By John Corrado
★★★ (out of 4)
When I finally went to see this modern version of Ghostbusters last night, having waited a bit to try and get away from some of the high-pitched negativity surrounding the film, I was determined to form my own opinion. Which is exactly what I did. And for a big summer film that successfully mixes laughs with the spookier stuff, while paying tribute to the 1984 original, I really enjoyed it.
Now I could write an entire article about the intense backlash that has surrounded this reboot of the beloved Ghostbusters franchise since it was first announced. And there would be a lot to discuss, from the nasty wars that have broken out on many forums and message boards about the audacity to reboot a classic film, to those offended by the choice to cast four female leads, an argument that quite frankly reeks of misogyny.
To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone who hasn’t enjoyed this film is misogynistic, because that’s simply not the case, and that sort of reverse logic serves nobody. But it would also be naive to say that misogyny hasn’t been a factor in some of these cases. The hateful and racist attacks that Leslie Jones has recently faced on Twitter, which even led to notorious provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos being barred from the site, are quite frankly terrifying. Hell, if you search the film on YouTube, you not only find the first trailer which has been down voted to become one of the most disliked videos in the history of the internet, but also a lot of angry rants from disgruntled fans.
But I don’t want to write an article about any of that ugliness. Not because the backlash isn’t valid to talk about, as it does lead to a fascinating conversation about the strange tipping point that we are at in pop culture where fans have taken ownership of the properties they are passionate about, but because it would overshadow the immense entertainment value of the film at hand. This is a gleefully entertaining film that is made simply to be enjoyed by the widest possible audience, and it really deserves to be a bigger hit because of that. I should clarify that I’m not being paid by Sony to say any of these things, and I even purchased a ticket for the film out of my own pocket.
We should start with the plot. The film follows Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a celebrated physics professor going up for tenure, whose career is threatened by the reemergence of an old book she wrote about the paranormal with her estranged best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). You see, scientists still aren’t supposed to believe in the metaphysical. But when the sighting of an apparition is reported at an old mansion in New York, Erin reconnects with Abby, who has kept their ghost researching business going with quirky nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), to investigate the spirit.
The ensuing sliming incident that is caught on tape proves ghosts are real, and puts them officially in business. When the angry spirit of an electrocuted prisoner starts haunting the subway tracks, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a transit clerk who sees the ghost and knows the history of New York better than anyone, comes to joins their team. We soon discover that all of this paranormal activity is connected to Rowan North (Neil Casey), a disgruntled hotel janitor who has been severely bullied all his life and hates people because of it, and has set up a device to unleash malevolent spirits upon the city.
Now I love the original Ghostbusters as much as the next ’80s nostalgia nerd, and have since I was a kid, so I was absolutely skeptical about the choice to reboot it. But from the opening scene of this version, a nicely atmospheric sequence in a haunted mansion, I was won over by the film. Of course the gadgets and special effects are more souped up than they were back then, but it still feels great to see proton packs and the Ecto-1 back in action after all these years, even if there are different people operating them. There are also fun cameos from the remaining members of the original cast, the meatiest of which goes to Bill Murray as a TV cynic, and moments that recall classic quotes and gags from the first film.
The cast is actually a big reason why this extension of the franchise works so well, and there is a lot of fun interplay between them in their workshop, which is above a Chinese restaurant this time around, because the rent on the old fire station they want is far too expensive. Some of the funniest moments involve Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the dimwitted receptionist they hire to answer their phones, who is well meaning and nice to look at, but none too bright in a lot of other ways. Yes, it’s essentially a gender-flipped version of the dumb secretary stereotype, but Hemsworth is hilarious and completely game in the role, making it his own. He’s one of the unexpected comic highlights of the film.
Kristen Wiig is expectedly solid, and Melissa McCarthy is quite good in a more grounded role than she usually plays. Although there has been some controversy over the fact that Patty is the only member of the team who isn’t a scientist, she is still a smart and invaluable addition to the group, and Leslie Jones is a standout in the role. But it’s Kate McKinnon who steals the movie as the joyfully eccentric Jillian Holtzmann, with her reaction shots and pitch perfect line readings injecting a delightful sense of energy to every single scene she is in. Her character is also clearly lesbian and makes little secret of her crush on Erin, which gives the film added points in terms of equality by making her one of the first LGBT characters in a summer tentpole, even if the studio won’t let her officially come out.
Director Paul Feig has already proven himself as a master of modern comedy, having previously teamed up with Melissa McCarthy to tremendously entertaining effect on Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy. If you enjoyed any of those films as much as I did, then there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty to like about Ghostbusters as well. This film finds Paul Feig working on a much larger scale than before in terms of action set-pieces and special effects, both of which he handles with aplomb, but his touch is also felt in the way he allows the actors to riff off each other, while developing a solid backstory to the friendship between Abby and Erin that adds genuine heart to the film.
Now is the obligatory part where I have to bring in comparisons to original Ghostbusters. The 1984 Ivan Reitman film was lightening in a bottle, and there will never be another one exactly like it, so obviously it still reigns superior. Humour in general was different and more sardonic in the 1980s, and New York itself was grittier back then. It was a film that worked because of the interplay between the cast and the way they mostly played it straight to what was happening around them.
The original film became more character-driven when they didn’t secure a big enough budget for all of the effects in Dan Aykroyd’s script, and there was also a ton of improv, mainly on the part of Bill Murray, who took the concept and ran with it. These are all things that can’t be repeated, and even the 1989 sequel which saw the director and cast reprise their roles couldn’t quite capture the same magic, despite having some fun moments.
I have always wanted to see a Ghostbusters III, and this version was initially set up to be a continuation of the same story. But with the death of Harold Ramis and Bill Murray’s reluctance to doing sequels, even going so far as to shred a version of the script and send it back to Dan Aykroyd, a film where the original cast members reprised their roles was never really going to happen. So considering all that has been stacked against this film from the start, it’s kind of amazing just how well it has turned out.
For the most part, I don’t agree with redoing old classics, but there is something to be said for the fact that Ghostbusters was always going to be rebooted no matter what, so at least Paul Feig and his cast have done justice to it, instead of leaving it for somebody else to do badly. And while there are some similarities between the plots of both the old and new Ghostbusters, there aren’t enough to turn it into a straight remake, and this version forges its own path in a way that justifies its existence.
Sure, there are a few jokes that skew a little young, and a bit more swearing could have been added to keep with the slightly more mature tone of the original. The Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott version of the iconic theme song is also totally needless, to put it kindly. But for the most part, Ghostbusters works almost surprisingly well. Even the 3D is done right, being used to throw things into the audience and over the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, adding to the amusement park ride experience of it all. There are also some nicely designed ghosts that jump out at the screen, and these supernatural elements are mixed in well with the comedic tone of the film.
The film also addresses the angry fans head-on, both when the team receives a disparaging YouTube comment saying “ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” and in the central villain himself. Although Rowan’s world domination plot is purely fantastical, there is something tragic and even eerily believable about his character. Take away the supernatural elements, and he could be any other outsider who feels alone and has been pushed to the breaking point where he lashes out violently. It’s almost as if the film predicted the type of backlash it would receive, and made the villain a warning bell for not allowing personal hatred born out of exclusion to go too far.
Yes, I’m a big fan of the original Ghostbusters, but I also really enjoyed this reboot, and the best part about both films is that they exist separate enough of each other that one doesn’t negate the other. This is an incredibly entertaining summer outing that provides a fun companion piece to the original film, with a great cast that rocks it and makes the whole thing feel fresh instead of just like a retread. And Kate McKinnon steals every scene.