Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)
The new Ghostbusters reboot is lively, visually engaging, and enjoyable. Sorry, Internet.
But first…a little ranting…
Ghostbusters arrived at the theater with a lot of baggage. There is the natural accessories draped around the neck of a project when it is a reboot, especially if it is a reboot of a long dormant but widely beloved franchise. Will it stay close to the original? Will it stay too close the original? How does the new cast stack up to the old? What can they show us that is new or cool, and will it be enough to justify redoing a movie that was pretty damn great in the first place?
Ghostbusters also had the added steamer trunk of gender politics, and a vocal minority who disliked the all-female cast. I was particularly amused by the You-Tube nobodies making jihadist style videos declaring they won’t even see the new film. Not because of the female cast, they assured everyone, but because of unfaltering allegiance to the original. Sure. Guess what, fuckos, the original cast all showed up to not only see this movie, but to be in it, so you can take your purity test and sit on it sideways. Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two films, produced this film and worked closely with the new director, Paul Feig. So the original cast and director are on board. Tell me again how your tortured man-boy screams are about artistic integrity and not the female cast?
Allegiance to the original was what had me worried about this project. The first trailer was a debacle with telegraphed jokes that tried way too hard to channel the first film. If anything, I thought this movie was going to be a needless retread instead of a wild departure. The only thing I liked was how vibrant the ghosts looked. As the second trailer dropped, I started to see more that looked appealing. When I ponied up for a ticket, I figured it was at least going to be a visually fun flick. Summer popcorn movie blah blah blah. Turns out I was in for a pleasant surprise (and god knows this summer has been short on those!)
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a Physics professor with a bright career. She is top in her field and positioned for tenure at prestigious Colombia University. Unfortunately, she has some ghosts in her closet, in the form Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy,) a paranormal investigator and former friend. The two wrote a book on spirits decades ago and suddenly the supernatural manifesto is all over the internet. This spells disaster for Erin’s tenure shot, and she tracks down her former friend in order to deep-six the book.
Instead, she ends up tagging along with Abby and her partner Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) to a supposed haunting. The video of their reaction to the ghost goes viral, costing all three of them their jobs. Out of options, they decide to follow their first love and start a ghost hunting business. With the help of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones,) a knowledgeable MTA worker keyed into all of the cities supernatural hot spots, they discover that all of the recent apparitions are tied together by a sinister figure hoping to plunge NYC into a ghostly apocalypse.
The Odd Couple
The new cast is not afraid to be weird. Melissa McCarthy is generally known for bawdy and self-deprecating humor, but plays a very straight-laced persona here. Abby is generally unflappable in the face of absurdity, which is great because the whole schtick in this movie is to pile up weird moments like a game of UNO until the whole pile is cashed in with a solid punchline.
Wiig plays her character like a neurotic time-bomb, constantly the butt of the universe’s cruelty, trying to gracefully weather it all before exploding. McKinnon plays her role like she’s landed on Earth from the moon, unabashedly odd and without any social skills. The three go from one weird experience to the next, constantly keeping a straight face as the film tries to see how many oddities it can stack together before it crashes. Leslie Jones plays the audience’s surrogate, reacting to all of the absurdity that seems to sail right over the heads of her teammates.
This tactic of blitzing the audience with oddity is mostly successful. There are a few moments where McKinnon’s character seems forced, being weird just for the sake of it, but on the whole it’s remarkably effective. The movie gets you to smile or laugh out loud almost against your will. It’s the damnedest thing. It also helps that Leslie Jones is a master at dropping a sharp punchline on command. I’d really be interested in seeing how much of her dialogue was ad-libbed. Like Bill Murray’s Venkman, she seems to be effortlessly riffing on everything around her.
For the Fellas
Chris Hemsworth plays the dim-bulb assistant who the ladies keep around because he’s gorgeous and affordable. He is priceless. His first scene comes out of left field and is one of the funniest bits in the movie. He also has a 5 minute long dance party during the credits, which is completely worth staying in your seats for. I had no idea dowdy old Thor had such a big funny bone, but he’s a delight.
Old Meets New
The new Ghostbusters keeps just enough of the original to feel like a spiritual successor. Old favorites make appearances in clever ways, and most of the original cast makes a cameo here and there. Those moments are never wasted. Towards the end, they stack up so fast that you’re almost shouting out names hoping they can fit just one more old favorite in. When Ernie Hudson showed up, I wanted to applaud.
The story itself has many notes from the original while remaining fresh. The origin of the team is familiar, while having its own flavor. The nature of the apparitions seems superficially like the first film, but takes a nice turn that feels like a merging of Ghostbusters 1 and 2. The villain is more relatable and human, but soon becomes as big a threat as Zul or Vigo the Carpathian.
The tech that the Ghostbusters use is also a fresh take on the old standbys. Ecto 1, proton packs, and ghost traps show up, but they function in a new way. There is also a ton of new gadgets to geek out over. (Almost too many, as they keep getting introduced quickly. They end up paying out in the climactic final battle, just like how every toy James Bond gets ends up being useful at just the right moment.)
I have to say that I loved the way the ghosts looked and felt. There are three or four big ghosts and they all felt instantly memorable. There is one scene with haunted mannequins that is just fantastic. The final fight for Manhattan has a vibrant palette and unique motif, like a Mardi Gras parade of the undead, complete with floats and balloons. The blues, greens, yellows and purples are all very elegant. On the whole, the film feels polished to an uncanny degree. Paul Feig must have fine-tuned every shot. On just a cinematography level, this film is a well crafted beast. You may not like the new look, but you can’t argue that it isn’t a very professional product. (The same goes for the score: while I wasn’t in love with the new covers of the classic theme, they are used very adroitly and mesh extremely well.)
*As a quick aside, I saw the film in 3D IMAX. I would say the 3D was nice, but not amazing and had a few hiccups here and there that were noticeable. IMAX really added to the visual punch of the film, and I would suggest it.
You can never replace the first Ghostbusters film. Luckily, as one smart reviewer noted, its not like they’re taping over your old copy to make this film. You can enjoy them side-by-side, which is pretty strong praise for a reboot. In the end, I think this film stacks up. It’s definitely got a Ghostbusters vibe while doing its own thing. It’s certainly better than Ghostbusters 2!
I enjoyed the hell out of it, and loved the way they set up a sequel (once again, don’t leave early! Not only would you miss a couple great cameos and Chris Hemsworth dancing his heart out, you’d miss a fantastic epilogue which positions the movie well for a sequel.) I want a sequel to this movie. I want to see more of this. Much like Mad Max Fury Road, this movie takes a classic and innovates while staying true. It also happens to do so while making female characters’ stories the main story. Who would have thunk that there would be a wider pool of experiences to draw stories from?