligned by advance anti-buzz as this film. I’m a big believer in seeing the movie before forming an opinion about it. I guess it goes to show you how little progress we’ve made in this country in terms of equality that so many people have an issue with female heroes. People even criticized the editing of the first trailer as a negative point to avoid the fact that they were upset that their franchise had lost a Y chromosome. I’ve never seen the editing of a trailer criticized before. First trailers are usually poorly edited because they’re trying to tell a story before all the filming and effects have been completed.

Anyway, I think it is wonderful that this franchise was taken over by women. It is a great step forward to see women depicted as heroes while remaining women, instead of becoming over-sexualized props for the men they accompany. The main cast is wonderful. The Ghostbusters are just as iconic portrayed here by Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. They’re funny. They’re capable. They aren’t “real” because they exist in a fantasy, special effects laden universe of the paranormal; but they are women, with thoughts and actions unique to them and not existing in the service of men or even necessarily the plot of the movie. The new Ghostbusters are a shining example of where women in mainstream entertainment should be.

That being said, the movie itself is a bit of a mess. I don’t know if it’s just poorly written or if great parts of the script were cut out of the movie. The characters are terribly underwritten and even the plot is developed in rather rudimentary terms. It feels like the filmmakers spend too much time checking off boxes of elements from the previous films that they wanted to use or reference. There was no sense of this movie having is own story despite having its own characters. While I’ve enjoyed reboots that pay a great deal of homage to their originals, it only works if that homage is incorporated in a necessary way to a new original story.

The only truly original element to this new Ghostbusters movie, besides the all-female leading heroes, is Chris Hemsworth’s character Kevin. Kevin is truly out of left field. Little of what he does makes any sense whatsoever, and I applaud the writers for resisting the urge to explain his weirdness. Of course, they do have ulterior motives for including this character into this feminine premise on a major summer blockbuster. He acts as counter point to decades of useless female characters in big budget blockbusters. Instead of the sexy, brainless woman who is basically a prop for the rest of the movie, we get the male version here. Hemsworth is most certainly in on the joke and he plays it well.

The big disappointment with the new “Ghostbusters”, however, is the pacing, which has no consistency and never finds optimum ways to land the film’s jokes. The scene in which the team tests their new weapons in an ally is a perfect example. The transition into the scene is non-existent. The scene leading into it has nothing to do with their equipment and there is no reference to even needing new equipment at this point, which had already undergone an upgrade after the initial testing scene in the subway. The one-liners often hang in the air with a pregnant pause before moving on to scene punctuation which has lost its momentum from the poorly paced one-liners.

Ironically, this pace failure is mostly due to poor editing. While it is ridiculous to deride a trailer—which is designed to punctuate highlights from a film—for its poor editing; editing is the key to pacing, comedy and action elements when telling the complete story. There are very few clean transitions from scene to scene. I didn’t notice many elements tying scenes together, and what was with having the villain set up a mass mind control scene and then skipping it only to use it during the end credits. Talk about leaving the audience hanging. When an entire battalion of men strikes a disco pose, they better start dancing right then and there.

I am still very excited about the prospect of this female Ghostbusters team. I just want to see them in a story that serves them. I do hope the film overcomes it box office woes, so we all get a chance to see what they can really do with this franchise. I think what they’ve done with the heroes here is original and progressive in the best of ways. I just wasn’t as taken by the movie as a whole as I wanted to be. When you challenge an audience with new ideas about women and heroes, it’s important to knock it out of the park. “Ghostbusters” just didn’t do that. Here’s hoping for a second chance.

Side Note: The online bullying experienced by Leslie Jones as a result of her involvement in this film is a deplorable development that unfortunately reflects the racism and general attitude of hate that is currently gripping our country and nearly holding it hostage. Jones’s attempts to deflect and genuinely understand the words submitted against her on Twitter were noble, and it couldn’t be more unfortunate that this could happen to such a talented comedian just because she chose to do her job. Such vitriol would never be tolerated against even a black male performer. It is no longer free speech when it becomes a hate crime, and anyone who tries to stand behind the 1st Amendment in order to perpetuate hate deserves prosecution.

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