Let’s get right to the point, Ghostbusters is a good movie – both the original and this year’s revisit of the concept. They’re good movies, nothing exceptional or truly groundbreaking, but entertaining action-comedies that make the most of their wonderfully funny casts. In this way, Ghostbusters (2016) is a fine successor to Ghostbusters (1984) – even more so than attempts to continue the franchise with the original’s cast and characters.
In this iteration, Erin (Kristin Wiig) is a professor at Columbia University on the verge of earning tenure when a book she co-authored years ago about the existence of ghosts resurfaces, jeopardizing her academic assent. Wanting very much to distance herself from her previous work, Erin seeks out her former paranormal partner, Abby (Melissa McCarthy) to ask if she’d pull the book, only to learn that Abby has continued their investigations – now with eccentric inventor, Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) – and uses the book’s sale for funding.
While still trying to convince Abby to stop selling the book, Erin finds herself begrudgingly joining the pair as they investigate a recent haunting, soon stumbling upon and documenting a fully-realized apparition (the one seen spewing disgusting goo all over Wiig in the trailers). It’s enough to convince Erin to return to her passion and eventually go into business with Abby and Holtzman as paranormal investigators.
They open shop in a reasonably priced space above a Chinese restaurant, hire a receptionist – the ‘as dumb as he is handsome’, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), which is to say really, really dumb – and soon get their first ghost sighting tip from MTA employee, Patty (Leslie Jones). Quickly, Patty proves herself an invaluable asset thanks to her immense knowledge of New York City history, and joins the team as well. Their paranormal investigations then uncover a plot to break the barrier between our world and the world of the dead, threatening life as we know it.
What made Ghostbusters (1984) a classic wasn’t that audiences were hungry for movies about ghost hunting or were especially amazed by its visual effects. Instead, it’s the chemistry of that cast, their quirky characters and the great one-liners they deliver that make it so memorable. Ghostbusters (2016) capitalizes on those same elements, letting Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones embody quirky characters who are entirely their own. Erin, Abby, Holtzman, and Patty aren’t simply gender-swapped versions of Venkman, Ray, Egon, and Winston; which to the film’s credit, helps Ghostbusters (2016) break free of the original’s shadow.
Erin and Abby, with their rekindled childhood friendship, are the driving force behind the team. At first, Wiig plays Erin as distant and a little hesitant, but the exuberance McCarthy brings to Abby soon rubs off on her. Plus, there’s how painfully awkward Erin becomes around Kevin, allowing Wiig some cringeworthy and funny moments. McCarthy is the closest the film has to a ‘straight man’, being the most serious of the four. Not to say her character doesn’t get laughs, but it’s more restrained than many of McCarthy’s previous roles.
As the trailers suggest, Jones has a lot of the best lines in the film, giving Patty a fun, ready-for-anything attitude while also calling the others’ out on their shenanigans. She’s excited to be a part of this team, but also recognizes when they’re getting in over their heads. However, as funny as Jones is as Patty, it’s McKinnon’s zany and weirder-than-weird Holtzman who steals the movie. It’d be all too easy to say McKinnon is playing the group’s Egon, being that she’s the one crafting all their ghost-trapping inventions – which are insanely cool, by the way, building off the ideas in the original with flair – but where Egon was stoic, Holtzman is zany, prone to mischief and the odd dance number. Her performance is surreal and she’s definitely the best thing about this new Ghostbusters team.
That Ghostbusters (2016) is a funny movie should come as no surprise; writer/director Paul Feig has proven himself again and again a superb comedy craftsman. From films like Bridesmaids and Spy to the sadly short-lived series, Other Space – of which two cast members have roles in Ghostbusters, Neil Casey and Karon Soni – his work is funny on multiple levels. There’s a collaboration between Feig and his actors that allows for scenes to be their absolute best, finding laughs where perhaps the script didn’t initially call for them. And in the case of Ghostbuters (2016), that’s not only a blessing because on merely a plot level the film is wobbly, but it’s also in keeping with the original, where Ramis and Aykroyd’s script benefits from Murray’s riffing.
On that point, the overall story is probably the weakest part of the whole movie. Much like the original, it’s these characters that make Ghostbusters (2016) entertaining, not the threat of ghosts invading our world, which is a pretty bland and typical end of the world premise. The effects for the ghosts themselves are great, though, with them having an eerily beautiful glow and appearing far scarier than anything in Ghostbusters (1984). The downside, however, is once the third acts kicks in the ghost-busting becomes the same sort of mediocre action seen in dozens of movies. It’s neat for the team to really engage the ghosts in battle, blasting them with their whole arsenal of super cool gadgets, but it’s also the least unique aspect of the film.
In that same vein, the many, many, many callbacks to Ghostbusters (1984) begin wearing out their welcome about halfway through. The cameos are, for the most part, excellent – though Sigourney Weaver’s feels very tacked on, which is a bummer. Most of the little winks and nods to the original, like a line or two here and there, aren’t overly distracting, but the sheer number of times the film feels the need to remind us of the original does start to pull viewers out of the movie they’re actually watching. That isn’t a good strategy if Ghostbusters (2016) is trying to be its own thing. And the real kicker here is that these references are there for the hardcore fans, many of whom swore they weren’t going to give this film a chance anyway.
Will audiences find they like Ghostbusters (2016) better than Ghostbusters (1984)? Possibly, but that really depends on how you compare the comedy stylings of a Paul Feig movie to one from Ivan Reitman. They’re quite different in that manner, only connected through the conceit that a team of ghost hunters save New York City from a otherworldly threat. As remakes and reboots go, Ghostbusters (2016) is good one, and that isn’t something said of many attempts at restarting a beloved property (looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence). There’s plenty of material here ripe for a sequel, which after this fine debut for these Ghostbusters, is hopefully already in the works.
[Though, had we the right graphic, the real rating would be a 3.5/5 – KabOOOom.]