(On Cable TV, February 2017) I’m not that much of a Ghostbusters (1984) fan, so the news of a gender-swapped reboot didn’t trouble me much beyond my usual “eh, I’d much prefer if they did original movies”. The reactionary nerd rage at the film’s release was troubling insofar as was a reflection of the current unhealthy outrage culture—but let’s face it: people who get worked up about a female Ghostbusters movie are exactly the kinds of people who wake up every day being offended at anything that makes them uncomfortable. Given the track records of movie reboots, it was almost a given that the end result would be a mildly entertaining piece of fluff. So it is: This Ghostbusters (2016) is a technically accomplished but far more mechanistic version of the 1984 original. Both Kirsten Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play up to their persona in the movie, although McCarthy seems thankfully more restrained in a movie in which entire sequences are storyboarded for special effects. Wiig is up to her usual neurotic persona, which works relatively well here. The same can be said for Leslie Jones, likable in a stock role. The real surprise here, though, is Kate McKinnon, stealing nearly every scene as an eccentric scientist—again, it’s not an original character, but she makes it work. Meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth probably gets the biggest laughs as a scatterbrained hunk. Director Paul Feig keeps getting better every movie, and if his style is still generally bland, he’s able to keep up with the demands of a special-effects-driven production. His conscious decision to avoid glamorizing his character works well, even if some other intentions—such as limply incorporating original 1984 cast members—end up being more irritating than anything else. The upshot is a generally watchable film, even if it never steps too far away from the original film or from the basic special-effects-driven comedy template. This Ghostbusters is all surface and flash, with minimal character work and even shallower thematic concerns. It’ll do for an evening’s worth of entertainment, but I have a hunch that the original will remain the definitive edition.
(Second viewing, On TV, December 2016) I’ve seen Ghostbusters II so long ago that I’m not sure that what I remembered was from the movie or the videogame. (I definitely remembered the soundtrack, though.) That, in itself, is a pretty good capsule summary of a relatively forgettable sequel. Bits of Ghostbusters II are bad; others are uninspired; others are competent. Some are all three, such as the idea of the Ghostbusters being discredited frauds—it’s patent nonsense after the events of the first film, but it does lead to a few good jokes here and there. The sequel cheerfully takes place five years after the fact and confronts how its characters have moved on (or not). There are a few choice gags here and there, and the basic idea of New York being overrun by slime that feeds on negative emotions is rich in possibilities—and while Vigo makes for a poor antagonist, the use of the Statue of Liberty is inspired. The courtroom scene also works well. As for the actors, it’s a mixed bag: Bill Murray is close to self-parody while the rest of the cast is more or less up to their usual tricks. The special effects are … not good by today’s standards (the subway sequence is notably subpar), and many of them don’t even have the quaint charm of the original: There’s a lot to be said about atmosphere in boosting the impact of special effects, or at least the viewers’ indulgence in suspending their disbelief. Ghostbusters II amounts to a serviceable sequel, one that does feel as if it’s coming from the same place as the original, but not one that equals the standards set by the first film.