By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
In these nostalgia-happy days of cinema, no reboot, remake, or decades-later sequel has received anything close to the amount of vitriol Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has, and before even being released. Even last month’s unnecessary and awful Independence Day: Resurgence didn’t get one millionth of the hate and that one killed off Will Smith.
Is it because the original Ghostbusters is such a beloved classic? Or was it because this new one is a “gender-swapped” version staring four women instead of men?
(Secret camera footage from an anti-2016 Ghostbusters meeting.) Well…
So here we are. After all that controversy. All that whining. All those debates. All those thinkpieces. Here we finally freaking are. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is out.
Set in a separate cinematic world than the much-loved 1984 original, though one where Stay Puft is still a brand of marshmallows with the same mascot, Ghostbusters is a story about, oh come on, you know the story!
Okay, so it’s a little different this time around.
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a physics professor at Columbia University thisclose to tenure when she receives a visit from the owner of a famous mansion where something strange that can only be described as a haunting recently occurred. She’s sought out for help because the owner happened upon a book about the paranormal Erin once wrote along with her estranged friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).
Angered and embarrassed that the book is available online (you can buy it here) as she had attempted to bury its existence and that part of her life long ago to be taken seriously in her career, Erin tracks down Abby to demand she remove it. Abby, however, never gave up on her dream of proving that ghosts are real and continued her research along with a new partner, off-kilter but genius nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The two convince Erin to go with them to investigate the mansion.
Guess what? Turns out ghosts are real! And suddenly more continue to pop up around New York City.
With nothing to lose, since they lose everything (Erin’s job, Abby and Jillian’s research lab) after a YouTube video of the mansion investigation goes viral, the three start their own freelance ghostbusting business. They’re soon joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who has extensive knowledge of New York City geography and history, as well as a car they can use to haul their equipment (ever try maneuvering a subway while wearing a proton pack? Not fun!). And we’re off!
“Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.”
Personally, I never thought of the original Ghostbusters as a “male comedy.” It was just a comedy. You can argue that children who grew up in the 1980s would think that because growing up in that era we simply accepted certain gender roles. The men were the heroes and women were the damsels in distress. I’m sure that has been argued. But I disagree. In the 80s there was an emergence of women in hero roles in movies and television (most notably Ghostbusters’ damsel in distress herself, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien/s). It’s easy to, in hindsight, go back and nitpick, but in Ghostbusters’ case, what made it work was simply good, funny characters, regardless of their gender. In the reboot, once again, we have good, funny, characters. This time they just happen to be women. And like the 1984 team, they are some of the most comically-talented actors working today.
Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy recall their Bridesmaids chemistry, though their characters are more subdued than what audiences may expect, with both essentially playing the straightmen (straightwomen? straightpersons?) to McKinnon’s and Jones’ zanier characters. Still Wiig gets in an epic freakout moment and McCarthy gets to show off her physical comedy skills.
Leslie Jones finally graduates from playing characters with names like “angry woman,” “angry patron,” and “chatty woman” in a breakout performance. Yes, she still yells a lot, but she does it so well.
The standout, which shouldn’t be at all a surprise to Saturday Night Live viewers, is Kate McKinnon, who can steal a scene without saying a word. For those not familiar with her, just keep your eyes on her whenever she’s on screen. Trust me.
Kate McKinnon is a national treasure.
Some of the biggest laughs are courtesy of Chris Hemsworth’s dimwitted but oh-so-pretty, receptionist, Kevin. It’s borderline-absurdist humor and one-note because he’s just so, SO dumb, but Hemsworth plays it perfectly and he’s goddamn hilarious.
The best thing about the film, like Ivan Reitman’s before it, is the comedy. The cast are brilliant individually and even more so when riffing off each other. It’s an infectious blast to watch. So much that often it feels like those damn ghosts get in the way.
Feig along with co-writer Katie Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Recreation) keep similar beats to the original while updating it with a bit of meta-humor throughout. They sharply address the backlash (the above “ain’t no bitches…” quote is an internet comment within the movie and you have to wonder if the villain was tweaked into a stand-in for the basement-dwelling rage-filled haters), but wisely don’t dwell on it. The characters are fresh, not female copies of the original four, and the writing smartly allows the very capable actors plenty of room to adlib, while the majority of the scripted jokes hit (again, credit to the cast as much as the writers).
Finally, it was a nice surprise to hear Ray Parker Jr’s iconic theme in its original form several times throughout the film. Yes, the Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliott update is there too, but it’s not that annoying as montage background music. I promise.
The callbacks to the original, and there are many, work best when they are subtle (look for the bust outside Kristen Wiig’s character’s office ) rather than something like, oh I don’t know… how about “LOOK IT’S DAN AYKROYD AS A TAXI DRIVER SAYING ‘I AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS!’ ”
Pretty much every major character from 1984 Ghostbusters makes a cameo (Unfortunately not Rick Moranis. Come back to us Rick Moranis!) which is fun at times (Annie Potts’ delivery of her famous “Whatta ya want?” line received a round of applause at my screening), but between the familiar faces and Easter eggs galore, it was almost too much fan service, often bringing everything to a screeching halt to nudge the audience in the ribs with a hey, remember this? It’s obvious Feig was nervous about the backlash and perhaps went a little overboard in his attempts to prove just how big a fan of the original he was.
Yes, Slimer makes an appearance. Of course he does.
The film takes a sharp turn in the third act, aka The Big Showdown, in which the Ghostbusters must save New York City. Unfortunately, it was the least enjoyable part for me. Everything up until that point had a light-hearted tone and fun and breezy flow to it (though still interjected with some pretty scary moments) but the final setpiece felt overlong and overproduced with an explosion of CG ghosts. Again, while the action sequences are necessary, the magic is in the moments that lead up to and follow them.
While it had a few issues, I walked out of Ghostbusters with my childhood still fully intact and a huge smile on my face. Sorry haters. Like bustin’, this movie will make you feel good. And don’t we need that right about now?
Ghostbusters (2016) Drinking Game
Suggestion: In case you haven’t heard,EctoCooler is back! Why not add your favorite spirit and make an adult version? (Note: if you fought with anyone on the internet about an all-female Ghostbusters, you are not adult and should not be trusted with alcohol.)
Take a Drink: for every cameo from someone from the original film. Take Two: if it’s a ghost.
Take a Drink: whenever anyone is slimed
Take a Drink: whenever a gadget doesn’t work correctly
Take a Drink: every time Erin awkwardly flirts with Kevin
Take a Drink: whenever Kevin covers his eyes
Take a Drink: whenever Patty gives us a NYC history lesson
Do a Shot: for every Saturday Night Live cast member (current or former)
Last Call: Do stay for the credits for some fun Chris Hemsworth dancing and one final shout-out to the original film.
Also, just in case this needs clearing up: