Honestly, how did we get to the point where a remake of ‘Ghostbusters’ is the most politicized movie of 2016? The female-led reboot is the most downvoted YouTube trailer of all time with a parade of fanboys wailing about ruined childhoods and major media outlets crying misogyny against anyone who holds such an opinion. It’s an odd controversy that I can’t help but feel had its flames stoked by a studio that saw an opportunity for free publicity.
There was no way to check a social media feed without getting a facefull of ‘Ghostbusters’ debate over the past few months. Frankly, it’s just irritating and likely won’t continue far beyond this weekend once the movie finally exists and can be loved or loathed on its own merits, not through wild speculation or think-pieces rooted in political sensitivity. So, let’s just discuss ‘Ghostbusters’ 2016 as a movie, because that’s all it really is despite the weird cultural monument to shifting gender dynamics that it’s become. That stuff is just a distraction from a fun comedy that doesn’t really attempt to do anything beyond entertain, and it does that just fine.
The plot is pretty much a rerun of the first ‘Ghostbusters’ with new characters to spice things up. Kristen Wiig stars as an awkwardly lovable professor in the Kristen Wiig mold whose quest for tenure is put in jeopardy when a former partner republishes a book on the supernatural that she co-wrote many moons ago. That former partner is Melissa McCarthy, an eccentric scientist obsessed with the paranormal who has found an even more eccentric scientist (Kate McKinnon, fantastic) to build some experimental ghostbusting gear. While arguing about that old book/MacGuffin, the trio get dragged off to a possible haunting and spot a real-life ghost that covers them with slime. This being 2016, they record the event and post it on YouTube, which gets Wiig fired, inspires the gals to open up a ghostbusting business, and earns some angry comments about girls not being able to bust ghosts (a throwaway gag that the filmmakers likely didn’t realize would be so meta and prophetic). They soon partner with Leslie Jones’ subway employee who knows the history of New York City well enough to be a helpful Ghostbuster. They hire hunky dumbbell Chris Hemsworth to be their goofy receptionist. And slowly they learn about a mysterious dork (Neil Casey) who’s secretly increasing hauntings in the city with apocalyptic intent.
So yeah, it’s your basic ‘Ghostbusters’ origin story. This is indeed a remake, but it’s also loaded with fan-service and reverence to the original series (ironic given the pre-release controversies). All of the original ‘Ghostbusters’ (including Harold Ramis) get cameos that are about as amusing as you’d expect based on how funny those folks are anymore, including a few appearances beyond the central four. The major iconic ghosts pop up at least once in unexpected ways and the new ghosts all look like their designs were pulled from the old cartoon.
Old lines are checked. The ghostbusting technobabble is laid on thick to please fans and/or Dan Aykroyd. And just like the original, all the delightful character comedy built up over the first two acts eventually gives way to a special effects clusterfuck of a finale that isn’t quite as endearing as the smaller moments building up to it. In fact, the weaknesses in ‘Ghostbusters’ 2.0 are actually all related to how slavishly devoted the remake is to its source material. As amusing as it was for this former ‘Ghostbusters’ jammies-wearing youngster to see so much of the past adoringly resurrected, it’s the new stuff that was actually worth watching.
First things first, the cast is absolutely great and spark off of each other with the same magic chemistry that made the first ‘Ghostbusters’ so goddamn lovable. Kristen Wiig’s uptight leader is the central focus of writer/director Paul Feig’s skill with cringe comedy. Melissa McCarthy plays a distinctly PG-13 version of the wildcard persona that has made her a comedy hit machine, and while her filthy improvs are missed, her sweetly manic intensity remains. Leslie Jones brings her personal brand of screaming comedic wit to the table and fits in quite well, since she’s slightly more grounded and more willing to call out nonsense than her science-obsessed teammates. Finally, Kate McKinnon is by far the best of the batch. She doesn’t just look like Egon from the old cartoon series, but acts like a living cartoon with a sly grin, crazy eyes, and wildly unpredictable sense of timing. She’s used just enough without ever feeling overplayed, and likely earns herself a film career by stealing away the movie from her teammates. This ghostbusting team was rather brilliantly assembled and is primed to carry the franchise with ease if things go that way.
Co-writer/director Paul Feig fills out the rest of the cast just as well, with even the smallest role played by either a familiar face from the past or the current comedy landscape to draw out a few extra laughs. Most notably, Chris Hemsworth is absolutely hysterical as the idiot boytoy the women hire to barely answer their phones, and he has for more than just a cameo for reasons best left unstated. As a comedy machine, ‘Ghostbusters’ works. As an action/sci-fi-horror/fantasy crossover, Feig has grown substantially as a filmmaker since ‘Bridesmaids’. The guy always knew how to get the most out of his cast, but over a few action comedies has also learned his way around a set-piece. The early hauntings are handled as well as Reitman ever put together his spook-outs. (Ace cinematographer Robert Yeoman’s involvement likely didn’t hurt.) There’s a nice sense of scale and design. The problems that arise are all due to a fairly underwhelming CGI action-centric finale, and even that is more indebted to similar problems that plague all blockbusters these days, not so much this movie specifically.
Is the ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot as good as the original? Well, no. But then again, has any effects-driven comedy blockbuster since ‘Ghostbusters’ 1.0 managed to mix laughs and spectacle as well? Absolutely not. (Well, maybe the original ‘Men in Black’ or ‘Bill & Ted’.) This comes as close as any. Filled with some fantastic performances and a few rock solid effects set-pieces, it’s a loving homage as much as it is a relaunch of a beloved franchise.
Anyone worried about an old classic being pee-peed on by people who didn’t care needs to calm down. If anything, the movie stumbles because it tries too hard to cling to the past rather than forging its own identity. Thankfully, whenever the new cast get to stretch their stuff and define the new team, the flick really takes off and comes together. It’s a fun bit of popcorn entertainment filled with giggles and eye candy that entertains and then disappears before wearing out its welcome. Hopefully, people will climb off their pedestals and out of their caves long enough to have some fun with this thing as intended. It’s certainly the best product with ‘Ghostbusters’ in the title released in 30 years and seems primed to be even better in a sequel.
Don’t be afraid. Go ahead and call.