Sunday, July 17, 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS - Back Off, Men - They're Scientists

I'm not generally a fan of remakes, especially not of singular 80's comedies working off of one-in-a-million premise and cast combinations. I am, however, a huge fan of the original Ghostbusters, and I adored the way director Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy's previous genre effort, Spy, was both a cracking action comedy and a commentary on women being muscled out of the work place.

Luckily, Feig and McCarthy as well as Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon (as well as Chris "No One Should be Allowed to be This Talented AND This Handsome" Hemsworth) bring both an easy and affable chemistry, a bevy of winning jokes, and a capital letter Idea upon which to hang this remake. And they wind up with a film that's only a couple missing beats away from greatness.

Make no mistake, this movie is very much a remake, revisiting and tweaking specific beats of the story laid down by the 1984 film, but where it succeeds is how it remixes these elements. Where the original film was a "guys getting kicked out of academia to go into business" story, Paul Feig's Ghostbusters is all about vindication. Physicist Erin Gilbert reconnects with her high school best friend Abby Yates when she finds out that a book on the paranormal is unexpectedly back in print. Having spent nearly her entire career distancing herself from "junk" science, and finding her prospects of tenure threatened, Erin wants the book taken off sale just as much as Abby wants her to rejoin the hunt for spooks and specters, alongside lovable mad scientist partner Jillian Holtzman and MTA worker & amateur historian Patty Tolan.

Rather than wanting to become paranormal exterminators, the scientists simply want their work to be respected, especially after being turned into an academic laughingstock by YouTube videos and professional debunkers. The film doesn't bother to soapbox about its thematic concerns, but it makes them crystal clear from how characters are treated to how they act. Erin has altered everything from her wardrobe to her personal scientific pursuits to appear more "traditionally" academic, Abby is insulted by the dean of her college, Patty is ignored by subway goers, and pretty everyone is terrified of Holtzman (of course, she has some pretty scary ideas, but still). The film draws clear parallels to how modern society marginalizes women and their contributions both in scientific fields as well as in science fiction, a metaphor that not only informs the main thrust of the characters' arcs, but also is the principle underpinning of the film's villain.

Which, yes, that's all interesting. BUT IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?

Well, yes. Quite good, in fact. The first feather in the movie's cap is that the new cast isn't just slotted in as "lady versions" of the original cast. Their personalities are very different, even if they occasionally fill the same "roles" as Venkman, Ray, Egon, Winston, and Janine. The film also does a few cute origin segments of elements from the original film, so we get to see the progression of their gear and tactics a bit more (though I could have done without so much business with the logo). Unfortunately, the movie sometimes gets bogged down in paying too much respect to the original Ghostbusters, with cameos that lift out and one in particular that goes on too long.

This becomes less of a minor issue when it gets in the way of the film's structure and handling of narrative beats. There's a notable missing scene leading into the finale that makes a certain character's triumphant return carry less weight than was undoubtedly intended. While the otherwise spectacular fireworks show that caps off the film (including a beat for Holtzman that ensures her status as the MVP of the entire film) has a solid emotional core that Wiig and McCarthy make look ridiculously easy, it's another missed opportunity to hammer home a grand slam rather than a solid double.

However, the new Ghostbusters stands tall as a franchise re-invigoration every bit as effective as Abrams' 2009 Star Trek, and yet another benchmark for genre heroines. As the saying goes, they have the tools, they have the talent.

No comments:

Post a Comment