The level of vitriol that has been directed towards the lady-led Ghostbusters reboot is beyond the pale. Over at my day job at Screen Rant, every Ghostbusters related news update is met by at least a few comments telling us we shouldn’t even be reporting on it. As if, like the mainstream media’s coverage of Donald Trump, we are treating a great evil in the world as normal, and should really just stop giving it attention. Hilarious, considering the “controversy” they are stirring is turning the reboot of a comedy film into a news-worthy socio-political debate.
But we’re going to put all that aside, because ultimately the 2016 iteration of Ghostbusters is just another movie reboot. Reboots are nothing new. Neither are they proof that Hollywood has run out of ideas. Shakespeare did reboots (see Troilus and Cressida). Stories are meant to be told, and if they’re good enough, retold through a new lens for a new generation. What matters is whether the individual telling has value. Sometimes this simply means a fresh coat of paint on essentially the same story (The Karate Kid, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Sometimes it means bucking the original formula almost entirely to build something better (Dredd). Sometimes it means adding layers to what came before you (Batman Begins, Creed). Sometimes it means respecting the original, but going your own way (Casino Royale, You’ve Got Mail).
Ghostbusters (2016) is in that last category, but the level of respect it feels obliged to pay the original is unfortunately one of the two major things it has working against it. The other is pacing, so you can imagine how problematic it must be for the film to spend five of its least entertaining minutes on an editing floor-worthy cameo by Bill Murray. His support of his successors by simply showing up to the gig is noble, but he really needed to be given better material. At least Akroyd only shows up for half a minute in an otherwise natural beat, gets a good zinger, and then is on his merry way. The film is at its best when it’s not trying too hard to remind you that it’s not a replacement, but an homage.
The original Ghostbusters was no masterpiece of story structure or magnificent pacing, but it didn’t really have to be. It was simple and silly, with an awesome premise and some great comedic performances. I would never accuse the new film of “trying to be better than the original,” but it certainly tries to do more. Individually, these pieces are great. The new film is a cinematic treat, with a miraculously iconic and poppy neon color scheme that oozes personality. Many of the action beats are fantastically imaginative. Resident mad scientist Holtzman’s (Kate McKinnon) endlessly evolving cache of anti-ghost gadgetry hits a fever pitch of ridiculous fun by the film’s climax. The film also has a small but sweet central arc around the strained friendship between Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).
Director Paul Feig tends to shine with comedy ensembles. His films like Bridesmaids benefit from a straightforward premise based on humor and heart. But the bigger and broader his movies have gotten, the more his skills have been stretched thin. Spy is a good example of this, a film with a fantastically funny cast that’s bogged down from greatness by a premise that’s too big for Feig’s own vision. Ghostbusters is far better realized, but it’s also much bigger and much clunkier. The pieces are mostly all great, but they often feel disconnected from one another.
In Feig’s defense, there are less than a handful of directors out there who have proven to balance this level of tonal chaos. Edgar Wright, for sure. Pete Docter, Steven Chow, or James Gunn – maybe. Normally I wouldn’t be so hard on a film, but Ghostbusters 2016 has such fantastic elements at play, it’s sad not to see them truly soar. The film has all the humor, heart, visuals, and excitement of a bona fide classic, but they just don’t have the connective tissue needed to make that leap.
So enough about what Ghostbusters has been, could have been, or should have been. What’s left over is still a truly good time! The film’s avatar and MVP is Holtzman, who’s just loving every damn second of it. Kate McKinnon is electric in the role, and every moment of her screen time feels magical. She’s the test-tube love-child of Doc Brown and Captain Jack Sparrow – a weird blend of the fringe regions of mad genius, and agent of chaos through and through. Good thing she’s on the side of the angels, because a naughty Holtzman could give Batman enough of a run for his money to put The Joker to shame. It’s to Feig’s credit that McKinnon doesn’t steal the whole damn movie. It’s certainly weird to see Wiig and McCarthy acting as the “straight men” of the group, but it’s necessary to keep the film’s heart intact… and to keep it from going completely off-the-rails.
All of the main cast feel relevant. I was really worried that the fourth Ghostbuster, Patty (Leslie Jones), would come off as just as token as Ernie Hudson in the original two films. Not at all a problem here. Patty is incredibly useful, informed, and is often the member of the group offering practical solutions when the shit hits the fan. At a distance, the idea of making the black member of the group the “street-smart” one could come across as shitty, except that Patty’s brand of “street-smart” is that she knows which street has a history of grisly murders going back to colonial times because she’s read up on it.
The Honorable Mention award goes to Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). He also works miraculously well in the ensemble as the handsome secretary with the critical reasoning skills of a stunned parakeet. The trailers had me concerned that he gets hired for his looks, but the fact that he’s the best help the team can get just makes the whole situation even funnier.
Mad props also go out to Theodore Shapiro for expertly weaving Ray Parker Jr’s amazing Ghostbusters melody into some of the most epic moments of the movie. (Check out a sample here.) Mad props go out to Sony for limiting Fall Out Boy’s uneven and despised remix to 20 bearable seconds of the film’s screentime. Seriously… when even Ray Parker Jr. is publically saying “You guys should have called me,” you know there’s a problem.
Rather than do my normal 3D addendum, I’m going to make the point to say this in the body of the review. Ghostbusters isn’t just made for 3D, it may be the best use of the format since Life of Pi. The film is letterboxed in theaters, and the extra real estate is used to give the feeling that objects are popping through the borders of the frame and out into the movie theater. Ghosts zoom out over the audience and proton blasts fire out to wrangle them. It all could come across as incredibly campy, but it’s so fun that the film clearly doesn’t care and just goes with it. The borders are also expanded in some key moments to give the surrounding visuals a maximum impact. It’s all thought out miraculously well, and the 3D is spectacularly clean to boot.
Ghostbusters 2016 falls just short of a Must See. Partially this is because of the film’s pacing and identity issues. Mainly because if you hate reboots, Paul Feig comedies, or women in roles that the criminally under-represented male population could have starred in, this film’s charms will likely be lost on you. For everyone else, Ghostbusters is a damn good time and a joyous cinematic experience that will leave you feeling good well after the credits roll.