Ghostbusters (1984) is one of the first films I saw at the cinema. Culturally, it is one of the most significant films in my life. Repeatedly watched and constantly referenced by myself and my friends, it occupies a similar space to Star Wars in terms of the creative influence it has had on me. So, after over 30 years, how does it hold up? Not bad. Still very funny. Now it feels much more like a film starring Bill Murray than the ensemble piece it seemed to be in my youth. A great script with very talented improvisational actors make for some superb comic sequences. Having said that, this also feels like an action movie, there do seem to be stakes, it is not just a bunch of SNL’ers doing a string of comedy skits. Any film set in NYC has already practically won me over, and Manhattan plays a big role in this movie. On the downside, while I can accept the VFX for what they were, it would be interesting to see what younger audiences would make of them. Also, with so many films of a different generation, attitudes and outlooks have changed. While Peter Venkman (Murray) may have been viewed as a lovable rogue back then, now his advances on Sigourney Weaver look a little creepy.
Ghostbusters 2 (1989) is almost a beat for beat retelling of the original. The original cast return, as does director Ivan Reitman. It is again written by Dan Aykroyd and the sadly missed Harold Ramis. Characters that do not return are replaced with comparable archetypes. Whilst there is an argument that the climax of the film is an inversion of the original, the fact that the spectacle is almost identical is unavoidable. There are some very funny moments in the film, especially the first half, but the laughs get fewer and fewer as the film goes on. Narratively there are questions that go unanswered, and it’s almost as if the film makers viewed this as a comedy that did not need to be taken too seriously, so plot disparities were acceptable. This seeming lack of care means that we never believe that any of the characters are in jeopardy. As the rules of the world the film creates are inconsistent and unexplained, it feels like anything can happen at anytime, to suit the needs of the plot. And it does. Another problem is Winston Zedmore (Ernie Hudson), the 4th Ghostbuster, whose character seems to drift in and out of the story without explanation. Sometimes he’s with the team, sometimes he’s not. Ghostbusters 2 is worth watching, but feels like a TV movie, rather than a cinematic experience.
I first saw Ghostbusters (2016) last summer, and given the misogynistic internet rage surrounding the film, was desperate for it to be a success. I came out of the theatre satisfied that it was an ‘okay’ summer blockbuster, and while haters gonna hate, it was certainly not terrible. On a recent re-watch, however, it is the weakest of the franchise, and suffers from almost all of the problems of the 1989 sequel to the original. Director Paul Feig again gives us exact same story, with the exact same protagonists and antagonists, and a laser show in NYC as the finale, just like the other two films. The comedy is fairly hit and miss, some notable highlights being Chris Hemsworth as the Homer-esque receptionist and Andy Garcia as the Mayor. The re-boot falls into the trap the original managed to somehow avoid; this is a string of SNL’ers doing improvisational sketch comedy, with no sense of stakes or peril. Clearly the cast is talented, but they seem to feel the weight of the 1984 film on their shoulders, inhibiting them. There are some cringe inducing moments where you feel you are watching people desperately ‘trying’ to be funny. There are a few cool VFX scenes, and an attempt to do something slightly different with the ending, but this film is stifled by its determination to tell a story thats already been told. All female leads was not different enough, we needed all female leads in a new story. I’d love to see this cast in a sequel, free from the apparent need to give us the same origins story again, but I believe the scheduled follow up has been cancelled. Worth watching only for completeness, ultimately, Ghostbusters (2016) feels like a missed opportunity.