Saturday, August 6, 2016

View Log: Ghostbusters (2016)

The original 1987 Ghostbusters is a bit of a sacred cow. So much so that every attempt at a third film would die a slow, painful, languishing death.

Someday, I'll go over the full history of this reboot, from its proto-origins in a Dan Aykroyd-written sequel to several abandoned soft reboots attempting to show the team's Next Generation, as it were. But with the original stars declining to return, and the unfortunate death of Harold Ramis, it was only inevitable that Sony would say "Screw it, just reboot it." And as if this wouldn't raise enough hackles, the decision was made to make the protagonists female. Which was immediately controversial, to say the least.

I've done something a bit different this time, though. After discussing this film with family and friends, I've decided that this View Log needs other opinions than my own. And since, like so many other reviewers, I've found myself carrying on conversations with fictional characters, I've decided to invite one character from each of the Marvel Animation Universe shows I've covered thus far. 

Representing Avengers Assemble will be Hawkeye.

"Hey."
Representing Ultimate Spider-Man will be Squirrel Girl.

"And Tippy Toe and Monkey Joe!"
If those squirrels cause any more trouble, I'm replacing you with White Tiger.

"You two just had to eat his Fruity Pebbles, didn't you?"
And representing Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. is She-Hulk.

"Thanks for having me."
And the four of us will be moderated by the Living Tribunal. Are we ready?

"Yes."
Then let's begin.

"First topic: The gender-swap. And as we're beginning alphabetically, Hawkeye has the floor. Your thoughts?"
"I thought it was gimmicky. I see a lot of people gushing over the team and I can't help but think that many women simply like the idea of it. Regardless of the film's flaws and merits, the idea of an all-women team appeals to them, and they're more forgiving of the film for that reason."
"What's stopping me from reversing that and saying that you only like the original 'cause you like the idea of men as main characters?"
"...Okay, fair point. That was pretty sexist of me. Sorry."
"Apology accepted, just think before you speak, please and thanks."
"Actually, you kind of have a point, Hawkeye."
"I do?"
"Wait, really? You think Mr. Black-Widow-Is-A-Slut here has a sexist point?"
"That wasn't me, that was Jeremy Renner!"
"Settle down, everybody. You were saying, She-Hulk?"
"I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't thrilled about the new Ghostbusters all being women.
But that's nevertheless a valid reaction. The fact that they're all female appeals to me, but it's not the only factor in whether or not our entire gender enjoys a film."
I'll admit that I was worried about an all-female lineup when it was first announced. My first thought was 'Please, don't be some dumb publicity stunt.' But I'll admit that in the end, the gender of the characters is largely immaterial. The script is surprisingly gender-neutral when it comes to the main characters.

"I see your point. But in the same way that an all-girl team appeals to some people, I just find it needlessly gimmicky. I mean, as you said, the script was largely gender-neutral. In the same way that they didn't need to be all men, I feel as though they didn't need to be all women either."
I guess that makes sense, but on the other hand, is there a reason why they can't all be women?

"...No reason I can think of that doesn't sound sexist."
"And we're one step closer to a world where an all-female cast is just as common in major movies as an all-male cast!"
Or a bunch of imitators are going to jump on that particular bandwagon.

"Good point. I doubt that the all-female Ocean's Eleven remake would have been greenlighted without the Ghostbusters reboot."
"We're getting off the subject."
Sorry, you're right. I think we'll all have to agree to disagree on this one.

"Closing thoughts on the topic?"
"I don't mind the idea of a female-led Ghostbusters movie, but I think the buildup around it was meant to be a publicity stunt, and that's what I have a problem with. Too much hyping, not enough perfecting the film."
The film itself only actively calls attention to the genders of its protagonists in order to sneak in subtle retaliations at the constant hate the idea's gotten since the film was announced. What matters in the long run is the movie itself, not the hype.

"I feel like I've made my point already."
"I agree with Newt. You could reverse the genders of all the characters in this thing and get almost exactly the same movie. Any problems with the characters don't come from their genders."
"You've excellently segued us into our next topic: the characters themselves. It's your turn, Newt. Thoughts?"
Well... I feel as though we should go character by character in the order they were introduced. So. Erin Gilbert. I thought she was a solid character who had a nice arc as she came out of her shell, changing from who the world wanted her to be into who she truly was.

"Kristen Wiig has an awesome deadpan delivery, and I thought it served her well."
"She was fine."
"Why did she have an origin story?"
Huh?

"She had an origin story. That whole bit about seeing that ghost every night for a year? Why did she have to have an origin story to want to study the paranormal? Abby doesn't have an origin story, and if anything, she's even more obsessed with the paranormal."
The cynic in me says it's to wring a bit more emotion out of the audience, and maybe to fill a bit of time, since there's no love story.

"Though it does flesh her out as a character."
"The other characters don't seem to need that. Abby Yates's personality manages to speak through actions, not words."
"And nearly all those actions and words have to do with food. She's a walking fat joke."
To be fair, the joke is that she likes food, not necessarily that she's fat.

"The fat one likes food. It's a fat joke."
"But her comments about food would work just as well for a skinnier character."
"That's not the point. They gave those lines to the fat one. And then they made her a typical Melissa McCarthy character, albeit one who spouts lines filled with technical gibberish."
Yeah, I feel like they could have fleshed her out a bit more. That wasn't a fat joke on my part, by the way.

"But we can all agree that Jillian Holtzmann was great, right?"
Absolutely. Thank heaven for Jillian Holtzmann.

"Agreed. She was consistently fun to watch and brought a lot to the team."
"She had her moments, but I felt she was mostly goofiness for the sake of goofiness."
So... we've reached the elephant in the room.

"Whether or not Patty is a walking sassy black stereotype?"
To be fair, the part was written for Melissa McCarthy originally.

"Yeah, but we still have to judge the film by what was up on the screen. And what was up on the screen was a sassy black lady shouting ebonics."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Uh... it's racist?"
"People come from all walks of life. White, black, Asian, latino, what-have-you. In this world, there are black women who happen to have very boisterous personalities. And while it might be an unfair stereotype to generalize a group of people like that... well, remember, Leslie Jones tweeted an all-caps message that literally said 'I DONT GIVE TWO SHITS WHAT A MUTHAFUCKA THINK IM A GHOSTBUSTER BITCH!'"
Did... did Squirrel Girl just swear?

"It's okay 'cause I'm quoting. But Leslie Jones herself is, for all intents and purposes, a sassy lady who happens to be black. And since that's just who she is, I feel like she has nothing to apologize for."
"Yeah, but you can't deny that her performance is leading to some 'It's funny because she's black!' reactions, which has led some people to compare her to a minstrel show."
And other reactions. Like the actress getting spammed on Twitter with messages like... well, I don't feel comfortable repeating the slurs here. But she certainly doesn't deserve what she's gotten.

"Absolutely not. I mean, nobody deserves the crap she's gotten. I mean, I might dislike the movie, but at least I can discuss it like a grown-up."
"Let's not forget, though. A lot of people say the character isn't booksmart. Except she is. She has a whole stack of books at her desk, explaining why she knows all that trivia about New York City. Patty is a really smart character. Just not in the field of science. Her strength lies in her encyclopedic knowledge of New York history. And she seems to be much better at dealing with the local authorities than weirdo Holtzmann, or either of the scientists."
On the other hand, Kevin was useless, but I still love him to death.

"Kevin made no sense."
"He's a moron. That confuses you?"
"How could anybody be that dumb? I mean, seriously, he covered his eyes in order to stop hearing things. Covering your ears is something that babies can master."
"Isn't that kind of the joke? Kevin's a male bimbo?"
He's a mimbo.

"People would be crying sexism if you added a blonde woman that dumb. And since the movie's making a big deal out of the gender-swap, then isn't that something we should be considering?"
Mmm... possibly. I mean, Janine was eye-candy, certainly, but that doesn't mean he was incompetent. But this movie likes to zig where the original zags.

How do we all feel about the villain, though?

"Oh, Chris Hemsworth was great as the villain."
I meant Neil Casey as Rowan.

"He was barely in this."
"He had plenty of screen time."
"Yeah, but all he did was do his little deadpan rants and act like an antisocial jerk. When he took over Chris Hemsworth's body, he suddenly developed a personality. Before that point, he was simply a manifestation of the film's internet critics. And like nearly every other antagonistic character, he throws out some misogyny in order to parallel the hate people threw at the movie before it was even made."
"Yeah, that was a little unfortunate."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, in order to draw a parallel to the gender-related complaints as the movie was being made, they added a lot of casual misogyny to the antagonistic characters, whether it be 'Ain't no bitches bustin' no ghosts,' or Rowan mentioning that women Ghostbusters would take forever to decide what to wear to the final fight."
"Yeah, but it's always the bad guys saying those things. We're not supposed to be taking them seriously."
"True, but the end result is a movie filled with sexist remarks."
It's the same problem that Kevin Smith has with Chasing Amy. The dumbest character in the film claims that a man can sex the gay out of any lesbian, which people naturally take offense to, even though Kevin Smith put that opinion in the mouth of the dumbest character to illustrate how dumb that opinion is.

"Yeah, there will always be people who don't understand satire."
"It's not that I don't understand why it was done, I just think it could have been handled better."
"Fair enough. Sorry."
"Closing statements regarding the characters?"
Much like how the original film features SNL and SCTV saving the day, this one is full-on with SNL hero-ing up. And while I might not be the biggest fan of Melissa McCarthy, the rest of the cast more than makes up for it.

This film has a few problems, but the least among them is the cast.
"Holtzmann and Kevin steal the show!"
"They do give it their all, even if I don't care for Melissa McCarthy doing her usual schtick."
"Now, then. The story. She-Hulk, it's your turn to begin."
"While the story was fine, I feel as though it was constantly overshadowed by the presence of the original film by all those little nods they crammed in. And some of them were just distracting. Like, they fight a Macy's parade balloon version of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man... and then they fight a completely different white, puffy monster in the finale? And don't get me started on the quotes."
"Mass hysteria! ...With no mention of dogs and cats living together."
Aim for the silver canisters! ...As opposed to the flat-top.

"Total protonic reversal! ...With no steam-crossing in sight."
"Yeah, they were all weird little halfway references."
"Don't forget the pointless Slimer cameo."
"He wasn't pointless! He helped defeat Rowan!"
 Yeah, but you have to admit that he was basically crammed in for the final act.

"...I guess you could say that. But the plot itself was a creative reimagining of the basic plot of the first film! Not only that, but it ventured into new territory on several aspects that were glossed over in the original, like the development of all the ghost-busting toys."
"At the expense of the pacing."
"Yeah, the pacing was pretty slow. It took forever for them to even get to this film's equivalent of the library ghost, let alone set up their ghostbusting team."
The original film had a ghostbusting montage which is very cathartic after they spend so long busting Slimer. This film can't really have a montage, since the idea here is that ghosts are only in specific locations designated by ley lines, but the end result is a movie that takes forever to get going, pausing repeatedly to show the characters testing equipment.

Is it cool? Sure. Is it an absolute necessity? I don't think so.

"But the film definitely made up for that in the final act. That action scene was unlike anything we'd ever seen in a Ghostbusters movie before, showing off all of the team's new toys in action."
"Yeah, but those ghosts were all just blue pilgrims and blue sailors."
"Save your thoughts; we'll discuss the effects next."
"Okay. But the final fight against Rowan was a little disappointing."
"Very disappointing."
"I wanted them to bust Rowan's head!"
In a spiritual sense, of course.

"But nope. They force the Ecto-1 into the hellmouth, blow it up, shoot Rowan in the crotch, and the day is saved. All that's left is to save Baymax, I mean, Abby from the other dimension."
Yeah, that bit was kind of full-on Big Hero Six. But... the whole thing foreshadowing Zuul at the end has me worried.

"Why?"
Because... well, let me put it this way. 2009's Star Trek movie made a few references to Wrath of Khan, such as the brain-bug things and the bad guy yelling out 'Spooooock!' So when the sequel drew on Wrath of Khan yet again, it was like, 'Yeah. We get it. Wrath of Khan was good. Do something new.' And I don't want a new Ghostbusters series that does nothing but draw on the originals, rather than blazing its own trail."

"Final statements?"
"While I appreciate that the movie's trying to tell a new story within the same framework, the pacing is awkward and the references to the first movie are distracting."
"I liked that it didn't just rehash the first film, but told a new story with the Ghostbusters formula."
"It was a poorly-paced rehash of the first one."
It's biggest problem is that the references and plot points make it nigh-impossible to separate from the first film, making comparisons inevitable. I want to judge it on its own merits, but it's very difficult.

"Finally, the visual effects. Squirrel Girl, you have the floor."
"This was a super-pretty film! I like that many of the ghosts were actually created as physical props before getting the CGI treatment, which is pretty close to how the ghosts were done in the original film."
"Agreed. This movie is exactly what I expected a Ghostbusters film to look like in the year 2016. I mean, the proton streams were gorgeous."
Yeah.... but I feel as though the ghosts weren't as creative this time around.

"What do you mean?"
Well, let's compare the first ghost in each movie. Both of them start off as humanoid ladies before turning all spoopy, right? Well, let's compare spoopy-faces.

2016....
And 1987.
And let's compare the zappy ghost with his nearest equivalent, the Scoleri Brothers.

2016....
And 1989.
The original series ghosts were much more creative-looking.

"True, but the new ghosts looked so much more realistic."
But one of the hallmarks of the entire franchise is how creative the ghosts look! The library ghost, the Scoleri Brothers, Slimer, and anything from the cartoons! Sure, there was the occasional stroke of genius like the ghostly parade, but most of the ghosts in this were boring ol' humans glowing blue.

"I agree with you on the swarm of ghosts at the end, but what about Mayhem?"
...The guy from the insurance commercials?

"The green bat-thing."
That was a bat? I thought it was a dragon or something.

"It's the ghost of the bat that Ozzy Osborne bit the head off of."
...What.

"That's what the internet says, at least."
"I liked Mayhem! It gave the team a strong initial threat to prove themselves against!"
"Right. An 'initial threat'... that was the third ghost they encountered."
"Still, I thought it was a pretty cool monster."
It looked like a CGI mess to me. It's facial movements were really rubbery, and they tried to cover that up with the ghostly effects. In fact, the CGI ghosts in this movie are pretty much all terrible.

"Agreed. The practical effect ghosts like the pilgrim hordes and the zappy guy really do look amazing. CGI ghosts like Slimer and Mayhem? Not so much."
They should have gotten Robin Shelby back to operate a Slimer puppet. She's a nice lady.

"To be fair, guys, the budget was slashed."
And also, to be fair, Rowan's final kaiju form looked really good. I was quite impressed with how they made him look like a big bag of energy, with a realistic cloth pattern and everything.

"Even though his CGI was too well-done to keep onscreen for very long."
"Yeah, he didn't last long, did he?"
"Final statements, everyone?"
"The effects were faithful to the original, but utilized with modern digital techniques."
"The CGI was horrendous."
The practical effects were much better than the all-CGI creations, but it was still a good-looking movie. Despite the lack of creativity in some of the designs.

"Agreed."
"Final opinions on the film? We'll start alphabetically."
"It was a mess that never found its footing, despite so much potential."
It was pretty good, though it did have its flaws. At least it was better than Ghostbusters 2.

"It was okay. If it wasn't part of an established franchise, it would probably be forgotten in a couple years."
"The original film was a work of genius, but this one is a worthy successor that promises some exciting sequels."
Okay, then. Well, thank you all for your time. I look forward to nitpicking your respective shows some more.

"Oh, joy."
And I'd like to especially thank you, Hawkeye, for being able to voice your dissatisfaction with the film in a reasonably polite and adult manner. Barring one or two slip-ups.

"Yeah, no problem. Sorry again about that first thing I said, She-Hulk."
"Don't worry about it. But if you do it again, you're getting one heck of a smack."
"Point taken. I'm just glad you were willing to hear out my criticisms."
"Even though we disagree, we can still talk about it like adults."
Yeah. You should see some of the people I turned down for our little discussion. Ant-Man kept nitpicking the differences in the original made-up science and the new made-up science. And you don't want to know what Nova said about the new team. I think he's been spamming IMDb with 1-star ratings, too.

"What a lame-o."
As ever, I'd like to invite my readers to feel free to leave their own opinion on the film in the comments! Did you like the movie? What hopes do you have for the sequel? Do you think Chris Hemsworth will return, seeing as how he'll be doing Marvel and Star Trek stuff, too? Let me know!

9 comments:

  1. I found myself often (though not ALWAYS) agreeing with Squirrel Girl! As a basic, relatively neutral viewer, I found that the CGI was entertaining to see, though I certainly agree that it could have taken a more creative approach. For a movie that made so many homages to the original series, it would have been nice to see the film match its creative energy, which wasn't as present as I'd have liked.
    I read a great point on Leslie Jones' character in reference to the "sassy black woman" trope. As mentioned, the role was originally written for McCarthy. Once the roles, and therefore races were switched, they seemed to have done a good job adapting her into a bit of a historian. Many viewers, including myself, didn't walk way with this initial feeling, unfortunately. As I remembered her specific lines though, I appreciated more and more the way they tried to steer her away from the "street smart black woman wit a uncle Morty" and more into a true New Yorker who knew the long reaching history of the city. Given the switch in casting, it's safe to conclude that though they tried, I'd have liked to see more of that.
    With the kinks now worked out, though, I'm hopeful that this new Ghostbusters reboot will take a route of its own from here on out, including enhanced CGI, character development, and a way of giving THIS generation its own cache of cult-hit references.

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    1. The film needed more money to polish the CGI. I was hoping that a sequel with a higher budget could remedy that, but... yeah, that seems to be a pipe dream.

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  2. This was a spectacular write up! Personally I think my views are about a mix of your's, Squirrel Girl's and She-Hulk's.

    I did find the ghost designs good (those damn manequinns were creepy) but now that I think about it, its a bit of a poor mix of realism and cartoony. Like, the big blue shining effects to the ghosts are rather distracting and hard to make out the finer details of the ghosts like the original movies.

    Also, I really hated the part when Erin unleashed the ghost just ot prove that one skeptic guy wrong. She directly killed him because of her wounded ego but the movie just flat out glosses over it and all her teammates are chill with it.

    As annoying as plot mandated friendship failure is as a trope, it feels like the movie should've used that in some capacity.

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    1. I get the feeling that there was something like that in initial drafts, because that particular trope does seem to be set up before going nowhere.

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  3. I haven't seen the movie, and don't really plan to (not the biggest Ghostbusters fan, sorry), but I really enjoyed the format here. The characterization of the "guest stars" was pretty spot on, I could honestly see this discussion happening in canon. Though I'm pretty sure there's about a million "Avengers movie night" fanfics that have that ground covered. And seeing the Living Tribunal always does my geeky heart some good.

    - That One Anon

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  4. Thank you all very much for your amazing feedback, which I'll respond to individually when I finally find the time to give your comments the consideration they deserve.

    Quick correction, though: They DID bring back Robin Navlyt (now Robin Shelby) for the reboot. As the voice of Slimer's girlfriend ghost.

    While it's wonderful to know that they cared enough to bring her back, I still would have loved to see her operate a Slimer puppet.

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  5. That was a bat?

    Seriously though, great and unique review...

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  6. Using Teen Titans Go as proof, I think it's a generally bad idea to make fun of your critics in your work, unless you're being friendly or really clever about it.

    Among other reasons it's because general approach to always approach is always to find the dumbest criticism and then act like it's the only criticism.

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    1. I thought that the jab at the critics with the inclusion of "Ain't no bitches busting no ghosts" was actually funny, but the continued "Take THAT!"s kind of got old.

      I was like, "Yeah. Haters gonna hate, you do your own thing, Ghostbusters. So when are you going to stop bending backwards to convince the haters and start working on being a great movie?"

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