Which nostalgia franchise are you gonna call?
Look, remaking a classic movie is generally considered a dumb idea. Doubly so, if it happens to be a comedy that was a product of its time and was the definition of “lightning in a bottle.” The 1984 Ghostbusters is basically that with the perfect combination of cast, writer, and director that would never be replicated again (and they did try, with the successor that gave birth to the term “sequelitis”). A third film was talked about for years and it was the only thing stopping a full on remake. But when Harold Ramis passed away (RIP), all bets were off and a reboot was greenlit immediately because someone has to capitalize on the merchandise. Certain entities on the Internet (spoiled, entitled, MRA babies) got all uppity for the past few months when the cast was revealed to be all women. So how did this reboot do? You’re going to have to read first…
We got Kristen Wiig as Dr. Erin Gilbert trying to secure tenure as a Physics professor at Columbia University when her former best friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), published their book on the paranormal. Fearing the book’s publication would put her tenure in jeopardy, Gilbert agrees to accompany Yates and her new protege, Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), to investigate a ghost sighting. The three are shocked to see a corporeal apparition before their eyes, and find the ghost may be connected to other paranormal disturbances in New York City when a subway attendant (and history buff) played by Leslie Jones finds a device summoning the entities.
That’s the premise of the new reboot, and I have to say…it’s smart. Different from the original, but it at least avoids the common pitfalls of contrivance to get four people in a room to go and hunt ghosts for a two hour run time. I know I shouldn’t be comparing this movie to the original; because every movie should be able to stand on its own two feet and like I said, it’s impossible to capture the magic of the original. Which brings me to my primary criticism of 2016’s Ghostbusters, is that the film commits remake sin #1 of referencing the original in nearly every scene of the movie. I’ll go into more later as to why this is a bad thing, but suffice it to say, it’s really only one of two knocks I can make against the movie.
Because the rest of the film is overall pretty damn good. No one is more surprised to hear me say that than me, because I’ve long held that 1980’s nostalgia needs to be taken out back and Old Yeller’ed. And yet, despite my distaste for reboot culture, the remake of Ghostbusters succeeds because it gets one of my biggest sources for entertainment in a movie right: the characters. With a strong cast from Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and even Chris Hemsworth, the movie delivers the goods on giving you distinct, likable characters as they’re thrown into an absurd science-fiction plot.
The movie primarily is centered on the interplay between Wiig and McCarthy’s characters as they repair their estranged relationship with Wiig seeking to legitimize herself in the pursuit of science and McCarthy pursuing her passion for the highly dismissed paranormal studies. Their initial (but understandable) antagonism towards each other doesn’t last long as they discover more ghosts appearing to the public and realize what made them friends in the first place (love of ghosts) is going to help the people of New York. The relationship works and the banter between them is equally fun. McCarthy in particular once again shows a ton of restraint that made her turn in Spy last year very memorable, and all the more amazing when you consider it’s her husband at the helm as director. She doesn’t hog the spotlight and makes herself out to be the “cool” character that gets to riff off her co-stars *cough* FUCK YOU ADAM SANDLER *cough*.
And I must say, whoever made those atrocious trailers for this movie needs to be fired from Sony Pictures immediately after what they did to Leslie Jones’ Patty. While the trailers made her come off as nothing more than a stereotype, her character serves a crucial role in the new team of Ghostbusters as the de-facto historian. She’s able to alert these egg-headed physicists that the dark histories of certain locations in the city are pretty much prime ground for violent deaths that would attract disturbed spirits. Her jokes in the trailers were severely taken out of context and rendered unfunny, because my theater got big laughs from those same scenes playing out with the accompanying set up.
To be honest the weakest character in this script is Holtzmann, who’s more of a fourth wheel in this plot. But thankfully, Kate McKinnon was simply not pleased to be in such a role, and pretty much injects as much farcical humor as she can to create an eccentric engineer with little regard for safety or protocol. In other words, she basically saved her own ass. A commendable job for any actress to pull off, especially in a big budget production like this. And she clearly was having a ton of fun in the role. Side note: her look and hairstyle looks curiously like Egon from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, no?
Finally, you got Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the receptionist for the Ghostbusters. I’ve known Hemsworth to have solid comedic timing, but severely has been underutilized in previous efforts like the forgettable remake of Vacation. Here, he plays a phenomenally dumb blonde that Wiig’s character is pathetically attracted to and the other characters tolerate for the same reasons you’d tolerate an adorable puppy pissing in its own face. He doesn’t anything by it, but you should definitely not leave sharp objects around him for fear of him poking out his own eye. For a role that was basically an afterthought in the original, this was one of several clever twists in which student surpassed master.
While I still love the 1984 Ghostbusters (and still do over the remake), it’s got a weak second act which is basically the cast grabbing ghosts off screen and slowly being alerted over time to Sigourney Weaver’s odd apartment. Nu-Ghostbusters takes the idea of someone trying to open a portal unleashing ghosts everywhere and makes it important to the plot from the first screen on. Each scene flows into the next, for a more sensible progression that works a little bit better than the source material. But the original film capped everything off with a hysterical and balls-to-the-wall ending that the remake…well…
Settle down Internet, look the final act of the movie isn’t bad, but you can’t call it good. The movie can’t escape the Hollywood special effects heavy, city destruction that’s apparently now required in every major production for fear of alienating ADD audiences. It’s here where you get the team taking on army of ghosts, and it’s probably the least exciting part of the whole production. One problem may be that the stakes don’t feel high since no rules have been established with regards to new ghost busting tools, so ghouls get taken out seemingly at random. Keep in mind, the tools are there for one reason and one reason only: to sell toys, because it’s the only thing that kept motivating Sony to pursue this reboot in the first place. The ghosts themselves look at least vibrant and colorful to make up for the nonsensical fighting, but not by much.
There’s also a weird turn involving Kristen Wiig’s character that seemed to imply she left the team at some point only to make a cliche return at the right moment to save everyone…that kind of got dropped in the final cut. Some of the dialogue implying her breakup from the team was left in there, so it was a bit of a disconnect.
And while I’m on the complain train of thought, I gotta slag off some of the references to the original movie. Whole lines of dialogue are ripped directly from the 1984 movie that doesn’t quite work, and every living cast member from the original movie make extended cameo appearances in the remake. Some of them were clever, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts were probably my favorite because they were short and sweet; same with Ernie Hudson’s appearance (even if they were telegraphing his reveal from the beginning of the movie). Dan Aykroyd’s and Bill Murray’s appearances however, didn’t gel very well. Neither of them half-assed it, it’s just that their scenes weren’t very funny.
That being said, my critiques are not necessarily deal breakers, as I did get a lot of enjoyment from watching this new cast interact with each other and engage in some solid, funny banter for a thoroughly entertaining two-thirds of a movie. What I did realize, however, is that this is very much a “fun for the whole family” movie, because the humor and scares are primarily geared to be enjoyed by kids of all ages and the young at heart. While the original did have a more “adult” edge to it, the reboot takes more in common with the classic cartoon in delivering consistent laughs while also constructing a universe that feels lived in. The world building deserves special kudos, especially given Sony Pictures hellbent attitude to create franchises that have failed spectacularly in the past. For the first time in a long time, I actually want to see a sequel to this Ghostbusters starring this same cast.
I did wish the rest of the film could have brought its “A” game to deliver a highly recommendable theater experience, so I’ll offer two recommendations for the next film, because of course Sony is coming to me for my magnificent wisdom. Point one, get an action comedy director. Paul Feig is really not a solid action director, lacking the creativity that would have made the final act of this movie a more pleasing and satisfying ride. Point two: enough with callbacks to the originals. Copying the original movie is what damned Ghostbusters 2 as the flop it was (and I will fight anyone who swears to me “oh come on, it’s not that bad”), so drop the references and have the confidence stand on your own two feet.
I think we’ll get an even better product next time around, but for now, I thought this was a fun film that gets more right than it does wrong and deserves a trip to the theaters. Giving this an enthusiastic…