Despite Melissa McCarthy’s Chewbacca Mom schtick now running very thin, a weirdly bipolar it is/it isn’t linked to the originals stance, a distinct lack of that SNL ’84 bite from these SNL ’16 ladies and some fun, but wanting cameos (who ultimately underscore the film’s schizophrenic relationship with its source material), oddly and rather refreshingly Ghostbusters – Answer The Call is still miraculously heaps of slick fun, creepy when it needs to be and is not quite the childhood-destroying proton beam the cackling undead of the internet’s movie fan community needed it to be.
Yes, it’s no Bridesmaids II. But it’s not Ghostbusters II either. Losing Dan Aykroyd’s ever passionate pursuits of ancient ghost-foolery versus society’s ills is no bad thing. And whilst the original 1984 classic is understandably held aloft with great reverence it too is not that perfect a movie. If the original and surviving cast members couldn’t get this third Gozarian off the ground then possibly it was for a reason.
Admittedly director Paul Feig (The Heat, Spy) has bargained with a franchise devil and maybe not wholly stood up from the séance as victor. The now reviled initial trailers for this new movie were actually fine. But they did tap into a heritage – the ’84 fire house, the New York was saved before mantra, the suits, the proton guns – that the subsequent trailers and this final film oddly try to distance itself from when it suits. This is a 2016 world where no Ghostbusters have ever existed….yet a subway graffiti artist nails their logo without trying, a real estate suit shows the new gang around that Tribeca fire station and the cameo wrangler clearly has the ’84 original on loop somewhere. For a film whose director and press tried to distance itself from the first two movies, it makes no sense that Ghostbusters – Answer The Call (that seemed to be the title we got in our cinema but who knows what this alias of a movie wants to call itself) repeats the beats of the ’84 original. From an opening phantom menace to some cool and kickass calls to duty, the unbelieving world of academic elders (Charles Dance is sorely wasted), camp venue managers, a finale haunting in a late 19th century apartment block and meddlesome city bureaucrats, the film that doesn’t want you to know it is Ghostbusters III is about as convincing at subterfuge as a Halloween kid under a white sheet.
And so to the ghostly white elephant in the Manhattan library room. Does the all-lady ensemble work? Yes, it does. Very much so. When the end credits roll (and not the eye-gougingly awful spectacle of Chris Hemsworth trying to add some Slumdog Millionaire flash-mob er fun to proceedings) one is left with a guilty moment of “I think I want to see those characters again“. Yes, they are shameless photocopies of the original line up of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson (with the exception being that Wiig is not Venkman with the “smallest bowtie in the world“). Wiig especially has the onscreen ability of being the comedy ring leader without pitching for the bigger laughs. That is left to Leslie Jones and the comedy balls she brings to the haunting. And likewise Kate McKinnon’s science lesbian Holtzman and the gentle hots she has for Wiig’s Erin Gilbert works more than not, despite being kept at arm’s length. If anything, a film that is/isn’t based on the 1984 Columbia Pictures stalwart needed a love story in the ecto-mix to echo that Dana and Peter dynamic. And not with Hemsworth’s dire receptionist. We really don’t need to talk about Kevin – a terrible, terrible homage mix of Rick Moranis dumb and Annie Potts phone answering swipes whose dumb blonde comedy gold must have stormed that first cast read-through, but maybe not since. Whilst it obviously panders to the ladies (and some of the boys) leaving the cinema, a film that has weathered such female-skewed criticisms should have thought a bit more about whether having a dancing Hemsworth flashing pictures of his topless torso was quite the 2016 statement about onscreen gender it could have been.
But politics was never Ghostbusters thing – though there is a great “Jaws mayor” gag at Andy Garcia’s expense. It is great to see the various ages of New York be that summer blockbuster Big Apple again (albeit one shot in Boston and Harvard), the effects straddle cartoon and creepy well enough and that klaxon of a title song never ceases to stir. In a world of social media (who you gonna tweet?) and countless haunted reality shows, Ghostbusters – Answer The Call doesn’t maybe feel the contemporary statement that the ’84 classic was. The original tapped into the cult of inadvertent celebrity, academia and both city and American politics with more skill than here. But for two hours of your Summer movie time, director Feig and his ensemble have not buried our childhoods alive. They have not killed a franchise that has been dead of its own accord for nearly thirty years. They have raised a movie spirit that is knockabout, visually rich, fun when it needs to be and is a stylish piece of matinee fluff. In the kneejerk “jumpers for goal posts” nostalgic-steered attacks it is worth noting that 2016’s Ghostbusters is more of an Eighties comedy blockbuster than maybe even 1989’s Ghostbusters II was. This is a successful ensemble pantomime with a gloss, a pace, likeable characters and no need to mentally string out four sequels before the credits have even rolled. In an age when the gatekeepers of summer cinema are comic book movies obsessed with endless teaser-y teasing to movies not yet made, it is refreshing to just have a self-contained film that has a confidence in itself. That is more Eighties cinema than not. If you’ve got it, haunt it.
Ghostbusters is on general release both in the UK and US from 15th July 2016.
And it’s goodnight from him.
“Here is a funny joke that will make you laugh – well I don’t suppose it will make everybody laugh – that, as I have said before from this very chair, is a matter of circumstances. I mean, if your wife has gone off to her pottery class and left you at home explaining the Karma Sutra to the Swedish au-pair then we won’t get much out of you until the epilogue. So good luck and try not to break anything” – A Ronnie Corbett chair monologue (by Spike Mullins)
One of my writing privileges, highlights and blessings was writing for Ronnie Corbett. We met at during the Edinburgh festival after a Lionel Blair Tap & Chat lunchtime show (naturally). He was looking for a writer, I professed I was just a fan and not fishing, he said he was fishing and it went from there.
Ronnie was of course old school professional. He sent me some old photocopies of his chair monologue pieces by Spike Mullins and underlined how the gag and the punchline is not enough. You need to “lay the edge with stuff and weave it in“. He would always end a mail or message with the Scottish adage – “yours aye” – and was a keen, keen advocate of Scottish comedy and new voices (he was often found quietly taking in a new comic’s show or stand-up during many an Edinburgh August). He once left a great voicemail on my phone. Despite his familiar diminutive references, he had a booming eight foot tall voice with that rich and lyrical Lothian burr. I made a point of saving that voicemail and have it to this day.
Like all funny folk Ronnie was also a seriously good actor. The same could be said of his working life partner and comedy husband, Ronnie Barker. The ridiculously pitched, though gloriously title-tuned 1980s sitcom Sorry! worked because Ronnie sold it with wit, warmth and the right through-line of nonsense. Having started out as a friend and on-stage co-star of Danny La Rue, he was also in The Saint, a Bond movie (as Polo in 1967’s Casino Royale), one of the few chuckle-some elements in the awkward Fierce Creatures (1997), had a memorable performance in John Landis’s Edinburgh horror Burke & Hare (2010) and holds the chaos in check in the 1978 No Sex Please, We’re British. Ronnie was once also invited by Stanley Kubrick to audition as one of the apes for 2001 – A Space Odyssey (not joking).
He refused to let the devastating loss of comedy partner and valued friend Ronnie Barker hold him totally back. He poked fun at himself in shows that were not strictly Sunday evening comedy fare. His turn as himself in Extras is a delight as was his fruity turn in Little Britain and taking a painful prat fall in a Peter Kay charity video.
There are too many moments of The Two Ronnies’ genius and comedy to cite – four candles, oddly progressive returning sketch serial The Worm That Turned, “Your nuts M’Lord”, Harry & Bert, The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town…. His CV was one forever entwined with a [now] yesteryear of British entertainment – of that BBC White City behemoth Television Centre, Radio Times Christmas covers, charity golf matches, viewing figures in the tens of millions on a regular basis, Barbara Dickson musical interludes, the big end number, drag for comedy’s sake, slavish homages, gags against Auntie Beeb and long running narratives about the cheapskate aspirations of “the producer“. Ultimately it may be the ‘Class’ sketch from The Frost Report (April, 1966) that holds the greatest cultural clout. It is of course brilliantly written and perfectly relayed. But amidst the airtight humour, Frost satire and class attacks, it was Corbett who conveyed the humanity and ridiculousness of the whole piece. He may have memorably and forlornly added, “I know my place“. But to be fair, Ronnie’s place in British entertainment was always going to be higher up than that.
Rest in peace, Ronnie. And thank you.
Ronnie Balfour Corbett, 1930 – 2016.
So right, the party is just going along nicely because his parties can get a bit dreary – I remember the last one, a light bulb blew out and we were still laughing about it two hours later”.
“Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage.” – Jor-El, Superman The Movie (1978)
Forgive me Jor-El, for I have sinned…. I have taken the internet’s need to shame in vain and didn’t mind Batman Vs Superman – Dawn of Justice.
It’s not perfect. The reaction thus far is partly justified. It starts as a Batman movie, ends as a Superman film, sorely misses any of what original Superman The Movie director Richard Donner called the all-important ‘verisimilitude‘ and both characters fall through some narrative earthquake cracks in between without chance to wind back the earth and clock to rectify things. But unlike the ever tiresome and increasingly cinematically barren Marvel movie universe, this new Superman VII Meets Batman IX enterprise somehow retains a through line of order rather than Marvelling into an attention deficit mess.
Despite pitching Bruce Wayne as a morally confused bully and wavering Superman between social pariah and national hero, there is proper chemistry between Affleck and Cavill. However, they have been pitched into a film and the ever pallid and sadistic visions of director Zack Snyder which is clearly fearful of any real comic book red, white and blue heroics. It certainly doesn’t want to see these two icons just hanging out and being what neither of them has – a pal. Would it have been so amiss to drop in a scene of Bruce and Clark having some bromance time at a baseball game (which then needs both their superhero skills) or comparing the coolest ways to extract information from a street thug? Would it have hurt to see the kings of G0tham and Metropolis actually on the streets of said cities, grabbing a beer, comparing world saving methods or hanging out back in Smallville during the holidays? Are the billowing grey dust clouds of 9/11 really the only destructive touchstone American superhero cinema can – tastelessly – mine?! Did we really need the umpteenth dutch-tilted prologue of the Wayne family’s ill-fated departure from movie night (John Boorman’s Excalibur it seems). That personal pain could have been equally signposted by what the film already has – Diane Lane’s great Martha Kent adding some surrogate mother poignancy for a visiting and always orphaned Bruce.
Batman and Superman are the kings of movie superheroes. They are the regal box office and critical principalities the others forever want to be. As great as Ant-Man is (and it is a cracking exception to Marvel’s ever-dogged movie plan), the world wasn’t holding its breath for a movie version. But this Marvel-ification of the project – of overstretching a character’s wings before they literally fly – is waving Kryptonite in the face of all comic book movie heroes. It is also wrongly pitching the world of the comic book into a cinema one. They need to be different. What may work as an ensemble piece in newsstand ink does not automatically fly on the movie screen. If handled erroneously these multi-character superhero flicks become expensive trailers for themselves. Bruce and Clark deserve better. Batman and Superman deserve better than yet another Jesse Eisenberg-is-better-than-you performance (it worked in The Social Network but is getting patronisingly irritating now), a dubiously pinned disabled veteran come suicide bomber and a clunky Martha, Martha, Martha turning point.
Whatever Batman and Robin‘s faults are, failing to have an eye on the next two unmade sequels is not one of them. Whilst Batman Vs Superman’s insane insistence – in part fuelled by that Marvel obsession of ensemble – that Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Batman and Superman are not four characters enough to withhold a narrative, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a welcome breeze. Her story is one of the few strands introduced here that just does it visually and with a certain panache and launch-party glamour rather than pugilistic bun-fights ad-nauseum.
Henry Cavill is not wooden as Kal-El and totally flies (!) with the dignity and humanity afforded to the DNA of onscreen Superman by Christopher Reeve. It is a welcome improvement on his Superman From U.N.C.L.E. mugging and verbal tumbleweed. He also remembers that Superman is a world hero with all that baggage of responsibility, whereas Bruce Wayne forgets he is merely an east coast city icon. This film does however have a bipolar view on Kal-El. In one beat he is social pariah and in another he is national hero being heralded by the masses in Washington. Fortunately Cavill keeps his [red] eye on the role throughout. And, as expected, Ben Affleck makes a sterling Bruce Wayne. With his grey flecks of hair and ability to flatter a lady when needs be, gone are Christian Bale’s over-moody internalisations. This new Dark Knight however is oddly bound to a graceless, over-bulky Bat Suit and some seriously unintelligent decisions (wouldn’t a chat and some sparkling dialogue with Superman have determined things a bit better than beating the hell out of him to appease online forums and the “VS” marquee banner?).
But oddly, weirdly and refreshingly this Superman fan bought it. Despite Zack Snyder’s sadistic world view (there is nothing very comic book or matinee special about beating up Diane Lane’s Martha Kent with some ISIS hostage leanings) and his pallid insistence on not only draining every frame of all colour, immediacy and reality, this film is instantly more fluid and watchable than either Avengers carnage fest. It suffers for missing its chance to be a modern commentary on male camaraderie, heroism, sexism and the American political system (when a real Lex Luthor is circling the White House the movies do need the likes of Superman and Batman to step up to the mark). Also, for a Batman Vs Superman marriage of a movie concept whiteboard session to come out barely a year after America got Equal Marriage and to not have some quick passing fun with it is another indication this film is not wholly sure of its place in current culture. Superman II had 1980 stamped all over it. Batman Vs Superman is not sure when it is set. Superman The Movie balanced a homespun 1950s nostalgia in the face of a Nixon-fatigued America. But when it works, this new film does sort of work. Batman Vs Superman is far from the steaming pile of Kryptonite some vloggers want us all to hear. It is a folly of a movie. And if this film exists because Man of Steel didn’t quite ultimately rescue the Superman franchise from being stuck up a tree, then it is a Bat-wards step of sorts. But sometimes a folly has its merits. Sometimes a bloated pantomime of a movie still has its moments.
There is still great fun in this film. Holly Hunter plays Nancy Pelosi playing Hillary Clinton, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane gets in a Margot Kidder helicopter fall homage, Bruce Wayne has a really cool new driveway and Kevin Costner’s cameo is welcome and full of dignity. Ignore what kneejerk haters bound to the sub-industries of comic book lore want to spout about it. To its utter credit, Batman Vs Superman doesn’t get obsessed by its future film cousins to the detriment of the movie you’re watching (Marvel’s fare is fast becoming an industry trade show of future intent over current content). Maybe now a new director might bring some renewed zeal before cod….?
Man Of Steel thoughts.
Man of Steel Magnolias via OUT magazine.