Before this review even begins, this is part of the piece where I implore you, dear reader, to read past the headline. I know it’s difficult to do such a thing when talking about something that has created such an absurd uproar as Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters has done, but hear me out.
Ever since it was announced, this latest incarnation Ghostbusters has been the subject of unprecedented hate and condemnation. Other classics have been rebooted and remade, yet none garnered even a fraction of the vitriol aimed at this updated take on people who hunts ghosts on the streets of New York City. We’re in an odd time in our culture, where a movie about a quartet of women busting ghosts can become a front in the ongoing culture wars. I’ve been on the record with my beliefs as to the cause of all the hatred directed at the film, but I’ve always maintained a sense of skepticism towards the film.
While I’ve always had faith in the cast and director Paul Feig, the trailers weren’t exactly the kind to instill confidence, that Fall Out Boy theme song is simply dreadful, and Sony Pictures has had a rocky history with its tentpoles to date. But now that I’ve finally seen the movie, I can say that Ghostbusters is a legitimately good movie, a reboot that nods and winks to the past while standing firmly on its own ground. This is the rarest of reboots – one that is better than the original. Hands down, Ghostbusters is the best blockbuster of 2016 so far, thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.
The script by Feig and Katie Dippold builds upon the concept created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis 32 years ago, creating a whole new cast of characters that aren’t simply based upon archetypes from the original – there’s no attempt to recreate a new Venkman, for example. There’s Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a former professor at Columbia; Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Erin’s former partner and co-author, and an unwavering believer in supernatural phenomena; Dr. Jillian Holtzmanhn (Kate McKinnon), a brilliant inventor and the group’s eccentric wild card; and former MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who joins the crew following her own experience with a ghost. The trailers falsely gave the notion that Patty was going to be the sassy black woman of the group who knows New York, but that was woefully misleading as Patty knows the streets from her constant reading of the city’s history, possessing a keen knowledge which aids this team of scientists.
Answering the phone (sometimes) at their headquarters above a Chinese restaurant is Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), a handsome and dull-witted soul. The Ghostbusters are busy as the city is plague with supernatural activity. An oddball loner, Rowan (Neil Casey) appears to behind the surge in the spectral activity, and provides the reboot with something that the original never had – an actual antagonist, not merely a mystical being that manifests itself at the end. Inspired by the book co-authored by Erin and Abby, Rowan seeks to bring about his own form of apocalypse as retribution towards a society that shuns him. He’s the funhouse mirror version of the Ghostbusters, more than capable to match wits with our heroes.
In their battles against the ghosts of New York, the Ghostbusters do arouse their own form of political dissent. Yet again, though, the film avoids making this story beat a recreation of the original’s EPA liaison Peck, opting to make it a much more duplicitous form of government intervention with the local, represented by the Mayor (Andy Garcia) and his assistant (Cecily Strong), and the federal, represented by Homeland Security agents played by Matt Walsh and Michael K. Williams. The minds behind the film have created a movie that isn’t politically charged, nor is it politically naïve.
Throughout the film, Feig and company insert a number of nods and winks to the original without ever stopping the events of the movie to allow nostalgia to take over for actual storytelling. Feig displays a confidence in creating a new team with new technology fighting new foes while still paying respects to the film’s foundation. I wish more of these reboots or long-dormant sequels would display a similar sense of assuredness in creating their own vision. Even the cameos from original cast members – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver, as well as loving nod to Harold Ramis – compliment the film’s sense of humor with dragging down the story.
One aspect where this incarnation of Ghostbusters stands above the original (which is still a wonderful movie) is just how much tighter the script is. Feig and Dippold refine the concept and forge a new scenario that builds in dramatic tension without ever losing a bit of its potent comedic punch. Ghostbusters plucks minor nuggets to repurpose for this new story set in modern times, not merely a collection of recycled story beats. Skepticism and YouTube are key players in how these characters are accepted by the outside world, and each are met with moments rooted in character and raucous, brilliant humor.
Feig’s Ghostbusters stands as the high-water mark for the franchise because it is simply the funniest the series has ever had. The jokes come at such a fast and furious pace that it almost demands a second viewing, as you’re likely to miss gags between guffaws. There’s a tangible comedic chemistry between the new team, with McCarthy and Wiig proving to be their reliable selves. Leslie Jones seamlessly fits in among her comedic compatriots, her character and performance teaming to dispel accusations of tokenism. But the real standout of this new crew is Kate McKinnon, who is a goddamn star and practically guaranteed to be the next big thing in comedy. No matter who she’s sharing the screen with and no matter the situation, if McKinnon is on the screen she’s practically guaranteed to garner some laughter. The only other actor to even remotely challenge McKinnon comically is Chris Hemsworth, whose amazingly idiotic secretary is an ample source of laughter and probably walks away with some of the film’s most quotable lines. It doesn’t matter if it’s a leading character or a one-scene supporter, every single actor in Ghostbusters is given ample opportunities to elicit laughter from the audience, often with stellar results.
Between Bridesmaids, Spy, and the seminal series Freaks and Geeks, Paul Feig was already force in the comedy world. With Ghostbusters, Feig proves that his skills aren’t just limited to comedy, and his is a talent that is capable of making the best blockbuster of 2016. There will be those that will dismiss my thoughts on this movie and say that I was either paid off by the studio or I’m a Social Justice Warrior incapable of grading a movie on its own merits, and I know that there’s nothing I can say to dissuade them from their own prejudices and complicated conspiracy theories. All I can say is that I was entertained by Ghostbusters from start to finish, more so than the original (which I rewatched in theaters just two weeks ago). Ghostbusters delivers more than any other blockbuster this summer, Civil War included. As the release nears, there’s some question as to whether the studio have changed the title to Ghostbusters: Answer the Call – if that’s the case the title of the movie is a joke in and of itself, which is another layer of brilliance. Ignore the trailers. Ignore the haters. Answer the call – Ghostbusters injects new life in the dormant series and introduces a new roster of characters that will be as beloved to today’s kids as the roster of old.