As a lifelong Ghostbusters fan, I gave up on the idea of a Ghostbusters 3 a long time ago. Luckily, there are myriad ways that the story of the original characters extends beyond the two films. The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters animated series explored the larger mythology of ghosts and ghostbusting (there are even multiple episodes that refer to the movie being based on the lives of the characters in the cartoons). And 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game reunited the original cast of the first two films for one last outing which took a deeper dive into the backstory for the first film.
So when this “all-female” Ghostbusters reboot was announced, I felt mostly neutral about it. I’ve long since given up caring about whether something I love is adapted, rebooted, or sequelized. I always hope for the best (Casino Royale) but am readily prepared for something that is entertaining yet does not live up to the previous versions (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). So anticipating this film was the same sort of exercise: I was hoping to enjoy this Ghostbusters film, but ready to keep living my life regardless (the worst case scenario for these situations is that your non-geek friends and family know you like Batman and buy you a shirt from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice even though you don’t appreciate the film. Nothing to freak out over, you just gratefully accept the gift and then wear it to the gym or whatever. Your childhood love of Batman is safe and sound.).
But much to my surprise and delight, I LOVE this movie. While it would be nigh impossible for a comedic ensemble to top the chemistry shared by Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Ackroyd, and Ernie Hudson, or for the film to meet or surpass one of the best films of all times in any regard, director Paul Fieg’s Ghostbusters captures the spirit of Ghostbusters (I promise this the only ghost pun in this review). And most of the film’s flaws are just as easily attributed to many of the beloved franchise blockbusters of the last few years, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Garth Edwards’ Godzilla.
Of course, none of this describes how much fun this film is to watch. As with last year’s Spy, Paul Feig builds a great cast and lets them bounce off of each other. Like the original films, the humor is largely character-driven, though matches the contemporary comedic styles of its stars and writers. And these characters are a blast to hang out with, and never feel like they are derivative of other characters these actresses have played (at least in film). Kate McKinnon gives a breakout performance which is a high accomplishment considering her costars, she manages to bring a charming manic energy to the screen that is irresistible rather than grating.
Like The Force Awakens, the film uses the structure of the original to establish a new generation of characters. Unlike Star Wars, however, this is a full on reboot, so there are no existing Ghostbusters at the start of this film, nor does anyone have proof that ghosts exist. The inciting incident is a haunting at an old mansion, handled hilariously by Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods. The mansion’s owner seeks out Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) because of a book about the paranormal she co-wrote with Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Because she is on a tenured track in physics at Columbia University, she has been running from her past love of the paranormal. This led to her falling out with Abby, and now the latter works with Dr. Jill Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) to continue investigating ghosts at a much less prestigious institution. The relationship between Erin and Abby is one of the biggest changes in this reboot, and their relationship functions as the source of emotional resolution for the film.
The three PhDs investigate the ghost, share their findings with the world, and are promptly dismissed from academia. They decide to set up their own research group. They hire a dim-witted secretary, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), and have their second case from MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). She becomes the fourth member of the team, bringing in her enthusiasm for learning and her encyclopedic knowledge of New York. In another major departure from the original film, these Ghostbusters do work in the public eye, but not as exterminators. Rather, there is a less-than-supernatural force pulling the strings and causing ghosts to suddenly appear around New York. Rowan (Neil Casey) is a disturbed individual, angry because he feels the world bullies him and therefore wants to unleash ghosts across all of New York. And while the meta-irony of the villain being an angry nerd is lovely, he’s never really fleshed out beyond that, despite how much time the film spends on him away from the Ghostbusters. He never feels like the antagonist until the end of the film, and doesn’t serve much utility otherwise.
This film loves being a Ghostbusters movie as much as Force Awakens loves being a Star Wars movie. Beyond the plot and rough character archetypes, there are dozens of delightful homages to the original film. They range from charming and obvious cameos, to dog whistles to super fan key phrases, and visual cues. Balancing the embrace of the original film while also making this its own film is a very fine line to draw. And this is the closest anyone has come since Men in Black to capture the mundane fantastic as well as the 1984 film. I can’t understate how truly endearing this film is, to longtime fans as well as potential newcomers.
The internet has been at war with itself over what turned out to be what fans always wanted. And it happens to star four women to boot. There’s no way to convince me that women in starring roles has an inherent downside, but these four women in particular are top class comedians. Like all of those involved in the original films that helped make this new one possible, there is no doubting that Ghostbusters is in good hands.
This might be a nitpick in the grand scheme of things, but the original film is one of the great, authentically New York movies (despite none of the leads or director being from New York). And while the film takes place in New York, it was all too easy for this lifelong Philadelphian to be able to spot scenes which were obviously filmed in Boston rather than in the Big Apple. It’s likely just a function of budget and the cost of filming in New York, but it’s something that sticks out. There are plenty of films set in New York that film elsewhere and manage to obscure it better. There’s also a scene with an obvious Papa John’s pizza product placement, which underlines this lack of “New Yorkness.” It’s the biggest fault the film has, outside of falling into those common traps from other franchise films of this era.
In fact, the closeness of the film to the 32-year-old original is an interesting point of comparison to see how different generations of filmmakers approach the same concepts. For one, as already mentioned, the villain in this film takes time to establish a motivation for his actions, whereas Gozer from the original film just wants to enter our plane and mess stuff up. By a similar token, our modern films are hell bent on explaining backstory to a fault. We never learn how Peter, Egon, and Ray meet in the original films, but there’s a whole scene in this film detailing Erin’s backstory and how her relationship with Abby came about. I know the backstory for the original Ghostbusters exists in script notes and things, but it is literally trivial for the proceedings of the film. This isn’t a strict criticism of the new film, because there is some payoff to knowing more of Erin and Abby, but it makes the screenplay feel less economical.
Films today generally seem like they have a slower pace, but more like they feel decompressed. Having even a modest hit almost guarantees a sequel, and if the Chinese moviegoers respond, it barely has to qualify as a hit. This has the effect of allowing filmmakers to stretch out the story to a few installments, spending more time building to smaller climaxes. The post-credit scene of this film all but confirms that in a way. It’s also a reminder that contemporary comedies rarely use the kind of film scores we used to get (I would love to see some of the scenes in this film cut against Elmer Bernstein’s score for the original film). Ghostbusters is a great movie on its own, and provides a milepost as to how we can view this era of mainstream comedy films.
This Ghostbusters is charming, funny, inventive, and an absolute joy. I walked out of the theater feeling like I had been coated in happy mood slime while listening to Jackie Wilson.
Ghostbusters opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.