My big problem with the new 'Ghostbusters'? The ghosts
SPOILER ALERT: There are numerous Ghostbusters plot giveaways below. If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to know what happens, go read something else.
The new Ghostbusters currently boasts an impressive 73% "Fresh" rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, and according to the latest box office numbers, the Paul Feig-directed reboot looks to be on track for at least a $40 million opening weekend. In the wake of all the bad buzz that's been building since the first trailer dropped, that counts as a big victory. While I’m not one of the film’s admirers, I’ll be more than happy to celebrate its success in the wake of the misogyny-driven war that's been waged on it from day one by a small-but-vocal contingent of online trolls.
And therein lies the dilemma that comes with supporting a film like Ghostbusters: just because I'm rooting for it to succeed doesn't mean I think it's a good movie. And it's not, in the final analysis, good (though Drew would disagree with me). While the main quartet -- Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy -- are uniformly excellent in their roles, the second half of the film is a dull, monotonous special-effects showcase, and overall I found the Chris Hemsworth dumb-assistant schtick tiresome and not terribly funny. Also, the ghosts? Could've been better.
One of the things that made Ghostbusters '84 work so well was its spooks -- a group that included such memorable characters as Slimer, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Zuul/Vinz, the demonic demi-gods that take the form of legitimately creepy stop-motion hellhounds. The first two in particular became enormously popular pop-cultural touchstones, and -- buttressed by their appearances in the cartoon spin-offs -- spawned a slew of Ghostbusters-branded merchandise including action figures, plush toys and even, in Slimer’s case, a Hi-C flavor.
Slimer and Stay-Puft proved so indelible for a couple of major reasons: 1) their specificity and 2) their comedic resonance. As opposed to the elegant, drifting spirits that populated so many supernatural horror films prior to Ghostbusters’ release (memorably spoofed in the film's opening scene), Slimer was a slobbering, voracious green blob with an adorably manic personality, while Stay-Puft's contradictory nature -- cheery, Pillsbury Dough Boy-like behemoth with the power to crush millions beneath pillowy white stumps -- made him an instantly memorable villain and comic creation.
By contrast, the ghosts in the reboot passed my attention without making much of an impression. While I found the bit involving Leslie Jones and the winged, Day-Glo demon at the heavy metal concert humorous enough, the grinning, Gargoyle-esque creature felt a tad too similar to previous movie monsters to make an impact. The Macy’s balloon spooks similarly underwhelmed thanks to their adherence to relatively standard types (dinosaur, scary stilt-walker, et al.), while the ethereal-turned-ghastly ghoul that sets off Wiig’s laugh-out-loud “Ghosts are real!” declaration represents a gag we've seen in any number of films before, from The Shining to Raiders of the Lost Ark to -- yes -- the original Ghostbusters.
As for the film's big baddie, Neil Casey's Rowan similarly disappoints. I have to agree with the complaint (which I've seen voiced elsewhere) that he feels underdeveloped as a villain, and the choice to have him transform into a monstrous version of the Ghostbusters logo in the film's climactic sequence feels almost baffling. Not only is the gargantuan beastie too close in design to Stay-Puft, I'm just not sure what the joke behind his transformation is supposed to be. Stay-Puft worked brilliantly not only because of how unlikely he was as a villain but because he was a consequence of Ray's foolishness, growing organically from the character's almost child-like earnestness. Conversely, "Ghostbusters Logo Monster" feels almost like an afterthought.
Additionally, I was a little nonplussed by Feig and his collaborators’ choice to blanket every invading spirit in a veil of green/blue mist, which not only tended to obscure the action taking place on screen but which effectively lumped the ghosts into a single, interconnected mass of neon vapor. While I won't pretend to know what the reasoning behind that choice was, I found the overall effect distracting, and at times I couldn't help but feel like the filmmakers were trying to obscure some shoddy f/x work.
I'll repeat: Ghostbusters is far from the disaster that many were predicting, and I want it to be a hit if only to crush the hopes of the haters who have become so creepily invested in its failure. But it's far from the roaring success I wanted it to be, partly because it doesn't live up to the first half of its title. The "busters" are truly the best part of the movie; it's the "Ghost(s)" I have a problem with.