Trying to reboot anything in this day and age is a truly difficult task. With Hollywood apparently starved of ideas, each year brings with it yet more and more late sequels, re-imaginings, rehashes and productions attempting to milk nostalgia for a quick buck. Barring Mad Max: Fury Road, John Carpenter's The Thing and the Coen brother's True Grit, it's hard to pin down even a handful which are good let alone truly great. This frustration seems to have hit boiling point with the Ghostbusters reboot, unleashing a veritable tsunami of fanboy vitriol long before the film was even released.
The complaints have become so massive they have coloured any discussion surrounding the film, to the point where the film's promotional campaign began to slyly mock their fury. Even reviews of official outlets feel the need to comment upon this rage in some way, with writers either actively stoking the flames for views or trying to distance themselves from the inherent sexism of the fandom's worst elements.
Yet what's remarkable more than anything else is one quality of the film lurking in the center of this firestorm of controversy. Specifically, how forgettably mediocre it truly is.
Anyone remotely familiar with the franchise will likely know the story behind this one: Blue collar style professors lose their jobs, then start their own personal company to deal with supernatural phenomena. After a rocky start, they begin to find success and soon hire an every-(wo?)man to help expand their operations. Things promptly go quite literally to hell in the face of both government interference and a demonic prophecy, a friend is possessed by the damned, and it all ends in explosive goop.
This is the case again here, with the film sticking largely to the same structure as its predecessors save for a few odd twists. Certain locations have been updated, a few gags have been altered here and there to play towards the actresses' strengths or to stick with the times. A curious choice to be sure, not only given the major criticisms surrounding reboots being pale copies of their predecessors; but also given how often Ghostbusters II has been cited as a failure for rehashing so much of the first film. Suffice to say, it doesn't do this reboot any favours and makes some of its shortcomings all the more evident. For fans of the original, it brings memories of the film they liked to the forefront of their minds, and as a result every difference or discordant element just makes the film seem all the weaker.
It hardly helps that the new Ghostbusters attempts to mash a very different type of humour onto an entirely different plot. While both films started at the same point, this remake tries to go its own way but doesn't alter the script enough in order to support it. As such, the loud, abrupt and aggressive humour it tires to put is tonally jarring with the story, which was originally written to fit a much methodical, calmer and far more subdued series of gags. Because of this, it means that this reboot is damned if it sticks to the old but is equally screwed if it tries to go its own way. An unfortunate situation for any production to be in for sure. In fact, the few moments where it truly starts to work is when it largely abandons the Ghostbusters elements entirely, and instead fully support the SNL style jokes most of the cast are used to performing.
Surprisingly, the cast choices are another key strength which keeps the film from being a total disaster. Each member of this group has genuinely great on-screen chemistry with the other. Many of the quieter scenes feature them playing off one another extremely well via personal comments or even just body language, especially in the build-up to the opening ghost encounter. There's the potential for a fantastic team dynamic on display here, but the film keeps breaking away from this to try and focus upon the characters individually. A definite problem given that, as individuals, they're often poorly written to the point of being caricatures resulting in the most cringe-worthy examples of the film's gags. This makes the character arcs especially difficult to appreciate and it can be difficult to become engrossed in their development as a result.
This ability for one positive aspect to be utterly undermined by a negative one elsewhere even mars the cinematography. Whatever else you might say about Paul Feig, the man is a proven director with some definite skill when it comes to visually expressing a story to his audience. Many of the shots are great, flowing together exceptionally well, at least until the editing hits it hard. Jumping around all over the place during the final act, the climax looks less like a structured finale than it does the results of a maniac taking a hacksaw to the film reed. Given its poor quality, it honestly wouldn't be surprising if we later learn a Columbia exec or two pulled a Green Lantern in response to the negative backlash, taking it upon themselves to try and "fix" the film before its release. It would certainly help explain why so much of this film feels as if it was churned off of a production line rather than crafted by a creative team.
It's trapped in this odd Dracula Untold situation where the film could be fantastic, and you can see where all the right parts were in place. They just never fully gelled, so while it certainly has all the positive parts for a great revamp of the franchise and could lead to a great sequel, this film doesn't quite hit the mark.
Look, Ghostbusters is hardly a great film, but it's certainly not worth getting worked up over. Sure, it has its moments and there are some admittedly fun bright spots here and there, but it's most definitely not the return to form audiences wanted for this franchise. That said, we have seen far, far worse things projected up onto the big screen in recent times. Keep in mind that the last two years alone brought us Pixels, Fant4stic, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Monsters: Dark Continent, Pan, Mortdecai, Superman Vs. Batman - Dawn of Justice and United Passions. In the face of that barrage of utter bullshit, this thing is practically a gold standard by comparison. The film not some hell-spawned blight, it's merely bland, middle-of-the-road, unremarkable and banal. It's honestly not worthy of any investment so great as hatred, not when you directors like Michael Bay turning childhood icons into full blown psychopaths.
If you honestly want to have a great time with a colourful and smart film this month, take the cash you were setting aside for Ghostbusters and put it towards Finding Dory. Really, that film deserves far more attention than anything currently being said about it and even so many years on it proves to be a solid follow-up to the original. Still, if you truly want a definitive Ghostbusters 3, find a copy of the 2009 video game which reunited the original cast one last time. Penned by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the jokes are on point, the fights are exciting, it does a better job utilising prior encounters from the films, and the gameplay holds up pretty well even today.
As for this year's Ghostbusters? It's worth a rental or quiet screening, but it's one of those films you'll probably only see once. You'll have a good time, but don't expect to remember much from it in the weeks to come.