Ghostbusters won’t win-over pre-release haters but offers enough laughs and slick special effects to satisfy series fans and casual filmgoers alike.
Days from becoming a tenured professor in the Columbia University physics department, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) visits her childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – to request that Abby remove the online listing for a 400-page book on paranormal science the pair co-authored years earlier. In exchange for removing the order page, Abby and her research partner, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), persuade Erin to join them for one final investigation – during which the three scientists encounter an actual ghost. Dismissing footage of the incident, YouTube commenters, experts, and their (now former) employers chastise Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann – labeling the women attention-seeking fakes.
Driven to prove they are not con-artists, and that ghosts are real, the trio rent space above a Chinese food restaurant, hire a hunky receptionist named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), develop experimental energy weapons, and begin studying paranormal events around New York City. The search brings Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann to MTA employee and NYC history buff, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who leads the team to a malevolent apparition haunting the subway tracks and a terrifying revelation: someone is building a device to break the wall between our world and the paranormal – to kick-off the apocalypse.
Despite the success of both Ghostbusters movies as well as J. Michael Straczynski’s animated series, Ghostbusters 3 languished in development hell for twenty-five years. In that time, various ideas (the Ghostbusters go to hell) and script drafts (Peter Venkman is turned into a ghost) were submitted but ultimately rejected by various rights-holders – including the oft-referenced (albeit second-hand) claim that Ghostbusters star Bill Murray once shredded a proposed Ghostbusters 3 script and mailed the pieces back to Dan Aykroyd, stating: “No one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts!” As a result, Columbia pictures abandoned efforts to produce a full-fledged Ghostbusters 3 as well as a quasi-reboot that would have seen the original cast mentor a new generation of paranormal investigators.
Instead, the studio brought in comedy writer-director Paul Feig to develop a contemporary Ghostbusters origin tale – one that would be inspired by the original series but not directly connected. The reboot quickly drew scorn from a subset of longtime Ghostbusters fans who, for various reasons, believed Feig’s film was responsible for ruining any chance of a “true” sequel to Ghostbusters 2 and would, upon release, retroactively undermine the sanctity of Ivan Reitman’s original films. Fortunately, the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot is exactly what most moviegoers wanted: a well-intentioned and entertaining supernatural comedy that pays homage to its roots while also carving out a modern direction for the Ghostbusters brand. To be frank: Ghostbusters won’t win-over pre-release haters but offers enough laughs and slick special effects to satisfy series fans and casual filmgoers alike.
As in the original film, the Ghostbusters reboot story and world-building often take a backseat to in-the-moment jokes, staged comedy set-pieces, and recurring gags – resulting in an unruly mix of quirky humor and muddled plotting. Feig establishes a decent paranormal mystery and peppers it with entertaining scenes but rarely digs below the surface to explore his Ghostbusters team or their adversary. Likewise, evolutions of established Ghostbusters staples, including new proton-based weapons as well as the capabilities and limitations of Feig’s paranormal entities, aren’t very consistent – even within the context of a fictional story about ghosthunting scientists.
The filmmaker and cast define characters through interactions and inter-team dynamics – but, aside from how they act and react, audiences will learn little substantive information about the Ghostbusters themselves or Feig’s rules for paranormal activity. The story attempts to draw lines between Feig’s heroes and the film’s primary villain, black sheep who are all (in some way) rejected by society and seeking acceptance, but any chance of Ghostbusters saying something perceptive about that dichotomy, or society as a whole, gets lost in exposition-heavy monologues, corny feel-good moments, and screwball hijinks.
Nevertheless, the majority of those scenes serve their fundamental purpose: comedy. Predictably, the Ghostbusters premise is still rife with potential – and Feig populates his reboot with a large cast of proven comedians who turn small bit parts into some of the movie’s loudest laughs. Eye-rolling jokes from the trailers are typically part of a bigger gag that, thanks to context and buildup, work in the final film. Feig’s jokes run the gamut: from Apatow-brand improv and cheesy one-liners to choreographed action-comedy sequences as well as tongue-in-cheek appearances by the original Ghostbusters cast. That is to say, moviegoers who enjoy the Ghostbusters reboot may not laugh at every gag but the steady stream of humor should service a wide variety of comedic tastes – even if every joke does not hit with every viewer.
Although Feig’s choice of an all-female Ghostbusters team was a problem for select fans, the starring actresses have no trouble carrying the movie – with plenty of laughs and badass ghost-fighting. The film suffers under some legitimate shortcomings that are worth discussing, leaving room for improvement in Ghostbusters sequels, but Feig makes it clear: Ghostbusters are equally audacious and entertaining, no matter their gender, race, or any other way people choose to categorize the heroes. Ticket buyers who weren’t enthusiastic about Feig’s prior collaborations with Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids and Spy), aren’t likely to be won-over by the filmmaker’s comedic approach in Ghostbusters (and that’s okay) but the director and his cast successfully introduce a new age of ghostbusting – one that, because it isn’t tethered to the original series, actually manages to blaze a fresh path without savaging what came before.
As suggested, the director doesn’t leave a lot of room to dig into his Ghostbusters – and, at this stage, the performers are mostly filling-in comedy sketches rather than crafting nuanced dramedy players. Yet, each member delivers in their respective part – and are elevated by clever banter and interplay within (and outside) the group. The friendship between Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Abby Yates (McCarthy) serves as an emotional anchor but the comedy vets aren’t given much room to differentiate their heroines from prior roles. Still, Erin and Abby are stable pillars around which the zanier Ghostbusters characters can play – allowing Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), not to mention Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) to steal the spotlight.
In particular, McKinnon turns verbose exposition and flat dialogue into captivating (albeit weird) and memorable moments. The actress breathes life and eccentricity into Holtzmann – crafting a lovable character that is both a sympathetic human being and a fit for the zany world of Ghostbusters. Holtzmann leads the film’s slickest action set piece and, in a cast of known faces and names, is likely to be the one that new fans look forward to seeing most in future sequels. Similarly, Jones presents a charming stand-in for the moviegoing audience – via authentic, and subsequently laugh-out-loud, reactions to freakish paranormal threats the team encounters. Some viewers might dismiss the supporting Ghostbusters as goofy caricatures but Feig also includes a few tender scenes that ground each character with sincerity – at least enough for a film about four women who fight glowing apparitions with energy beams.
Alongside McKinnon and Jones, Chris Hemsworth is a standout as actor-turned-receptionist Kevin Beckman. Kevin’s dopey personality lays the foundation for several hilarious gags – as well as a clever opportunity for Hemsworth to subvert his beefcake persona. Viewers who enjoyed seeing the actor flex his comedic chops, rather than his muscles, in the original Thor film will get several equally amusing beats from Hemsworth in Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Neil Casey’s Rowan North – a character that, despite an intriguing plan, isn’t particularly interesting or enjoyable to watch on screen. As mentioned, the film is also packed with cameos from original series cast members – and some are better than others. Fans will enjoy seeing the retro cast interact with Feig’s team but, for many moviegoers, the cameos will be more distracting than rewarding – and some of the least successful jokes in the film.
Ghostbusters is also playing in 3D as well as IMAX 3D – and, this time, the choice of a premium ticket is easy. Ghostbusters is full of vibrant visual effects and CGI spectacle that is absolutely enhanced by 3D viewing. In particular, Feig’s ghosts are a breathtaking blend of retro design cues and modern effects work – especially early-on in the film. The third act gets bogged down in overwhelming CG pandemonium but several eye-popping shots and towering threats, ensure that 3D is worthwhile throughout. As usual, viewers who are on the fence about seeing the film at all can elect for a 2D matinee instead but, for ticket buyers who are excited about Ghostbusters, there’s ample reason to spring for a bigger screen, better sound, and 3D glasses.
A vocal minority of Ghostbusters fandom will not like Feig’s reboot (and will disagree with everything in this review); however, fans and casual viewers who are open to this new take on Ivan Reitman’s classic movie franchise will find Ghostbusters (2016) is, above all else, a thoroughly entertaining supernatural comedy flick. It’s unlikely the reboot will ever be as beloved as the original but, given that Columbia had twenty-five years to get Ghostbusters 3 made and didn’t, Feig’s Ghostbusters is a solid relaunch – one that, unlike its predecessor, might actually improve with the next installment.
Ghostbusters runs 116 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
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