Film review: Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016), directed by Paul Feig
tl;dr: Turns out the theatrical cut is better than the extended version.
Professor and Serious Scientist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) wants tenure at her university, but it’s hard to be taken seriously when you find out your friend and former co-scientist, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), has published that book about ghosts you guys wrote years and years ago. Said book also seems to be selling very well so she’s not wanting to take it down, because hey, it’s selling! People are reading their research, it’s great!
Not-So-Serious Scientist Abby is doing ghost-related research at a college together with quirky scientist Jillian Holzmann (Kate McKinnon) and when they find out someone’s approached Erin about a haunting, they want in. Maybe Abby might even consider taking the book down in return, but seriously, this could be the break-through they’ve always been looking for.
So, the three scientists team up and set up shop above a Chinese restaurant, hire someone to answer the phones – the inept Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) who admittedly wasn’t exactly hired for his phone-answering skills (of which he has none) – and get to work. The team is eventually joined by a New York subway employee, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who brings some well-needed street-smarts and local knowledge to the team. Ghosts are about to be well and truly busted.
Also starring Neil Casey as Rowan North, Ed Begley Jr as Ed Mulgrave and Charles Dance as Harold Filmore, with cameos from original Ghostbusters alumni Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver. Harold Ramis (Egon), having passed away in 2014, is represented by his son Daniel. It’s a nice touch.
Wow, the controversy surrounding this film is unreal. It’s not a straight-up remake first of all, it’s a reboot with a different cast and the team happen to be female. This film existing does not ruin your childhood memories of the original film unless you’re a massive crybaby. The original film is still there, untouched, so shut the fuck up already.
I rather liked the original film, and thought it sounded fun that they were rebooting it with different leads. That the main cast is female instead of male is good in the way that it puts a bit of a crowbar between new and old, so there is no direct comparison. Had they been male and called Venkman, Spengler and co. the “ruining of childhoods” card could perhaps legitimately be played, but because these are different people entirely it can stand on its own in a different way.
Wanting to reserve judgement on it until I had actually seen it, I was excited to finally see the film on Netflix. While the CGI these days is vastly better than the mid-1980s, the female cast isn’t the problem. Not in the slightest. The problem is that it’s not a very good film. The plot is a bit lacking, and Kate McKinnon’s purpose seems to mainly be standing around and make faces and “be quirky”. Like … couldn’t she have been given more to do than that?
If I remember correctly a lot of the film was improvised, and I think therein lies at least a part of the problem. It devolves into silliness very often. Silliness isn’t a bad thing in itself, but when it puts the plot on hold in order to goof out for a few minutes, it becomes grating.
The cast in general is good, I enjoyed the characters and their trying to get to grips with how to become official ghost exterminators. (I mean, we can discuss the unrealistic portrayal of hauntings for days, but that goes for 99% of all films involving ghosts, not just this one, and at least here it’s done for teh lulz.) This isn’t McCarthy and Wiig’s first rodeo, and I’d like to see more of Jones and McKinnon in the future. I love seeing Hemsworth in comedic roles, because he’s actually really funny, and he’s definitely taking the micky out of himself as the pretty-boy here.
But I expected the film to be better than this, because with this cast they could have done so much more, but it’s just all a bit meh but with decent CGI and the occasional chuckle. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations of a Ghostbusters film, and barely up to expectations as a film in general. Still, they could always make a sequel and, unlike the old Ghostbusters II, actually make it better than the first one. Here’s to hoping!
2.5 out of 5 hearses.
UPDATE August 2021: This film was on TV in 2021 and I thought I’d give it another shot, as a friend of mine said she really enjoyed it. Because I was watching it live I couldn’t fast-forward through the ads, so ended up watching it on Prime instead. Afterwards I thought it wasn’t as silly as I remembered. It wasn’t actually too bad after all. Huh. Had I misremembered it that much? The lack of ads meant that it finished earlier than the one on TV, so I ended up catching the last 20 minutes or so and … “wait, that wasn’t there in what I was just watching. Nor that. That’s really silly, and I didn’t see that in the one I was watching. WTF?”
Turns out there are two cuts of this film. The theatrical cut is shorter and, well, less silly. They’ve also taken out Erin’s superfluous boyfriend, which made one scene perhaps make less sense, but not enough to notice. The other version is 20-odd minutes longer, and does have the superfluous boyfriend in it. It also contains a lot of superfluous gags, as it turns out. Prime had the theatrical cut, TV was showing the extended. Netflix must have had the extended version as well, so that’s what my original assessment was based on.
The other points still stand – Kate McKinnon is still underutilised, as is Leslie Jones for that matter. They’re both great on Saturday Night Live.
Knowing that there are two versions of the same film, and that those additional 20 minutes don’t really add anything but instead makes the film overbearingly silly? Yeah, I much prefer the theatrical cut.
Hence why I’m revising my original score of 3 by -0.5 to reflect the extended version, and raise the theatrical cut by 0.2.
3.2 out of 5 hearses.