Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Comparing all three Ghostbusters:
A Personal Point-by-Point
At some point or another, you may have quite possibly heard that a brand new Ghostbusters movie came out in 2016, the first in about thirty years since Ghostbusters II. You may have also heard a pretty wild variety of opinions, ranging from "I saw it and it changed my life" to "I didn't see it but I give it negative ten thousand stars and only paid sheople enjoyed it."
I'll admit, I didn't have completely optimistic hopes for it, but that's hardly because it was a new Ghostbusters film. It was first and foremost because it was a new film and Hollywood has consistently let me down far more than it's ever wowed me, but even if this turned out to be a massive stinker, I certainly wasn't going to feel personally slighted. Speaking as someone who grew up a "Ghostbusters kid," the venom and bile leveled at this film simply for being a reboot with new characters at all was positively unreal, and I had no idea the original movie was held anywhere near that sacred until this one's existence somehow tore human civilization asunder.
...But enough about that. We're going to talk about what I, personally, as one unimportant individual with a glorified blog, consider the good points and bad points of all three movies...and yes, all three have a fairly equal share of both.
The Worst Things About Ghostbusters:
We're going to begin each of these with the bad points, and let's get this one out of the way first, because it's quite possibly going to piss off a lot of die-hard fans: Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is not a good guy, nor even an "antihero" with any evident heroism waiting to come out. As a kid, his scenes with Dana never grabbed my attention and quickly faded from memory, but through an objective, adult lens, this guy is the creepiest ghoul in the whole film. He ruthlessly abuses innocent strangers whenever it either benefits him or the mood just strikes him, throws his own friends under the bus as soon as it's convenient and manipulates or outright forces his way into relationships with women that would land any real person behind bars or at least under a generous restraining order.
Peter might be funny if the narrative was clear on him being a reprehensible, misanthropic sleazebag and threw some comeuppance his way (Bojack Horseman pulls this off, in my book) but the movie is insistent that we root for this sadistic narcissist as some sort of charming, quirky underdog even as he gets every last thing he wants through the degradation of other human beings with no apparent repercussions in sight. Yikes.
Almost as uncomfortable is the portrayal of the Environmental Protection Agency as secondary antagonists. Whether this was intended to be some shoehorned political statement is anyone's guess, but the script wants us to despise Walter Peck for simply doing his job and despise the EPA for their extremely reasonable concerns. The Ghostbusters are utilizing unauthorized, completely untested nuclear technology to contain the spirits of the dead in the middle of a busy city, and we're shown first-hand the inherent danger of this wildly experimental system as soon as it loses power.
The pacing and comedic timing of this movie does not hold up for me as well as it seems to hold up for so many others. It takes a while to really find a good groove, there are a lot of strange, stilted pauses, and while a great deal of it was improvised, the comedy dialog can still feel as if somebody is reading from cue cards.
The character of Winston Zeddmore was originally scripted as an ass-kicking demolitions expert, only to be cut down at the last minute to a regular joe who shows up mid-film for an easy paycheck, all to the lasting disappointment of actor Ernie Hudson.
The Best Things About Ghostbusters:
We take it for granted today, but the very premise of a ghostly extermination service battling the supernatural with advanced technology was highly original in 1984.
"Ghosts" themselves were practically redefined by this film into slimy, monstrous paradimensional entities with a more "science fiction" feel than "magical folklore."
The invented lore surrounding Gozer the Gozerian, the Destructor and the mad architecture of Ivo Shandor still feels like a fresher spin on the "weird fiction" and cosmic horror of the 30's and 40's.
The two "terror dogs" are by far the funniest and most charming characters in this movie. Sigourney Weaver as Zuul - in the body of Dana Barret - manages to be surprisingly frightening with just the right dash of innocent, misplaced canine demon, while Rick Moranis's performance as Vince Clortho in his Louis Tully host goes full-blown "confused puppy from the netherworld" with some truly hilarious mannerisms and incredibly imaginative supernatural babble.
Ray, Egon and Winston are all lovable characters with a strong sense of camaraderie and some truly memorable lines. Ernie Hudson has the funniest line in the film (when someone asks you if you're a god...) with a delivery that just can't be beat. Even their dynamic with Peter is fairly entertaining, even if we, the audience, can more easily see how terrible it is for them.
When it's creative, it's really creative. The world might never forget Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or proton guns until our civilization is reduced to dust.
Some genuinely tense, even terrifying moments for first-time viewings. Child-me was afraid of sitting in a reclining chair for a while.
The Worst Things About Ghostbusters II:
The second film often feels like a "remake" of the first, following a remarkably similar sequence of events. We even begin with the Ghostbusters as barely-employed laughingstocks, as though the rest of the world completely forgot the events of the first film and missed the rampaging marshmallow monster that exploded all over New York. Weird.
While I like the idea of a literal ghost as the main antagonist, Vigo is neither as fashionable nor as disturbing as Gozer.
I can see how people find it a bit too bizarre - even for this franchise - for the Ghostbusters to animate the statue of liberty and pilot her around with a Nintendo controller. Still fun, though.
While her character is more fleshed out and her role expanded, the narrative still defines Dana heavily by her relationship status and the various people (living and unliving) in pursuit of it.
Those new songs.
The Best Things About Ghostbusters II:
Say what you will about this one, but the pacing is more energetic, many of the jokes are snappier and the characters exhibit a much stronger chemistry this time around. It truly feels like a reunion of old friends on another adventure together.
There are more ghosts in this one, and their designs get killer.
The concept of the "psychoreactive slime" flowing under New York City, a spiritual toxic waste born from human misery, is both highly original and creepy as hell.
Peter Venkman is toned down in a good way. The film checks a lot of his douchebaggage, puts him in his place, and presents a relatively healthier dynamic between him, his colleagues and Dana Barret, who all seem to be given a little more control over their interactions and wiser to his bullshit. He even seems to have actually learned, to some degree, that he can't just take whatever he wants from people. As much as people hate on this movie, I feel like the Peter they really remember - when they think of him as a well-meaning screw-up - is more Ghostbusters II and cartoon show Peter than Ghostbusters I Peter.
Sigourney Weaver does her best with her character's new role and channels a little more Ellen Ripley than first-movie Dana, taking more initiative against the inhuman and even storming straight into danger when she needs to.
Janine's fashion sense.
The Worst Things About Ghostbusters (2016):
The one stain on this film, as you may have heard, is that Leslie Jones feels typecast as the only non-scientist of the four, an unnecessary repeat of the issues Ernie Hudson had with his own 'buster thirty years ago. It bears stating, however, that she's present for much more of the film, shown to be much more important to her team, and as funny as her costars; far more than the "loud one with a car" the trailers seemed to paint her as.
Speaking of which, this film has the worst, most misrepresentative trailers I've probably seen in my entire life. Many jokes in the trailers were truly unfunny - and did not occur in the film whatsoever, but were spliced together from unrelated footage or scavenged from deleted scenes.
I'll touch on this in much more detail in another article, but I have some fairly mixed feelings about the ghost designs.
I would have killed for a more extended mid-movie montage of assorted paranormal activity and various ghost-busts. Our heroines only really do one major busting job before the climax.
This one again follows similar beats to the first film. Since we're starting basically over, this isn't too serious of a complaint and feels in some ways necessary to re-establish the Ghostbusters, but I'd have certainly appreciated just a little more deviation from the formulas of the previous two films.
The Best Things About Ghostbusters (2016):
This one spends more time fleshing out its characters, establishing their histories together and even showing us the development of their busting equipment. This sounds like it would drag the film out, but it still feels fast paced and easily drew me in.
There's a more interesting, more realistic dynamic between the Ghostbusters, the local authority figures, and the general public. The "belief vs. disbelief" isn't as simplistic as it was before.
Jillian Holtzmann steals the movie, borrowing some of Egon's awkward, geeky charm with a more punk attitude towards science that just works.
Kevin the secretary, while unrealistically cartoonish at times, is similarly difficult not to love.
While he could have been fleshed out more, Rowan is a solid enough villain, a type of self-righteous, bitter creep I think everyone has had a bad encounter with at some point in their life, and the final form he takes, while criticized by some, is a fun concept that makes plenty of sense in context. I love a particular bit involving 2-d animation.
If you were one of those people (on any side of the arguments) who feared the gender of the new team would somehow feel "gimmicky," you can rest assured that these four protagonists are cool, funny paranormal investigators who just happen to be women in the same way that the original four just happened to be men.
This time, it's easier to identify with all four characters as underdogs. None of them are unfunny, terrible asshats for no reason.
Despite a few claims to the contrary, the jokes in this movie aren't the juvenile grade-school fare we get in most modern comedies. There's one throwaway joke about bodily functions and one hit to a crotch, bearing in mind that in the original movie, we have to watch Dan Aykroyd get a ghostly blowjob. All the other humor in this film is driven by the unique chemistry between our four protagonists and their complementary personalities, playing off one another in the same fun but casual way that endeared fans to the 1984 team.
It's been over thirty years since the first Ghostbusters movie. It wasn't the holy grail of cinema. Egon is gone. Bill Murray already didn't want to do another sequel ten years ago. A direct sequel with the original cast of characters was not going to happen and doesn't have to happen, because while its core fanbase may disagree, I don't consider "Ghostbusters" to be specifically about Ray, Egon, Peter and Winston. "Ghostbusters" is about close friends battling the supernatural with advanced technology and those friends could be any friends. Ghostbusters is carried by its characters, but there's no reason they always have to be the same characters.
The 2016 film opened to average reviews and just satisfactory revenue in the eyes of Sony, but I think it's a more than worthy successor, I look forward to a sequel if a sequel pans out, and most wonderfully of all, the toy line is a smashing success with actual children.
That means kids like the new Ghostbusters most of all, and if you're going to be one of those nerds who moan that kids just don't know what real quality is these days...what are you doing on the computer when those same kids might be on your lawn, as we speak, not getting screamed at?
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