REVIEW – “Ghostbusters”
“It’s official. I’m making a new Ghostbusters and writing it with Katie Dippold and yes, it will star hilarious women. That’s who I’m gonna call,” wrote Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy director Paul Feig on October 8th, 2014, inciting an internet shit storm that would prevail for the past two years. “The Girl Ghostbusters” or “the all-female Ghostbusters reboot,” as the movie would come to be known, has been a source of endless controversy, with Feig and cast – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon – fielding e-harassment in the form of sexism, misogyny, and the kind of pure, unrestrained hatred that comes with the territory of rebooting a beloved franchise. Amid the accusations of “ruining childhoods,” Feig stuck to his original pitch for the film, which would find “four very different women coming together and figuring out in funny, scary and action-packed ways how to save New York City and the world.” Feig didn’t want to make the Female Ghostbusters – he wanted to make Ghostbusters, and do it using who he called the “funniest women in the world,” turning to frequent collaborator Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids star Kristen Wiig, and Saturday Night Live standouts Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. “It’s a cause,” he admits, “but it’s a selfish cause because I just know too many funny women.”
That controversy is addressed in the film – “ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” reads one Youtube comment read aloud by the team – and it’s “always the sad pale ones” says Erin of the film’s weak sauce villain, Rowan (Neil Casey), who feels like an avatar for the bitter misogynists who waged a tireless crusade against Paul Feig and his female crew of Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters isn’t defined by that controversy, and it’s not defined by the genders of its leads any more than the original film was. For all the accusations that the newest cinematic iteration of Ghostbusters is a retread of a better movie, what most separates Ghostbusters from director Ivan Reitman’s pair of original films isn’t the women – it’s Paul Feig, who turns in a film that is decidedly a Paul Feig movie. (Go figure – a filmmaker having an identifiable tone and style). Feig’s take on the property never quite feels like Ghostbusters as much as it feels like a Paul Feig movie wearing a Ghostbusters skin, but that lightning-in-a-bottle, 1984 creation – part Dan Aykroyd, part Harold Ramis, part Ivan Reitman – was a once in a lifetime anomaly never to be recreated; not even when the original creative team was reassembled for 1989’s underrated but not creatively-up-to-par Ghostbusters II.
The logo is there, the car is there, Ray Parker Jr’s theme song is there, the technology is there, the familiar plot beats are there – it’s a remake in the truest sense of the word – but it never quite manages to feel like Ghostbusters, unable to replicate that tip-of-the-tongue feeling in the same way that Star Wars: The Force Awakens managed to both feel like classic Star Wars and a J.J. Abrams film at the same time. There’s more Feig than Ghostbusters here, and that’s okay – it would be inexcusable if this were a sequel and thus part of the original series – but as a reboot, it’s technically not beholden to reproduce that feeling, even if such a feat were possible. The result is Feig’s distinct style and tone enveloped in the trademarks associated with Ghostbusters, making for an amiable and fun summer blockbuster that effortlessly entertains – even as it falls short of outdoing its spiritual predecessor.
Feig wanted to assemble the funniest women in the world, and it’s hard to say he hasn’t succeeded with McCarthy, Wiig, Jones, and McKinnon turning in lively and energetic performances. McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a wild-eyed weirdo in the best way possible, though her Looney Tune-ish antics often bring her to the verge of being too cartoonish and manic to be believable as a human being. Chris Hemsworth’s himbo Kevin – the Ghostbusters’ secretary who comes off as a buffoonish, sexist caricature and who would be rightfully derided were he a lusted-after female character – is another character whose signature trait, his inhuman level of stupidity, pushes him into a territory of being too unbelievable as to come off as an actual person. I can suspend disbelief when it comes to buying into ghosts, ectoplasm, and malevolent haunters of the class seven varieties, but when it comes to characters who don’t know how glass works, my suspension of disbelief turns into disdain: it’s reserved for characters found on sitcoms, not movies trying to marry the real world with the fantastic (even if it is a comedy). But then, this Ghostbusters isn’t as grounded as the original – a quirk that can probably be attributed to the miles-apart difference in modern comedy and comedy of three decades ago.
The original grit, grime, and weighted seriousness of the original Ghostbusters is gone, replaced by a breezier, lighter tone – situations have less weight, characters are less believably human, and the colors (gorgeous as they are) are brighter, livelier, and campier. If you haven’t reconciled by now that this is a decidedly different take on Ghostbusters, Robert D. Yeoman’s colorful, vibrant, and popping cinematography visually keys you in, with fiber-optic ghouls serving as an ocular treat that look rightfully spirited, even as some unfortunately lazy ghost design causes the majority of the film’s noncorporeal entities to look more uninspired than threatening. In the film’s ghost-packed climax, the spectrals are practically indistinguishable. Cloaked in hues of black and neon blue, the smallest of differences separate them – one’s a pilgrim, one looks similar to an old time gangster – but aside from the rare standout, the ghosts feel like generic CGI-blots, forgotten about by the viewer as soon as they’ve been dispatched by the titular heroes. The filmmakers of Ghostbusters aren’t limited by the same kind of technological hindrances as the filmmakers of the 1984 film, so it’s too bad that so many of the ghosts – from parade floats to subway rats to mannequins to nondescript floating spirits – suffer from a lack of creativity. In a film titled Ghostbusters, the ghosts – unimaginative and even less scary – feel like an afterthought.
If there’s any part of Ghostbusters that doesn’t land, it’s the second act, which lumbers into a lull after a significantly disappointing cameo from someone who you thought would never again step into a movie with “Ghostbusters” in the title. That’s a big chunk of the film that doesn’t work, stalling at the side of the road after the momentum built up in the earnest and genuinely funny first act. It’s not until the film drives towards its more action-oriented third act where it regains its footing, making the second act out to be some bizarre detour that lost its composure. While Ghostbusters comes to an unfortunate halt midway, it’s not long before it thankfully gears back up to deliver the kind of fun-and-action-packed finale expected of the tentpole blockbusters that hit theaters in July. For as politicized as Ghostbusters has become, the film itself doesn’t stand as much of an agenda-shouter. Instead, Ghostbusters is a charming and affable blockbuster – and it’s far from the train wreck some thought (or hoped) it would be. The solid cast carries a surplus of one-liners and gags, with enough broad and varied comedy to get a laugh out of even the most cynical (and doubtful) of moviegoers.
The crew – McCarthy, Wiig, Jones, and McKinnon – are the biggest part of what makes Ghostbusters work, and its through these actresses and these characters that the movie transcends its status as being another corporate mandated reboot. Feig and his lead actresses help craft Ghostbusters into something special, and the film, almost always entertaining and lively, stands apart from its remake brethren instead of joining the best soon-forgotten ilk of botched redos (like the recent Robocop and Total Recall retries, both from Sony). Ghostbusters is fun: I haven’t had this much fun in a theater since the summer movie season peaked with Captain America: Civil War back in May. For all the ghastly ghouls, the jazzy special effects, and the eye-catching 3D, Ghostbusters is smart, well-rounded and satisfying – both as a comedy and an adventure.
I liked Ghostbusters. For all the ways it doesn’t live up to the 1984 classic – an incomparable and cherished masterwork that was never going to be topped, let’s be honest – it at least delivers the spirit of the original: a funny, mellow, and sometimes spooky blockbuster that has ten laughs for every scare. If there’s one movie this summer that shouldn’t be judged by its trailers, its Ghostbusters. I had my doubts, to be sure – I’m a lifelong fan of the original, and I’m someone who has seen other, less-fortunate ’80s movies be rebooted and retooled as ghastly modern abominations – it comes as a sigh of relief, two years in the making, to say that Ghostbusters isn’t the latest movie from your childhood to be eaten up and spat out as a grossly misunderstood byproduct of Hollywood’s bastardization of all things true and pure. (Too dramatic?) Hopefully, audiences ain’t afraid of no ghosts – or afraid to give Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters a fair shot.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Ghostbusters makes its long-awaited return, rebooted with a cast of hilarious new characters. Thirty years after the beloved original franchise took the world by storm, director Paul Feig brings his fresh take to the supernatural comedy, joined by some of the funniest actors working today – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. This summer, they’re here to save the world!
Ghostbusters opens this Friday, July 15th.