There’s a lot that I had to consider going into Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters. First, I had to reconcile with the fact that this is a remake of a film I consider to be one of the Top Ten Greatest Comedies of All Time (this is a list coming in the near future, stay tuned). Once I understood this fact, I had to reconcile with current studio comedy standards: lots of improvisation, random cameos by well-known or up-and-coming comedians, and fart jokes (why are these so prevalent today? It’s 2016, have we not evolved past jokes done before-and better-in the 1970s?) And most importantly, I’d have to reconcile with the fact that this film is under enormous pressure, as it has met with immediate and intense backlash from sexist fanboys at every turn. This meant the film had a lot to live up to. So how does it fare? Is it as good as Ivan Reitman’s masterpiece? Obviously not. However, it doesn’t try to be, and in that decision, it finds a pleasant and enjoyable result that should please anyone looking for a fun way to kill a couple of hours.
Having retconned the original paranormal “exterminators” of the first film, the newest iteration follows Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a young scientist at Columbia University. Erin is about to receive tenure, which will set her at ease after years of being mocked and ridiculed. However, she discovers that a book on the existence of ghosts that she wrote with her childhood friend and former colleague Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced to threaten her career. Through a series of events, Erin, Abby and Abby’s new coworker/resident kook Jillian Holtzmann (SNL alum Kate McKinnon) find proof that ghosts exist, and the trio set out to prove this existence in order to redeem their credibility. They end up discovering a vast conspiracy to unleash the ghost world on society thanks to MTA worker Patty Tolan (another SNL alum, Leslie Jones), and the four must work together to save not only New York, but the entire world.
While the film does have some issues-it’s too long, the callbacks are unnecessary, the script veers towards the simplistic, Fall Out Boy’s cover of the classic theme song borders on ear cancer-where it shines is the 100% game cast. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are, of course, always great, but in this film, they are easily overtaken by their two counterparts. McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a manic ball of hilarious-and somewhat sexual-energy every frame she’s in, somehow merging the nerdy zaniness of Harold Ramis’ Spengler with Bill Murray’s sardonic and borderline insane Peter Venkman. However, despite her talents, she constantly risks going too broad and making the character too weird, something I never thought I would say about a McKinnon character. This does, however, leave the door slightly ajar, ready to be kicked down in a comedic tour-de-force by Leslie Jones. Jones has become a staple on SNL for what is unfortunately dubbed as the “screaming black lady” shtick. However, the reason people like her is that the routine is 100% true to her personality. She releases her anger at the state of the world around her, and yet always exists in a positive reality. Even if she’s describing some terrible event that’s befallen her, she never loses this sense of optimism that makes you love her. She brings these traits to life inside Patty Tolan, the first truly “real” Ghostbuster. Her character is big, loud and full of energy, but also bright, caring, and responds the way a normal human would react in these situations-terror, followed by a resigned acceptance, and finally bravery and brilliance. Jones taps into an inherent truth with her performance, and the film is at its best when she is onscreen.
The other breakout star of the film is Chris Hemsworth. Best known as Thor in the Marvel Universe, Hemsworth throws himself wholeheartedly into his role as the hot bimbo hired by the team as a secretary. The complete opposite of Annie Potts’ cynical Janine, Hemsworth’s lovably daft Kevin because stupider each time he’s onscreen, kept around only because of Wiig’s character’s lawsuit-worthy crush on him. It’s an arc that we’ve seen many times as guy-chases-girl, but very rarely as girl-chases-guy, and is all the better for it.
As for the plot, the film chooses to buck the traditional Ghostbusters route of a demon crossing over to our plain to create havoc, instead embracing a human villain played by Neil Casey. Casey’s Rowan is sort of a weak, obnoxious villain, and yet is also sort of fascinating. While I never cared about or followed his plot, the idea of a nerdy genius Communist occultist is certainly a unique one, and I give them credit for running with it. However, this technique leads to my one true beef with the adaptation. The Ghostbusters have always been, at their roots, ghost-based exterminators-essentially a form of specialized firefighters. They weren’t some crime fighting team-the joke is that they were solely called in to clean up some minor mess. The 2016 iteration starts out with that premise, only to toss it away in order to pander to a more mainstream audience-having the team create weapons for a big final act with ghost fighting instead of ghost catching. It just seems to miss the point, in my opinion.
That being said, the film is at its best when it captures the spirit of the original. I’m not talking about the hundreds of cameos and callbacks (some of which fall flat, some of which inspire chuckles). I’m referring to the heart of the series, where it finds the perfect balance between pure fright and pure humor. Think of the scene where Louis Tully is chased down the streets of New York. The Hellhound of Vinz Clortho is a truly terrifying site, but the audience also gets to witness Rick Moranis’ nerdy dweeb running for his life and being ignored by society’s upper classes. Despite the terror on display, there’s also an inherent humor that makes you just laugh even while you watch for your fingers. This is perfectly on display in the opening sequence of the updated version, which goes down as one of the best sequences in all of the Ghostbusters franchise. From the score to the scares to the cameo by Zach Woods (who should really be in everything, as a side note), the sequence sets a fun and frightening tone that should set even the most butt hurt fanboy at ease for the rest of the film.
So that’s the new Ghostbusters. Is it perfect? Is it as good as the original? No, and no. However, it’s funny, it’s smart, it’s highly entertaining, and it’s destined to make stars out of two of the most underrated actresses out there, McKinnon and especially Jones. In a year where the movies have been disappointment after disappointment, it’s nice to have something light, fun, and a good way to spend two hours.