PG-13. It somehow feels more offensive than the OG Ghostbusters, but that can't possibly be true. I know that I felt more trepidation showing this one, but it might come from the fact that it is just a little bit more overt. Chris Hemsworth's ghost designs are funny, but kids can also pick up on that joke. Also, there's a lack of subtlety in general that makes it easier for kids to get the raunchy stuff. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
This movie was supposed to be the great hope. For all of my obsessions with pop culture, my '80s obsession was Ghostbusters. Transformers did nothing for me. The same deal with Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe. So when my wife and I went to the UK for a much needed romantic getaway, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call came out. (Note: For the sake of ease, I will be referring to the 2016 version as Answer the Call.) I really wanted it to be great. I knew that there was all kinds of gross controversy, placing four women into the protagonist roles that were so beloved for generations. But it was supposed to be the door that opened towards all kinds of Ghostbusters movies. Heck, that Ghost Corps logo starts this film and that is something I rarely see. So when this movie didn't live up to expectations, I took it pretty hard.
But now my kids are obsessed with Ghostbusters. I did my job and I'm proud of that. I knew that they were going to see this movie eventually, so we just watched it together. Because of my low expectations and the memory of disappointment, I watched it from a different perspective. I'll have lots of time to tear this movie apart and I probably will tear it apart. But I would like to state that my kids adored this movie. As much as they liked Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, this movie kind of spoke to them. The disappointing part to me is that it was just newer to them. I know that '80s movies seem really watchable to me as new movies, but from their perspective, these are 40 year old movies. It's like me griping about movies from the '50s as a kid. That's something that is valid to them. On top of that, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call is actually kind of fun. It's got bright colors. It has slapstick. It's obsessed with telling jokes that they'll mostly get, for better or worse. I can't exactly throw stones at this. I get why they like it and it makes me like it all the more.
But it isn't a great movie. It's a better movie than I remember, but that's not something that really holds its own in the long run. There's a lot of talent behind this film. I mean, every single element of this movie seems like a home run. I adore Paul Feig. The Ghostbusters cast is absolutely brilliant. The cameos by the original Ghostbusters is phenomenal. But I'll tell you what, this movie claps on the ones and threes. Part of it is that it just doesn't feel like Ghostbusters. In terms of plot, all of the elements are there. There's the skepticism about the serious sciences. There's the jokiness. The ghosts look right. But this movie feels like one big Saturday Night Live skit. It almost feels like the movie is making fun of the notion of Ghostbusters. Part of that is the fear of the vulnerable that is happening in the movie. There are so many jokes that have nothing to do with the plot as a whole. I'm trying to think of a moment like that in the 1984 version and I don't think that I can. Let's use one of the funnier bits in the movie: the running gag of the wontons.
I do laugh at that gag. It is just so down to Earth that I can't help but giggle. But what does that have to do with the character development. The 1984 version is an exaggerated version of our world. When we have someone like Louis Tully, he's funny because he's such an odd duck in this world that views him as an odd duck. Instead, Answer the Call is a world that is fundamentally goofy. Everyone has their little quirks, thus making the protagonists simply part of the goofy tapestry. And even looking at Louis, he comes across as a lovable loser who is an exaggerated version of real people we know. He's a nerd that we don't feel bad about laughing at. Kevin, on the other hand, couldn't function as a human being. He's really funny, but those jokes don't necessarily tie to the characters as a whole. The same thing with the Dean at the school. Heck, we actually have one dean serve as a stand-in for the other dean. When we meet the dean from the 1984 version, he's concerned with the reputation of the university. The faculty has been in trouble for so long that the moment that they are fired is the straw that broke the camel's back. Instead, Answer the Call decided to go for some really base jokes, making the college that Abby works at such a joke that the dean is more obsessed with flipping the bird and marketing his band than being a real character.
It all seems to cover up the notion that it doesn't want to be 1984 Ghostbusters (which, honestly, is admirable). But it also covers up the fact that the story is not up to scratch. There's an actual villain in this one that rides the whole movie, which is a gutsy and respectable choice. Rowan actually provides elements that the movie needs to distance itself from the classic. Instead of retreading the Gozer storyline, which is teased for a future film that will probably never happen, Rowan offers something fresh. He's grounded compared to a lot of the other characters. Ironically, it seems like he's annoyed by a lot of the foolish characters that the real world apparently provides. While Rowan is kind of rough, he's at least a character that is kind of interesting. There's something that could be done with him given enough development. But the thing is...there is no development. Rowan is meant to carry all the weight of being a villain in his evil cackle. We get that he's bullied because he's a weird dude, but that doesn't really give him a backstory enough to carry it out. I'm going to keep comparing Answer the Call to the 1984 version, so I apologize. Even though Gozer is also kind of underdeveloped, there's this cataclysmic element to the notion of Gozer's return.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife would capitalize on the pseudo-science that Ramis and Aykroyd would put down, establishing that there was a rich history in the worldbuilding that the authors did. The whole notion of an Ivo Shandor and an evil cult that tried to bring about the apocalypse made the villain something larger than life. But Rowan is just a dude who has almost no sympathetic elements to him. The only thing he's annoyed at is the unrealistic world in which he lives. He wants to tear down the world because he's a crazy person. Okay, but that's nothing something that gives the heroes something to push against. If anything, it almost feels like a coincidence that these characters are at all in the same movie. Rowan brings ghosts into this plane of existence; a group of ghost eliminators appears on the scene. And those ghostbusters are just absolutely making leaps and bounds of technological advancement. Holtzman is my favorite character in this movie, but she goes from not being able to get enough power to a proton pack to unleashing another to in each scene she's in. And those toys really feel like Sony pushing the button on being toyetic.
It's just so much. Everything is just too much in Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. Maybe if the original films didn't exist, we could use this as a summer tentpole franchise to replace the Men in Black franchise. But the movie as a whole is a tonal misfire. There's nothing that really feels all that honest or vulnerable in this movie. Instead, it's such popcorn cinema that there was never a consideration for something that could be thought to be a classic.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.