In cinema, if there’s one thing worse than being tosh, its being average. Fantastic Four (2015) might have been one of the all-time turds, but precisely because of that people will still be talking about it in decades to come, unlike Chappie (2015), Terminator Genisys (2015), The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015) and a host of other forgettable blockbusters from last year.
Controversy and expectation can help, even before a film reaches theatres; all publicity is good publicity. In the past twelve months no film has drawn as much attention as Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters ‘reboot’, the vast majority of it negative. A minority of ‘fans’ of the Ivan Reitman 1984 original pounced on the all-female cast as the destruction of their beloved franchise, as if a lack of penises somehow had sway on the quality of the resulting film. If Feig and his cast were lacking in motivation before filming began, by the time the shoot wrapped they had all the inspiration in the world to prove the doubters and chauvinists wrong.
It’s doubly disappointing then that what Feig has delivered is another run-of-the-mill blockbuster. It’s not a bad film; it has its moment and it’s far from the disaster the detractors were hoping for. But it’s also completely unmemorable and continues the worrying trend of film studios spending their money on the ultra safe option. And the safe option is very rarely the most entertaining one.
It’s a small victory for Feig that the best thing in Ghostbusters (2016) is his cast. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones all do well with the script, while Chris Hemsworth threatens to steal the movie as dim-witted Janine replacement Kevin. The only misstep is Kate McKinnon whose supposedly edgy science geek suffers uneven writing and jokes that fail to land. But its elsewhere that the real problems surface.
Caught between a reverent tribute to the original and a completely fresh start, the film ends up doing neither particularly well. Cameos are wasted and throwbacks to the first two films are too obvious. The numerous script rewrites that the production suffered are clear to see, with an uneven plot and large chasms between laughs. The easy spontaneity and ad-libbed lines from Murray, Ramis and Aykroyd are sorely missed, 'We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!'. The main villain Rowan (Neil Casey) doesn’t compare to Zuul and even struggles to make the same impact that Ghostbusters II (1989) protagonist Vigo made. CGI overload threatens to derail things, particularly during the climactic battle, and the shininess of it all can’t hold a candle to the genuine punch of the original’s practical effects. The new soundtrack also pales in comparison to the 1984 classic, with little offered up to rival The Bus Boys, Alessi, Laura Branigan, Mick Smiley, Air Supply, The Thompson Twins, etc.
Ghostbusters (2016) will make money though and for Hollywood that’s all that really matters. It’ll make money because it comes with its own pre-bought army of fans. It’s a safe bet that a large percentage of existing Ghostbuster aficionados are going to part with their cash to see Feig’s new offering. Any new fans that come along are a bonus. For movie fans hungry for new stories, new franchises and new adventures to get excited about, this play-it-safe Hollywood trend is disheartening. Even more depressing than that, it shows no signs of stopping.
Until one of these reboot / remake / reimaginings fails financially all we’ll get served each summer are Robocop retoolings, Poltergeist remakes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles re-does, and directors taking another stab at film properties that are best left untouched. Nothing is sacred anymore; expect Jaws: The Return in cinemas within the next five years.
The biggest problem with Feig’s reboot, as we highlighted a few months back (http://filmsfilmsfilms.co.uk/blog/ghostbusters_iii_some_decisions_are_just_bad/2014-10-14-79 ), is that a genuine Part Three was teased for so long. It was a sad day when these plans ended with the passing of Harold Ramis. For most fans, it wasn’t anger over a female cast strapping on the proton packs, it was sadness that it wasn’t going to be Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis and Hudson. It’s in to the face of this disappointment that Feig’s film had to fly and it needed a fantastic movie to get over the hump. That’s not what was delivered though. It isn’t a failed movie, just another ok, risk-averse offering that will disappear from audience’s memories before the final credits finish rolling.
There was a time when popcorn movies, despite being created to shift toys and sell McDonalds tie-ins, were original and inventive, Indiana Jones, Men In Black, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean. But when was the last time Hollywood released a new blockbuster that wasn’t based on a pre-existing property or franchise? We should be in the middle of a new golden era. The technology that’s needed to create wonders of modern cinema exists now; what took computer engineers months to craft with Jurassic Park (1993) can now be done in a matter of days. So why is this technology being used to create uninspiring fare? Where are the great ideas to match the high-tech tools that we now have? Have filmmakers grown lazy? Has the drive for safe profit overtaken the push for great art, even in the blockbuster movie market? When did cinema become this disposable?