Title: Ghostbusters | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 116 min | Theaters nationwide
When it comes to this year’s female-led Ghostbusters reboot/remake, you’ve got to have an opinion. Ever since the project was announced, it has been met with a barrage of absolute hatred that shows no signs of stopping. I’ve yet to come across any preview on YouTube where the “likes” outnumber the “dislikes,” low ratings are already flooding its IMDb page, and a large number of individuals seem to relish reading any negative review. All this is happening before the movie officially opens stateside in a few hours, by the way, so general audiences haven’t seen it yet. Such reactions come from a variety of people, from fans of the Ivan Reitman films to trolling misogynists to Donald Trump himself. To say the least, this is a strange and troubling phenomenon: there’s a widespread desire to see this particular film tank hard. It’s very unfortunate since the film isn’t the cancer-inducing dumpster fire that many want it to be. On the contrary, it’s a solid flick that – despite its flaws – bursts with energy and fun, thanks in large part to the chemistry between its leading ladies.
Physics professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is on the verge of getting tenure from Columbia University when a book that she co-authored long ago with then-best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) is brought to her attention. She discovers that the book is being republished and, knowing that it would kill her chances of tenure, tracks down Abby with the hope of convincing her to pull it down. Abby, now working with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), regards Erin coolly, but when the opportunity to see a ghost arises, she convinces her to come along. After encountering said ghost, the three of them decide to open a ghost hunting business. Joined by dim-witted receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) and MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), the team hits the streets of New York City to bust ghosts and track down the person responsible for their escalating appearances.
To preface the rest of this review, I wish to share with you my experience with the franchise so you know where I’m coming from. I was six years old when I was first exposed to Ghostbusters, and it came not in the form of the films, but instead the 1997 animated television series Extreme Ghostbusters. I found it quite appealing, and after watching it for a while, I decided to check out the movies. Our local video rental store didn’t have the 1984 original film when my family went at the time, so we ended up renting its sequel, Ghostbusters II. I remember enjoying parts of it but overall felt underwhelmed, and it didn’t compel me to catch the first movie, which I only watched two years ago on Netflix. It’s a great film, and I like it. I respect its legacy. But I don’t love it. I think of it as a generational film, and for it to truly make an impact as it has for so many fans, you probably need to have seen it back then or been exposed to it (before Ghostbusters II, of course) at an early age. That said, I don’t personally hold Ghostbusters in the same regard as other ’80s classics like Back to the Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. To me, the Ghostbusters movies are just…movies. When Sony announced that a female-led Ghostbusters was on the way, I got excited because it sounded like a fresh take on the franchise and I liked the talent behind it. Truth be told, this was among my most anticipated movies of this year. Since I’m not attached to the other films, I was able to walk into this with a fairly unbiased mind.
For the most part, Ghostbusters stands well on its own. Yes, the story arc basically covers the team being formed, taking down ghosts, facing resistance, and finally fighting the big baddie – on paper, it seems similar to that of the first film. However, when it boils down to how it runs, writer-director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy) and co-writer Katie Dippold (The Heat) inject fresh beats and flavors of their own to ensure that their film stands on its own merits. The Ghostbusters assemble much earlier in different circumstances and thus team up more organically, and there’s a compelling emotional core at work here. In such moments where it’s doing its own thing and building its own identity, the film works wonderfully. It doesn’t hold up as well when it comes to two other areas: paying homage to the films before it, and franchise-building. Feig and Dippold are Ghostbusters fans themselves, and they deliver plenty of fan service, which entail memorable lines and certain objects. These moments are generally fine, but when they played out, I couldn’t help but feel that the film was putting itself under a microscope. While Sony has not (yet) greenlit any sequels, it’s clear that the top brass would like to establish a Ghostbusters cinematic universe. While the filmmakers try to keep their careful distance from this “sequel fever,” the awkward post-credits scene (speaking of which, stay through the credits because it’s quite delightful) shows they aren’t fully immune, and it makes the film end on a rather sour note.
Simply put, this is an entertaining movie. It’s first and foremost a comedy, but there are a number of scary moments that are well executed, and the film nicely balances all these elements. More importantly, it’s funny throughout. You’ll find no shortage of gags and one-liners, but even better than those is watching the humor build from an idea that – through a turn of events – eventually evolves into a climactic situation. Here, much of the humor is contextual, so we’re consistently following a series of comic beats that leads up to some very funny blows that land precisely. The film is also hilariously self-aware of the backlash it has received over the past few months, and there are several scenes that take all this doubt and misogyny head-on. What’s more, Feig and Dippold make this the most grounded Ghostbusters movie by constantly developing the team’s gear and tech, which brings us not only new weapons for the characters to play with, but also some exciting action. The ghost hunting sequences are great, as they burst with energy and are always driven by the characters’ relationships with one another. The climax in particular is just bonkers, making for prime summer popcorn entertainment.
I will say that perhaps the film’s biggest issue lies in how truncated it feels. Feig has stated that his editor’s first cut ran over four hours, and despite whittling it down to three and a half hours, he still had to trim even further to a theatrical cut that runs under two hours. Most modern comedy films tend to be around this length, which would normally be fine, but I can’t shake off the feeling that in its current state, Ghostbusters needs about 10 more minutes of footage to be a great story. The first half is exceptional, but the second half needs some work. As it stands, Erin and Abby’s relationship beats come across as rather forced at times, and the villain Rowan North (Neil Casey) isn’t exactly compelling and remains one-dimensional, as his background and development is usually relegated to mere exposition. Surely there are scenes – either on the cutting room floor or the extended cut on home media – that would remedy these. Certain moments were clearly cut from the finale, but thankfully, that doesn’t take away from its fun.
Cut footage notwithstanding, Feig and Dippold do have a host of interesting characters to work with, and they use them fairly well. Making the strained friendship between Erin and Abby the movie’s emotional core is a terrific storytelling decision. While some individual beats from that need improvement, the filmmakers stick by this relationship to the very end, and watching these two butt heads, reconcile, and prove their care for each other over the course of the film is what makes the story tangible. Admittedly, Erin and Abby are really the only two Ghostbusters to have fleshed out arcs, but that comes from the film focusing on their friendship. That doesn’t mean that Jillian and Patty are left out on the cold, though. Jillian embodies the eccentric nature of the team’s work, and she’s clearly the smartest of them all, rattling off scientific terms at a mile a minute. Though she may be the everywoman of the group, Patty too is quite smart due to her knowledge of New York City history, which tends to catch the others by surprise but is welcomed. Then there’s Kevin, who is clearly getting through life by virtue of good looks alone. His stupidity goes a long way, and the filmmakers gleefully milk it for all its worth, resulting in absolute hilarity.
Any Ghostbusters film hangs on the lead performances and the chemistry they share, and Feig’s leading ladies are tremendous. Wiig is appropriately indignant and rigid when playing the straight arrow, and when Erin is allowed to be loose, an awkwardness and zaniness comes out, making for an overall dynamic turn. McCarthy is a bit subdued here compared to her outings in R-rated fare, but her knack for slapstick and trading verbal jabs with her fellow cast members serve her quite well. Without a doubt, the film’s highlight is McKinnon, who uses every ounce of her expressive and physical performance to illustrate her character’s giddiness and endless quirks. Jones is hilariously brash, which perfectly suits Patty’s authoritative nature and exasperation with the people who rub her the wrong way. When these actresses come together, they simply crackle, bouncing off one another joyfully and relentlessly. That chemistry is at the heart of every moment they share the screen, and the way that they act and react to each other makes me want to see them again in a sequel.
Backing the big four is a solid supporting cast. Hemsworth goes for broke to squeeze all the laughter he can out of us, and for him to pour that much confidence in Kevin’s hipster lifestyle and numbskull tendencies pays off greatly. Casey combines dry wit and nefariousness, but he doesn’t have much room to dig into his character with gusto since the story sells him short. Andy García, Cecily Strong, Charles Dance, and Michael Kenneth Williams are present too, and they’re decent in their roles, even though they – like Casey – don’t have enough screen time to really flex their acting muscles. The original Ghostbusters cast, with the exception of the late Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis, appear in cameos, and they’re a mixed bag. Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts are funny in their brief scenes. Dan Aykroyd doesn’t fare as well since he’s given a weirdly written character. Bill Murray actually has an extended cameo, but he looks as though he does not want to be there, so he overstays his welcome very quickly.
If anything, this is a colorful and energetic movie. The ghosts themselves – created entirely from CGI – look great, and some of their designs can be a bit terrifying. Feig and Dippold’s emphasis on the team’s weapons results in some neat-looking props for the actresses to carry around. Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman and production designer Jefferson Sage aim to have vibrant colors consistently in the frame, and they both accomplish that task. I saw the film in IMAX 3-D, and while I don’t endorse watching the film in IMAX (I only recall one sequence where the image discards the mattes, and it’s short), I do recommend the 3-D format, as proton streams, ghosts, and goo constantly pop out of the frame towards you, which can be a real treat. The new theme song, “I’m Not Afraid,” performed by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott, is a piece of shit, but thankfully, the film’s sound mix ensures that you hear only the bearable snippets when it’s incorporated into scenes.
If you ask me, Ghostbusters is a worthy entry in the franchise. Is it on the same level as the 1984 film? No, and that’s not the point. It’s difficult to top what many consider to be a classic and iconic film, so why bother trying? I’m certain that’s not what the filmmakers set out to do with this film. If anything, they want to carve out an identity for this film and usher in a new era of Ghostbusters, and I’d say that they succeeded. If a sequel is indeed greenlit, I’ll eagerly look forward to it.
For those of you who are fundamentally opposed to this film for whatever reason, I doubt that that neither it nor my words will change your mind anytime soon. I do urge you to – at the very least – watch it before you pass judgment. If you fear that it will ruin the other Ghostbusters movies for you, I can assure you that this film doesn’t besmirch them – it is made by fans, after all. Besides, if you care about the movies that much, why should this film change that? If you feel that it just isn’t the Ghostbusters that you know and love, then you should realize and accept that the franchise goes beyond you and touches so many other people who receive it differently, that this film could give rise to a new generation of Ghostbusters fans who will hopefully watch and appreciate the other movies as well. If you don’t think that it looks funny and still think that way after seeing it, that’s fair since humor is subjective. Now, if you have an issue with the fact that the new Ghostbusters are women, then frankly, go fuck yourself.
* Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing