Apparently, sometime between 1984 and the advent of the Internet age, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters became more than merely an ’80s horror-comedy. If the Internet commenters of the world are to be believed, it morphed into an all-time classic of almost biblical proportions, one that would downright sacrilegious to temper with — especially if the leads’ genders were changed. If I’m being completely honest, though, I never saw Reitman’s film as more than the sum of its parts. In fact, unless it was brought up in casual conversation — both in person or virtually — I hardly ever thought about it, let alone considered it more than a silly-but-enjoyable horror-comedy — if one with fun characters, some impressive/cheesy effects and a rocking Ray Parker Jr. theme song. It was, in the purest sense, a perfectly enjoyable lighthearted romp, and when it comes to Paul Feig’s modern reimagining, I feel comfortable saying the same.
Granted, as the scorn of Reddit and 4Chan for months and now the most contentious wide release since The Passion of the Christ, the reboot is hardly without its flaws. Feig’s direction, while smoother and more accomplished than the director’s previous films, is still fairly clunky at times, and there’s some unintentionally awkward humor that often drags this comedy to a halt. There’s an ongoing wonton soup gag, for instance, that’s not only odd but fairly lame, never gaining any real traction despite its consistent reoccurrence. Additionally, the lack of definitive ghost rules in this revamped universe is distracting and fairly annoying throughout. Then again, occasional laziness isn’t unexpected from the director behind The Heat.
But in a summer movie season defined by its dourness and diminishing results, Feig’s Ghostbusters is energetic, engaging, heartfelt and, most importantly, pretty funny throughout. It’s not hilarious, mind you, nor is it gut-bustlingly hysterical. But it’s filled with enough laugh-out-loud character moments and genuine camaraderie to justify its existence. It might not convert all the naysayers, nor will it likely become the iconic, generation-defining “classic” Reitman created, but it’s deeply amusing, it’s appropriately progressive (if a little self-congratulatory in that regard) and it bristles with life. Despite what the pre-registered haters might spout, that’s all it needed to be.
In a ghost-infested New York City similar-but-separate from Reitman’s, Columbia University professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is on track to receive tenure when she’s haunted by a figment from her past: her book, appropriately titled Ghosts From the Past: Both Literally and Figuratively, which she co-authored with her one-time best friend/research partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Although Erin thought all copies were destroyed, Abby re-issued the book and now sells it on Amazon. Fearing it will destroy her chances at earning a cushy job, Erin reunites with Abby — who keeps up the good supernatural-searching fight at her lower-tier university with her new lab partner, the eccentric Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) — and demands she stop selling their past work.
Bu before Erin can get Abby to accept her plead, potential ghost activity is incited downtown and they need Erin’s begrudging assistance. When they do, indeed, discover an undead entity lurking, they post the video on YouTube and try to get the world’s attention. But they’re quickly dismissed as frauds and Erin soon loses her job. With availability now afforded to her, and her faith in ghosts unquestionably reinvigorated, Erin unites with Abby and Jillian to form their own division of phantom-fighting scientists, drumming up attention around the city — most notably from Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an subway booth operator inspired to tag along once she discovers an apparition in the tunnels, and Rowan North (Neil Casey), a creepy social outsider dead-set on eliminating the scum known as humanity. Together, the four girls — along with their hunk-but-dimwitted secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) — will form a ghostbustin’ team hoping to take down Rowan’s nefarious world-destroying activities.
Despite people inexplicably arguing otherwise online, the original Ghostbusters was a comedy, but it often stemmed the jokes around the action. The biggest laughs are quips made at the expense of the overarching plot, which made the comedy feel organic and natural within the plot. Feig’s Ghostbusters, however, is more joke-heavy, which makes the action often feel secondary and the humor feel more forced. As per usual with the filmmaker, the movie sometimes seems too concerned with stuffing as many jokes as possible into the film, which ultimately makes the action feel like an afterthought. That bites it in the ass during the finale, which comes across like a run-of-the-mill blockbuster third act without enough solid jokes to counterbalance the bad green-screen and the varying success of the actual special effects. The new Slimer, for instance, looks pretty cool, and the character designs are all interesting, but only a few really look anywhere near convincing, though that might be a marginal attempt to pay homage to the original’s occasionally-wonky mix of practical and CG effects.
Speaking of which, beyond its overladed CG-heavy finale, the biggest flaw with this new Ghosbusters (not counting Fall Out Boy’s awful new theme song) is that it doesn’t quite respect itself enough to stand on its own two feet — even though it very well could with these likably appealing new characters. Much like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year, it often forces obnoxiously obvious references, callbacks and a boatload of cameos (some good, some terrible) from the original 1984 film into this 2016 version in order to please the fans. You know, the very same fans that’ve been massively, irrationally dismissing this iteration for the past two years. It’s hard to tell if this is more studio inference, or plain old nostalgic overindulgence, or somewhere in-between, but it’s tedious, it’s exhausting and it’s unnecessary after a point.
While brief appearances by Bill Murray, Slimer and Ernie Hudson are made enjoyable enough — and a quick nod to Harold Ramis is nice and surprisingly tasteful, particularly for a ghost-filled romp — they just keep coming, and coming, and coming, to the point of ad nauseam. The ways they introduce Dan Ackroyd and Sigourney Weaver, in particular, are especially egregious, as is a groan-worthy end credits reveal. If they do make a new franchise, it’s possible they’ll right the wrongs and let the new characters force their own path, or it’s possible they’ll try to have their cake and eat it too, like Star Trek Into Darkness (which, admittedly, I still liked despite its very apparent flaws). But for goodness sake, have some faith in yourself! If the pre-release response to this blockbuster has taught us anything, it’s don’t be ladling to those who can’t accept change. Forge your own path.
And, for the most part, Feig and his team do. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones are not recreations of the characters iconized by Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis and Hudson. They have some similarities, but their personalities are largely different and they themselves don’t feel beholden to the original, beyond the aforementioned references surrounding them. Although they live in the shadow of the original, the cast establishes themselves outside of their predecessor and suggest that they can hold their own in the proposed sequels. It didn’t work out so well for Ghostbusters II, mind you, but maybe they’ll learn from the mistakes made by their ancestry. Maybe.
Wiig and McCarthy are thankfully toned down in their performances, which is good because that’s where they often excel — despite multiple failed films on McCarthy’s part attempting to suggest otherwise. That lets Jones and McKinnon play up the goofiness, which is where they’re at their best. McKinnon, of course, is the standout, crackling with her various elastic expressions and never once afraid to steal the entire $140 million movie away under everyone’s feet at any moment’s notice. She’s a real star in the making, and it’s about time Hollywood noticed.
Additionally, Hemsworth is a nice surprise, making up for his blandness in Blackhat and In the Heart of the Sea and given another chance to prove himself comedically after Vacation. He’s the most consistently funny character, outside of McKinnon, and lets people know that he can be more than just the God of Thunder. Andy Garcia, similarly, is also pretty good as the skeptic mayor, and the only character that’s truly underused throughout. Shiny camerawork by Robert D. Yeoman, an endless stream of cool new gadgets and good production design by Jefferson Sage also compliment the film. But the life of the film, as well as the series, is depended on the new ‘Busters and, thankfully, they’re not afraid to no ghosts, or Internet commenters either. Ghostbusters (2016) doesn’t surpass the original, but it proves the series isn’t a specter either. And that should make any fan — any real fan, that is — feel good.