Ghostbusters (2016) Review

A remake of Ghostbusters was a terrible idea from the get-go. Not because the movie had the best script, brilliant direction, or an unrepeatable premise; but because of the confluence of all of those elements with the unbeatable chemistry of Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray. Along with Ernie Hudson; they were the Ghostbusters – and even they couldn’t get lightning to strike twice with their own sequel. 1984’s Ghostbusters is the film equivalent of Roman Concrete – what makes it great is observable but not repeatable.

Which makes Paul Feig’s effort with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones all the more impressive for being as wonderfully fun as it is.

The movie has its fair share of issues. The plot, throughout the picture and mainly in the last act, feels like an afterthought; like everyone realized they forgot to give these characters something to actually do; and that’s in spite of a prescient if not obvious villain (Neil Casey), a loquacious loser loner who wants to summon ghosts to return New York City back to the 70’s where he plans to rule it. It feels like there were entire plot-points cut from the film, which still feels overly long, that would have gone some ways into explaining how some characters seemingly teleport between scenes without context. This new Ghostbusters also doesn’t feel anywhere near as invested in its own world and mythos as the original, which is understandable considering how deeply invested Dan Aykroyd is in actual paranormal studies, but makes the setting feel thematically half-full. Adding to that particular problem is that the movie was shot in seemingly everywhere except New York, which becomes immediately and infuriatingly obvious to anyone familiar with the city, especially the parts that could have been easily corrected by simply googling “MTA Subway Map.” The action sequences in this movie are directed flatly, buoyed mainly by some beautifully cartoony, if sometimes distracting, special effects. Overall, there’s a familiar “franchise” feeling to the whole film, a certain Marvel-ly me-too-ness that becomes more apparent as you sit on it and examine some of the structural details. And the remix of the iconic theme is garbage.

But where this movie unabashedly succeeds is with its characters, and Erin (Wiig), Abby (McCarthy), Holtzmann (McKinnon), and Patty (Jones) are the Ghostbusters. Most notably, and this film’s greatest triumph over the original, is its treatment of their black Ghostbuster, Patty, compared to the original’s treatment of Winston. Where Winston is largely an afterthought, Patty is a fully fleshed out character, and a key player in the team. She enters the film a lot earlier than Winston did, and adds a knowledge of the history of New York to compliment the others’ scientific know-how instead of just being the odd-one-out. Patty is enthusiastic, loyal, brave, smart, caring, and still as hilarious and tenacious as her team-mates.

Erin and Abby provide the film’s center in much the same way Peter and Ray did in the original, but without being mapped 1-to-1. Erin is the film’s primary protagonist, a former colleague of supernatural studies with Abby who decides to pursue more traditional science after not being taken seriously for most of her life; but is dragged back in when Abby, who never gave up on ghosts, republishes their first book on the paranormal which leads to the two reuniting and, predictably, finding their first spook. While Erin is initially the skeptic, she’s also more prone to emotional outbursts than level-headed and sardonic true-believer Abby.

Also of note is the team’s secretary, a dumb blonde beefcake played to a tee by Chris Hemsworth. His Kevin has clearly only managed to get as far as he has in life on handsomeness alone, which even makes Erin immediately melt on first sight. He’s completely inept, picking up a phone proves difficult for him, but never infuriatingly so – an almost perfect buffoon.

But Ghostbusters’ MVP, almost to the detriment of the rest of the movie, is Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann. The team’s engineer, Holtzmann is Egon driven entirely by id. McKinnon is in constant motion as Holtzmann, who dresses and moves like a cartoon character, and is constantly putting her arm around or otherwise touching everyone else. She’s in the busting business for the bright lights and booms, whimsically playing with fire and nuclear power. She reaches Poochie levels of entertaining, in that whenever she’s not on screen, you’re asking yourself “Where’s Holtzmann?”

Unfortunately, Holtzmann is so much the breakout character of this Ghostbusters that it overshadows how great the chemistry between the four of them really is. This movie’s best scenes are the ones where all four of them are allowed to be in a room together with as much space as they need to bounce off each-other, whether that’s around a pizza, or in an alley practicing with some new toys.

It’s also worth noting how well the cameos and callbacks are handled in Ghostbusters. This one is clearly reverent of, but not beholden to, the 1984 classic – giving all the original cast members meaningful cameos without distracting from its own thing. The final cameo in particular might be the best ending sting since Samuel L. Jackson popped up in Iron Man.

Ghostbusters is far from a perfect film, and point-for-point, is not as good as the original; but you should see it anyway. Because Ghostbusters gets the most important stuff more right than anyone could have hoped. Whether you want to accept it or not, these women are the Ghostbusters, reviving the franchise with a brand new chemistry and comradery more than worthy of the job-description.

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