“I don’t go to Chinatown, I don’t drive wackos, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”
For a long time, it was impossible for anyone to express their feelings on the Ghostbusters remake leading up to its release. Supporters of the effort to reboot the property were met with criticism by longtime fans who wanted a sequel to the original classic and its sequel. Meanwhile, detractors of the new film were accused of being sexist. It was a mess, and the marketing for Ghostbusters 2016 will likely be taught in PR and marketing classes for years to come. Now that the film is finally here, can it stand, proud and tall, on its own two feet?
Ghostbusters 2016 tells a story familiar to fans of the original: disgruntled academics band together and utilize hard science to battle the supernatural forces of evil, become moderately famous, and ultimately uncover a plot to destroy the world. Action and comedy ensue. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy) writes and directs, though his directing style is too drab for an effects-heavy blockbuster, and there is often a striking dissonance between the “leave the camera running” comic riffing of the lead actors and the more spectacle-laden action sequences, which are gorgeous and possess more kinetic energy than the rest of the movie.
The main hook of the film, its predominantly female cast, are all game, though some shine more strongly than others. Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon play over-the-top caricatures and sparkle with character, while Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy hold the line as the more ‘normal’ members of the team. McCarthy, however, fails to impress as the too-often mean-spirited bitter scientist. By the time the team becomes competent at busting ghosts, she finally warms up and her dynamic with Wiig improves, but it definitely takes a while for Ghostbusters to settle into a comfortable rhythm. The squad lacks a cohesive balance, with the boisterous personalities of McKinnon and Jones (who is never not yelling, natch) perpetually overshadowing an uncharacteristically boring McCarthy. Kristen Wiig is the most properly balanced member of the team, with her doggedness wonderfully complemented by aspects like her amusing crush on the team’s ridiculously ditzy secretary, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).
The sluggish opening act definitely suffers for being too beholden to the structure of the 1984 version of Ghostbusters; the cold open is nigh-identical, only with the old librarian lady replaced with Ben from The Office. This crushing familiarity is exacerbated by sitcom-style jokes and nearly derails the whole film, and it’s not until the team is firmly together that Ghostbusters begins to offer sparks of originality and a jollier, more whimsical, tone.
Even when the film opens up and embraces the 21st century, it is still held back by the dissonance, or lack thereof, between the world of New York City and the supernatural antics of ghosts and the ladies who bust them; while the original film was set in a believable, real-life version of NYC, this new Ghostbusters’s take on The Big Apple is already a wacky cartoon version of the real place, so the silly antics which inevitably ensue don’t “pop” as well as they could have. Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a hilarious and larger-than-life figure, but she doesn’t clash against the world as strongly as the comparably more restrained Egon and Venkman did in their film. Worst of all, despite the cartoonish nature of the world of the movie, Ghostbusters completely wastes New York’s mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide (Cecily Strong), who try to keep the existence of ghosts hush-hush. Their scenes are mostly devoid of laughs, and are often downright boring, and even cynical.
That being said, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. The Ghostbusting action is quite spectacular, especially a straight-up ground battle near the end, which is full of little jokes, sweet action beats, and a triumphant energy, not to mention a whole different rhythm than we’d seen in Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters 2 (or even 2009’s excellent Ghostbusters: The Videogame, which is essentially Ghostbusters 3). The special effects don’t try to offer a photo-realistic depiction of ghoulish monsters, but instead more of a theme-park vibe, which, thankfully, works far more often than it doesn’t. Chris Hemsworth is a dumb and gorgeous treat as the team’s implausibly incompetent secretary, and the main story is actually a pretty compelling mystery, even if the final revelations are somewhat half-baked.
Ghostbusters 2016 is a fun ride, but little more. It’s a satisfying summer blockbuster with little to actually offer, but still a lot to like. It’s the kind of movie where the way one feels going in will be the way they feel coming out. Those who were already on-board will feel validated, and those who hate the very concept of the reboot will find little to change their mind. However, those on the fence with no strong feelings either way, or just a little apprehension, will surely find themselves pleasantly surprised by this family-friendly romp. Ghostbusters is disposable and uneven, but nonetheless crowd-pleasingly enjoyable.