Movie Review: Ghostbusters
By Matthew Huntley
July 20, 2016
If there was an official list of staple '80s movies that fans would deem blasphemous if anyone chose to remake them, it might include such titles as Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future. Or perhaps The Goonies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Airplane. The possibilities seem endless, and they're all relative of course, but sure to be near the top of most moviegoers' picks would be Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman's 1984 sci-fi comedy about four single men chasing apparitions around New York City. Reitman's film may have been made in the '80s, but it's not bound by that decade; it's aged rather well and remains just as funny, clever and original as when it was first released.
So if that's the case, why “remake” it in 2016? Well, that's just it: Paul Feig's new film isn't a remake so much as a reimagining of the same concept, this time with four women and a more self-aware sense of humor. It exists mostly independent of its predecessor and with the exception of a handful of overt nods to Reitman's version, namely with cameos by the original cast, which it utilizes but doesn't rely on, it finds a way to stand on its own. Die-hard fans of the original can breathe a sigh of relief knowing this isn't a straight-up copy or imitation and that it actively separates itself from the first one. They can also rest easy because it's actually well made, and so it doesn't smear the title. Feig's film has just as much a right to be called “Ghostbusters” as Reitman's; it's simply the 2016 version.
With that being said, Ghostbusters (2016 ) amounts to a good movie but not a great one. It has an irreverent playfulness, which produces some solid laughs, and a strong, enthusiastic cast. But it's not consistently funny or entertaining, while its rather long runtime makes it prone to some dry spots. Perhaps another round through the editing process would have tightened it up a bit, but as it is, it makes for a fun but not necessarily unforgettable time.
Like the original, the plot follows four ghost hunters in the Big Apple as they try to rid the city of its paranormal problem. Instead of men, though, it's four women, each of whom is played by a talented actress from the current comedy tour. Kristen Wiig leads the pack as Erin Gilbert, a professor of physics at Columbia University who desperately wants to make tenure, but when her frowned upon book about the existence of ghosts suddenly resurfaces on Amazon, it puts her career in jeopardy. She co-wrote it with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who has continued research in the supernatural with another wacky scientist, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), who specializes in designing and building ghost weaponry with highly unstable material, which is probably why her gadgets require a good amount of tweaking.
When reports of spectral activity start surfacing around New York, and after Erin, Abby and Jillian actually encounter one in a haunted mansion, the three ladies start a research center and business that specializes in finding and trapping the evildoers. A fourth woman eventually joins the team, an outspoken MTA worker named Patty (Leslie Jones), who is once again the film's only black character. As inspired and progressive as the casting is, what would have been really impressive and edgy is if the three main ghostbusters were each minorities and the fourth was a white woman. Nevertheless, any progress toward diversity is still progress.
One role reversal that does work well is that of the “dumb blonde secretary,” which is fulfilled by a man and played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Hemsworth's words, mannerisms and interaction with the more intelligent females garners some of the movie's biggest laughs. These, combined with the more grounded moments, versus the sensational special effects and action sequences, allow the movie to stand out and hold our attention. If Reitman's Ghostbusters generated humor by remaining within the silly reality of four men chasing ghosts, Feig's version does so by examining the idea from a tongue-in-cheek point of view. It doesn't take itself seriously and every now and then we can sense the actors and writers slipping in their own comments about the material and how frivolous it is.
This is the kind of humor Feig specializes in, and it works well here, though it's not as punchy and confident as his Bridesmaids, The Heat or Spy. Those movies had the advantage of more original premises, and felt more fresh and self-assured. Ghostbusters, meanwhile, progresses more or less along a familiar path. The ladies discover all the ghosts in the city are being summoned by a virginal social outcast named Rowan (Neil Casey), whose ambition is to open a vortex to another plane and cleanse the earth of the wretched humanity that has rejected him. In the meantime, the Ghostbusters try to legitimize themselves in our current era of social media and public hysteria, which is why the mayor (Andy Garcia) and his bubbly assistant (Cecily Strong) want to keep the lid on their findings.
All this adds up to cheery, harmless fun, which is made all the more enjoyable with the special appearances (by who, I won't reveal) and a lively dance show during the closing credits. I wouldn't go so far as to say Ghostbusters was necessary. A better, more satisfying comedy lives inside it somewhere and I'm not sure why Feig and his co-writer, Katie Dippold, didn't come up with a completely original concept with which to show off the amusing and attractive cast. All the actors are certainly marketable and well-known enough, but I suppose that in this age of ceaseless updates and remakes, the studio wanted to re-energize their once-lucrative Ghostbusters franchise. They've done that, to be sure, although a completely new brand with these women at the helm probably would have been better. Still, as a Ghostbusters reimagining, we'll take it.