Ghostbusters and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Paul Feig
No other movie this year, save MAYBE Batman v Superman, had as much drama and passion as this reboot of a classic eighties comedy. A very vocal minority of people were deadest on hating this from the word go with nothing more to go on than the idea that it would star women instead of men, and they haven’t shut the hell up about it since then; effectively drowning out any legitimate criticism that was levied against the movie. It’s true that this is a reboot and that Ghostbusters was a very much a movie of its time (not only in concept but also the fact that comedies just don’t have the same clout and reverence they did back in the eighties), but I was still genuinely interested in seeing this based on who they ended up casting and some of the better moments in the trailer. Does this manage to live up to the hype as a patriarch smashing masterpiece, or will it live up to the OTHER hype of being the worst possible thing to ever happen to anyone at any time in history? Probably neither, but is it at least good? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Columbia Physics professor Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) being forced to confront an old colleague of hers, namely Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) over a book they wrote years ago on the paranormal which she has since disowned but has recently resurfaced and may pose a threat to her bid for tenure at the university. Abbey never stopped her research and is angry at Erin for abandoning her those many years ago so she’s not too keen to help her out and has even gotten a new partner in crime in the form of super engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and they’re both trying to get evidence that ghosts really do exist. Opportunity comes a-knocking for all three of them however as Abby and Holtzmann (with Erin along for the ride trying to get Abby to take her name off the book) actually do run into a ghost and get footage of it on camera. Unfortunately, the video goes viral, Erin gets fired from the University, and all three of them can’t get anyone to believe the story. Still, this is some groundbreaking stuff they’ve uncovered, so they pool all their money together to begin a start-up company and relocate to the attic of a Chinese restaurant (a firehouse looked promising, but was WAY too expensive). As they perfect their craft and Holtzmann works on the weapons, they eventually meet Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who saw a ghost at the subway station she works at and enlists the Ghostbusters to bust it before eventually joining the team, as does Kevin Beckman (chris Hemsworth) who becomes their secretary because no one else bothered to apply for the job. While all this is going on by the way, there’s some creepy dude named Rowan (Neil Casey) who seems to be setting up devices that amply the strength of ghosts that are already haunting various places in NYC and is clearly planning something much bigger. Can the Ghostbusters find out Rowan’s evil plan before it’s too late? Will the world even accept them as anything more than frauds and Ghost Hunter knock offs? Is there ANY chance that those determined to hate this movie will feel any different by actually watching it? I’m gonna guess no on that last one.
The movie is great! Maybe even fantastic! Only time will tell if this will be regarded as a masterpiece on the level of the first one, and my gut is telling me no for a myriad of reasons, but as of right now it’s one of the best movies of the year. This is a film that could have gone REALLY south at any point in its development, and while I never lost hope that it would at least be fun, some of the marketing didn’t really inspire confidence in people, or at least in the people who weren’t pre-emptively outraged by either its existence as a reboot or as a gender flipped reboot. To the former, I would say that it probably won’t be as good as what they were hoping to get from a sequel as opposed to a reboot, but then the expectations that a Ghostbusters 3 would be any good to begin with were pretty ludicrous, especially considering that the second one (not a BAD movie) already didn’t live up to our expectations. To the latter, I don’t even know. I hope they like. I hope this movie will do some good by not only giving women and girls a great genre movie to point to that has strong female characters in the forefront (who aren’t overtly sexualized for the male gaze) but by showing those who are deadest on hating a female led Ghostbusters film that whatever they had feared was not about the movie itself but something they need to recognize and deal with on their own and not point to scapegoats like this movie to keep their fury “righteous”. Then again, they may not appreciate some aspects of the movie that take the piss out of that mindset, but we’ll get to that later. The movie that this kept reminding me of throughout was The Force Awakens, and while I wouldn’t say it’s that good, it’s another example of reviving a beloved (and mishandled to a certain extent) franchise with modern sensibilities that will bring in a new audience who can share what the original fans once had, even if the new version isn’t quite for that older audience. Oh, and both had female leads who inspired the worst among us to piss and moan for a really long time, so there’s that as well!
Let’s start with what EVERYONE is apparently so worried about which is the new Ghostbusters (or at least what some are pretending to be worried about as an excuse to fuel their hatred of women). All four of them are fantastic in their roles and bring something new to the table so that they’re not retreads of the four from the original. The two more prominent among them (the same way Bill Murray was the prominent one in the original) are Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates as they have a history together that provides one of the primary emotional hooks of the movie. Is it particularly deep? Not really, but it’s efficient enough to give the actors something to work with (what happened in their past informs a lot of the interactions and decisions in the present) without taking up a lot of time as it really only gets brought up in the beginning, during a dinner scene towards the middle, and a badass heroic moment at the end. Melissa McCarthy proves yet again that she’s a force to be reckoned with, and by now it’s more than fair to put her on the same level that Murray, Ramis, and Aykroyd were in their heyday, though admittedly we have thirty years of hindsight on them while we’ll just have to wait and see if McCarthy can hold up the same way. Her character takes a bit of time to warm up too as she’s pretty obnoxiously oblivious to how her actions are affecting Erin (she doesn’t seem all that concerned about potentially ruining Erin’s chances at getting tenure) but once the ball gets rolling she becomes quite endearing.
Now there’s been a lot of talk about Leslie Jones and if her character would end being an offensive stereotype; a question I probably am not all that qualified to answer but in my opinion she comes off just fine. Sure she’s sassy and loud in places but that’s not the extent of her character, the same way Melisa McCarthy’s constant fighting with the Chinese restaurant about wonton to soup ratio doesn’t come off as a jab at her being overweight. She manages not feel like a fourth wheel on a tricycle in this and she becomes a part of the crew fairly early on with plenty of screen time, so in that aspect I think they handled her better in here than they did with Winston in the original. That said, they could have done more with her and it is a bit disappointing that her being a Municipal Historian isn’t more prominently featured. The movie never acknowledges that she holds this position even though she displays a fair amount of knowledge about the locations they go to which seems like an odd omission considering that we know Holtzman is an engineer, that Erin and Abby have studied the paranormal since they were kids, and that Erin was even on the cusp of getting tenure as a professor of physics. Hopefully this is something that they’ll bring to the forefront in the next movie.
The biggest standout though has to Jillian Holtzmann; the lovable and hair brained engineer who can apparently whip up technological marvels at a moment’s notice like she was Rick Sanchez or something. Kate McKinnon is an absolute revelation here and steals every scene she’s in with her go for broke attitude and genuine excitement over facing the forces of evil. Now to be fair, she is the most broadly drawn character in this so she really has the most room to do her own thing and grab the audience’s attention (the Jack Sparrow archetype if you will) which also means she doesn’t get much in terms of an arc. I think that’s fine in this kind of movie though considering it is an ensemble cast which means she can fade a bit to the background whenever the other characters are working through their own issues, and it’s not even like she’s completely devoid of depth. She loves her work, is very protective of her equipment, and has a nice moment at the end to let us know she actually cares about the crew and considers them family; all of which go a long way to endearing her to the audience. Now there’s also the unfortunate fact that the studio would not let her identify herself as gay in the movie which feels like one of the most backwards ass moves a studio has made in a REALLY long time and it’s extremely frustrating that we still apparently live in a world where movies can have gay characters in them who read as gay yet still can’t be out and proud about it. Still, even if they can’t say it in the movie, the director has said it and the way Kate McKinnon plays the character doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt about who she is and she would identify herself which is basically the same way it was handled in Legend of Korra, and at least that’s gonna get a graphic novel that will supposedly bring her sexuality to the forefront without any ambiguity. Hopefully the studios behind this movie will do the same for Holtzmann once the inevitable sequel comes around.
So we’re all good now? We can stop worrying about the new gender flipped team ruining the legacy of the original? Good. Now let’s talk about the movie itself. The movie has a REALLY strong first two acts as it sets up the team and the new bad guy here; all of which is fascinating to watch onscreen and really feels like they’re expanding the lore and concepts that the original film never ended up capitalizing on outside of the cartoons (and especially not in the sequel). Unfortunately, the movie kinda drops the ball by the end of the second act when the bad guy turns out to be surprisingly weak and has an odd exit from the movie before the third act even begins. It was really disappointing to see the movie just kinda fall off a cliff and start squandering what was making it such an amazing reboot up until that point. Now fortunately the movie does end up kicking back into high gear at about the middle of the third act once things are going crazy and the Ghostbusters have a real chance to fight back, but there’s no denying that the lead up to that is a meandering mess.
The villain played here by Rowan North is probably the most misused aspect of this entire movie as he’s REALLY compelling and intriguing at first, but it all amounts to nothing as his menace just deflates completely by that point. It’s kind of amazing that this movie managed to have a villain in here that so perfectly emulated those who had unwarranted hatred for this movie once the cast was revealed (NOT aimed at those who had reasonable skepticism) and it put me in mind of a watered down version of Kylo-Ren. I don’t know if the writers had a chance to rewrite his character based on those reactions (it’s not a big role so they could have switched out some dialogue after the shit started hitting the fan), but either way I found it pretty damn awesome that the villain turned out to be the archetypal Angry Young ManTM who has a chip on his shoulder and an unchecked ego. Unfortunately, that’s all there really is too him and the big master plan to destroy the city isn’t all that masterful of one. There isn’t some big bad guy on the other side pulling the strings (like Janosz Pha and Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters 2) which would have helped sell the menace and threat that we should be feeling in the third act while still having this one character to have fun with until then. Instead, it’s the one dude behind it all and he doesn’t really come off as all that threatening or that he even has a real game plan, so instead of having our heroes fight a God or some super powered entity, it basically becomes another invasion movie which we get a lot of these days. Not a BAD invasion movie mind you as I thought the action beats and the wacky concepts really do kick the movie up a notch and take it out of the downward spiral that the end of the second act was heading towards, but the lack of a strong villain outside of making a meta-commentary on this movie’s own backlash is hard to overlook.
Speaking of backlash, the only other major male character in this (I’m not counting the mayor played by Andy Garcia or the cameos) is Chris Hemsworth’s character as the secretary Kevin who is an absolute riot on screen, but I feel is gonna get caught up in the FEMANIZI’S HATE MEN bullshit going on as he plays a really dumb guy and all of his humor comes from that. I mean if someone wants to get offended by the six-three mountain of perfectly chiseled muscle who’s managed to coast through his life based on his looks and so didn’t need to wise up or learn how to interact with others, then go ahead. I won’t stop them, though I think they’re really grasping at straws if that’s what they want to cling to. The thing is that he’s not JUST a moron, he’s a guy who’s never had to try hard in his life so whenever he’s confronted with basic challenges like answering a phone or staying at the desk for an entire shift, his defense mechanism is to just ignore it and hope it goes away. He also provides a solid foil for the crew who constantly has to fight him on doing even the most basic tasks yet can’t get rid of him because no one else applied for the job (and Erin is crushing hard on him).
So the movie is a solid adventure with a vibrant new cast that drops the ball on the villain but manages to make up for it with a well-executed finale. That’s not what you want to know though, is it? You want to know about the cameos and references! So all the surviving Ghostbusters as well as Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver have very minor roles in here that have nothing to do with their original characters. Of the five cameo roles, I’d say that Bill Murray’s was the best as he plays a famous ghost debunker and paranormal skeptic who’s talking mad shit about the Ghostbusters once they get their operation up and running. It’s a really funny and tongue in cheek role for him to take, especially considering his history with the third film that never materialized. I will say that his role ends rather abruptly and kind of on an odd note to leave the rest of the movie on, but there’s no doubt that this is exactly the way he wanted it to finish. Hell, it was probably the only way he would agree to be in this in the first place. Annie Pots and Ernie Hudson are much less extensive and just there for the sake of it, but they don’t stop the movie dead in its tracks as they’re playing characters that still probably would have been there played by extras had they not agreed to be in the movie, and while Sigourney Weaver’s role had a bit more to it (with the possibility of her being in a larger role in the sequel), she’s in the same boat as those two. The worst unfortunately has to be Dan Aykroyd whose cameo here is almost as bad as the one he made in Casper. The guy literally drives up, says a few lines that cheekily reference the first movie, and then drives off never to be seen again. It fells really force and at best gets a mild chuckle in a movie that’s almost all really strong jokes that get huge laughs. The rest of the references are hit or miss. Stay Puft is a parade float which is a pretty smart way to bring him back into this though his appearance doesn’t add much, the firehouse present and accounted for, though is absent for most of the movie in favor of a smaller place over the Chinese restaurant, and the tools of the trade such as the equipment, uniforms, and the ECTO-1 are well updated and their development is a somewhat prominent part of the movie. The weakest of the references though is Slimer who like Dan Aykroyd (the two are starting to look alike I’ve noticed) feels completely forced in here, but unfortunately THIS cameo doesn’t have the decency to just go away and ends up sticking around for most of the third act. I’m not really bothered that they did include a lot of cameos and iconography from the previous films, but hopefully they got it all out of the way here and can now devote all their focus on this new world that they’ve set up for whatever comes next.
There are a lot of reboots, remakes, sequels, what have you, of classic films that fall completely flat because they’re too damn close to the material and want to give the fans everything they think they want (*cough* Ghostbusters 2 *cough*), or they want to branch out and do their own thing but fail miserably at it (*cough* The Prequels *cough*). The key tends to be finding that middle ground between understanding what made the original work, but also having a unique vision for where to take it which is why the Star Trek reboot worked, but Into Darkness did not. This movie is imperfect for a lot of reasons, but from its premise and the ways in which they update the material, you can hardly ask for a better way to do so outside of what JJ Abrams did with The Force Awakens. Is it better than the first one? Probably not, though I definitely want to see this one a few more times before I say for certain, and it’s not even like The Force Awakens was as revolutionary as the original one despite all the ways it brought the franchise into the twenty-first century. I really loved the hell out of this movie and hope that all the naysayers have one less thing to be pissed about now that this has finally come out and proven not to be a total disaster, though for many of them they’ll either deny ANY of the films qualities (opinions are subjective, but they can come from a place of anger and prejudice) or just move onto the next thing to inexplicably pour all that energy and hatred over which is probably gonna be Rogue One once we get closer to the release date for that. I absolutely recommend that you go out there and see this movie as it’s a blast pretty much from beginning to end, and I hope that we do get a sequel that can iron out some of the growing pains as this new interpretation of the franchise finds its own path that could one day be just as good, if not better, than the original.
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