Ghostbusters: the 1984 film, the 2016 remake, and all the cartoons, action figures, comic books, sequels and lunch boxes in between them is a legitimate phenomenon, and that is what’s so bizarre. It’s a series based on a concept that seems obvious and grounded now, but when looked at from a distance seems absolutely ridiculous: people who catch ghosts for a living in a manner much like a public service is just a wacky idea any way you slice it. Dan Aykroyd, a (to quote the ’84 film lovingly) “certified wacko” when it comes to conspiracy theories and the paranormal, first presented the idea as The Ghost Smashers, a nearly 200 page screenplay that involved the titular team bouncing through time and multiple dimensions at will. It was director Ivan Reitman and co-writer/cast member Harold Ramis’ idea to both tweak the story to involve the origin of the (renamed) Ghostbusters as they struggle to start their business, and bring in comedy wunderkind Bill Murray on the project. From there, the rest was lightning in a bottle. So much so that a sequel to the 1984 film didn’t happen for another five years, and even it was an inferior (though pleasant enough for this fan) movie to the original. The popular children’s cartoon The Real Ghostbusters continued its run for a while, and then the franchise languished for decades, only popping up in merchandise, comics and a spin off cartoon series. A true sequel, a Ghostbusters III, was in development for a while, and in the late 2000’s it even seemed like it might be made, but it never materialized for several reasons. With the death of key player Ramis in 2014, it seemed that the original Ghostbusters would be no more. Many fans realized, correctly, that the four men at the heart of both films were the franchise, that making another film without them would be a mighty difficult task.
Sony and Columbia Pictures were always going to make another Ghostbusters, since the merchandising properties alone means that letting the series languish would be leaving money on the table. Many fans expected the exploitation of the intellectual property of the franchise to be terrible, especially given Sony’s deeply misguided attempts to hang on to the Spider-Man rights. Indeed, the studio was ready to go ahead with one of several “reboot-quel” ideas for the next film (think Star Wars: The Force Awakens where the film takes place in the same continuity as the originals but with new characters taking the lead) when writer/director Paul Feig stepped in with an impassioned new take. Unfortunately, what he and his co-writer Katie Dippold saw as a way to bring freshness to the series via starting from scratch with a whole new batch of talented comedians, a disturbingly large (and overwhelmingly male) corner of the internet saw as a horrible injustice. As the hate spewed and the thinkpieces were written, 2016’s Ghostbusters became more then just a reboot, but a lightning rod for representation and social justice. Talking about this film became a statement in and of itself, and where your opinion landed on it defined you, whether you wanted it to or not. Finally, after so much sturm und drang, the film is out this weekend.
Ghostbusters is without a doubt the most fun you can have at the movies this summer.
Being a remake of the original film (it explicitly does not take place in the same continuity), Ghostbusters can’t hope to be a totally original work, but its biggest success is that it so accurately recreates the joy and sense of wonder that the original made manifest. Feig and Dippold manage this by grafting brand new characters onto a familiar (but different!) structure. Struggling university professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is attempting to build a legitimate academic career which is derailed by her old friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who is reselling a book on the existence of the paranormal the two co-wrote years earlier. Through a series of fortunate (and unfortunate) events, Erin and Abby, along with Abby’s lab partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) investigate sites of paranormal activity and build increasingly dangerous yet undeniably cool gadgets to take ghosts down. When they meet the eager, grounded and deeply knowledgeable Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and the supremely idiotic beefcake secretary with a heart of gold, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) the team is complete, and they attempt to discover just who is causing a wave of ghostly activity over New York City and why, all the while fighting for their own legitimacy and self-worth.
Ghostbusters, both old and new, was always a concept to hang the comedians’ personalities on to fill it out, and the personalities in this new film are dynamite. Wiig plays with her Bridesmaids awkwardness, channeling that into a nerdy girl who is a secret believer in the paranormal, bogged down by how the academic world tells her to act and what to believe. McCarthy always does her best work in Feig’s films, and this is no exception, here playing the group’s true believer and allowing her natural charisma to make her the leader of the team by will alone. Jones, always a dominant personality in her work onSaturday Night Live, here is a bit more subdued but no less funny as Patty, a woman who joins the group due to her natural love of people and helpful nature being wasted behind an MTA booth. Hemsworth improves on the promise of his appearance in the Vacation remake by showcasing some impeccable comic timing as Kevin, and very nearly steals the movie. He would have gotten away with it, were it not for the unstoppable force that is Kate McKinnon. Jillian Holtzmann, like Peter Venkman before her, will be the character from this film that every kid on the playground will fight over being at recess. In every single scene that she’s in, McKinnon makes choices that on paper would seem so bizarre you’d be convinced they’d never work, but she has such a charm and impish glee to her that you’re completely won over. Feig could have gone overboard and overused her, but it’s the fact that she’s used sparingly that makes her one of the best supporting characters in recent memory. If you’re not in love with Holtzmann (and/or McKinnon) by the end of her show stopping moment taking a horde of ghouls down in the middle of Times Square, you may need to get checked.
Speaking of those ghouls, they are presented in a fantastic way in the film. While the main event are the characters and their story, Feig is smart enough to know that the ghosts can’t be slouches, and he put together a design team and effects crew good enough to keep the spirits both visually dazzling as well as scary. Every ghost is surrounded by a crackling energy that literally threatens to break out of the frame, and even the “cuter” ghosts have a element of malevolence to them, either in appearance or action. In the first half of the film Feig even utilizes good old fashioned horror filmmaking, making great usage of mysteriously opening doors and eerie sound design. He’s not necessarily giving James Wan a run for his money, but the jump scares are well orchestrated and well timed. Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man make brief and welcome cameos, and the new final antagonist of the film is an evil version of the ghost from the actual Ghostbusters logo, an idea so great and obvious I can’t believe Ghostbusters II didn’t give it a shot first.
That final antagonist, however, is a result of what is unfortunately the weakest element of the movie, which is a third act that suffers due to an ill-defined villain and threat. In the course of the film, the ‘busters discover that Abby and Erin’s book inspired a lonely, bitter social reject, Rowan (Neil Casey) to create devices that will not only increase paranormal activity, but allow him to exploit ghostly energy in order to command an army of the undead. How he’s doing this is made plenty clear (that is, clear enough in a movie that obviously did its scientific research but wants to have a good time regardless), but why is more murky. Feig and Dippold tie Rowan’s tainted need for acceptance to the Ghostbusters’ desire for recognition and validation, which is a nice touch, but does more for our heroes then for the villain. The film can’t decide whether Rowan should be seen as a tragic, sympathetic figure turned evil or a spineless, pathetic creep, so he’s both and neither. When Rowan is onscreen, Casey has little else to do besides look menacing and spout creepy gibberish. Confusing the issue further is that Rowan manages to possess a key character for the last act of the film (a detail you may know from the trailers but that I won’t spoil here) and suddenly becomes interesting, playful and charismatic, but his actions feel less like they’re coming from character and more from ideas for new jokes. Add to that the fact that once all hell (literally) breaks loose on New York City, a smorgasbord of ghosts are unleashed, some with obvious origins like the spirits of evil little subway rats, but a bulk of others having to do with the past for reasons I’m not sure if I missed or the film left out. There’s a Puritan Ghost, a giant 1920’s evil balloon parade, and so on. A lot of elements in the final third of the film feel structurally rushed, as if there were connecting tissue there once but Feig wanted to get to the good bits faster. While it’s great to see Ghostbusters fully embrace the best effects of the day (and it does look fantastic), it’s a bit overkill and seemingly unmotivated.
However, all of that is beside the point of the film everyone involved wants to make, and that’s one that feels like the best amusement park “haunted house” ride you’ll ever take. It genuinely feels like every frame of the film was made with affection for both the original movies and the concept itself, everything from the great costume design by Jeffrey Kurland to the awesome production design by Jefferson Sage to the playful yet decently spooky score by Theodore Shapiro to the use of Ray Parker Jr’s original song during the opening titles (don’t mess with perfection after all). The movie covers everything from hilarious tangents to dance sequences to a nod (intentionally or not) to the Poltergeist films in the final moments. The characters are so enjoyable that I can’t wait to see another adventure of theirs. Feig and the studio are certainly banking on it, giving a hint in a post-credits scene, which is the only bit of fan service I found unwelcome. Let’s not retread old ground, but go somewhere new with these great original characters.
In the larger realm of social justice and progressiveness, I do believe it’s important that such talented women have a showcase such as this, and that little girls all over the world have a bunch of new nerdy heroes to look up to. But boys do too, if they’d stop being hateful for one minute, and actually see this film. A sequel to the original, following Ramis’ passing, could and should never be made now, and a film like this honors and continues the Ghostbusters’ legacy in the best way. The remaining original cast certainly agree, seeing as how they all turn up for some great (and clever) cameos. The movie has no preachy agenda of any sort, and even more rare for a mega budget studio remake, not an ounce of cynicism. Ghostbusters, the characters and the film itself, just wants to be appreciated, to be loved, and to have a damn (bustin’ makes me feel) good time. Give them a chance, won’t you? That is, unless you’re ‘fraid of some ghost…
This article originally appeared on Pixcelation.com on July 16th, 2016.