[Review] Ghostbusters (2016)

written by Kate Spencer

A mildly funny, mediocre, and cynical attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original film.

But enough about Ghostbusters 2, let’s talk about Ghostbusters (2016).

I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading this film’s release for months, mostly because the internet wouldn’t shut up about it. The trailers made it look somewhere between “all right” and “bad” (but that’s not why they got so many dislikes). As a fan of the original film, I was a little concerned with how well this would turn out. Not because I was afraid the new Ghostbusters would somehow tarnish the original – that’s idiotic. I was worried that the new film might be biting off more than it could chew by being a reimagining of a beloved classic. Then the positive score on Rotten Tomatoes gave me hope that maybe at the very least, the film would be an entertaining couple of hours even if it wasn’t great. Some reviewers I respect were calling it “okay”, “meh”, and “mediocre” though, so I lowered my expectations a tiny bit. Then I went to see it.

That was a damn fine movie.

It’s not perfect – it’s far from it – but the positives outweigh the negatives and I had some really good laughs throughout the movie. It’s a little spooky, it’s funny, it has a great cast, and it looks and feels like Ghostbusters should. Is it as good as the original? I don’t know. There are things I enjoy about both and considering that neither have to replace the other in my or anyone else’s movie library, it doesn’t have to be as good as the original. If I had both sitting in front of me, I’d watch them both again in a heartbeat. It does what a proper reimagining should do – pay homage to the original while being its own thing. Had they done the exact same characters with the exact same names played by four new actors, it wouldn’t have turned out very good at all. Having it be four women who aren’t just gender flipped versions of Egon, Peter, Winston, and Ray really gives the film a fresh starting point. Erin, Abby, Jillian, and Patty get to be characters who stand on their own out of the shadows of those that came before. Comparisons are naturally going to be drawn between the movies and between the casts, but the new film stands well in comparison and on its own. Exactly what a reboot should do.

The good: fantastic cast, particularly the leads. Visual effects for the ghosts aren’t hyper-realistic but they fit the look and the tone of the film. There’s some creative ghost design too. Action sequences are very well done and the varied weapon designs give the Ghostbusters more to do than just standing there aiming a particle thrower at a ghost and dragging them toward a trap.

The bad: Some of the jokes fall flat and there are hints of ad-libbing that really should have been cut from certain scenes. The main villain just isn’t very good. A couple of cameos feel either forced or like miscast throwaway roles.

Before I get into the in-depth stuff of what I liked and didn’t, I’m going to recommend that you see the movie for yourself. Don’t go in with hate and expectations, because if you do you’re just going to hate it. Keep an open mind and let the film speak for itself. Is it going to win awards and become a new and beloved classic film? Probably not. It’s great, but it probably won’t have the cultural staying power of the original. That doesn’t make it anything less. Honestly I can see why some people might call it “meh” or “mediocre”, but for me it was well beyond that. One thing I can’t see is how anyone can hate and rage on the film as much as I’ve seen a few “critics” do. Even at its worst, Ghostbusters (2016) is hardly bad or offensive, and definitely nothing to rage at. If you’re coming out of this mad enough to make a screaming angry review, your mind was probably made up when the reboot was first announced. The good is entertaining enough and the bad isn’t even worth mustering the strength to rage about it.

After Kate McKinnon’s sexy wink, we’ll get into spoiler territory, so be warned!

Hm? Oh, right, the review. Sorry, my mind kind of wandered there for a second.

I love these characters. Dr. Erin Gilbert, a teacher who has tried to distance herself from her past of trying to prove the existence of paranormal phenomenon. Dr. Abby Yates, who co-wrote a book with Gilbert years ago and has been sticking to her guns in investigating the paranormal. Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, who designs all of the cool toys for the group. And Patty Tolan, a subway worker who provides the new Ecto-1 and her knowledge of New York. They’re all quirky, funny, and a joy to see in action. The stand-out ones for me are Patty and Jillian. For the concerns that people had about her character after the trailers, Leslie Jones’ Patty is probably the most down to Earth and “normal” one of the bunch. Her reactions to the ghosts are probably the closest the movie gets to how a real person would react in those situations. There’s a great scene where she walks into a room full of creepy mannequins while looking for a ghost and nopes right the fuck out of the room. I would too; I’ve played too many horror games to trust a mannequin. Maybe she’s not a scientist, but she has more common sense than the others who just walk right up to a ghost and start filming it.

Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a delight. She’s an oddball who’s constantly saying strange things and flirting with Erin. The film never overtly states that Holtzmann is gay, but come on, you can tell. (Also Paul Feig confirmed it.) She looks at Erin like she wants to fuck her and looks at Chris Hemsworth like he’s a goofy dog chasing its tail. The character comes across as gay and I very much appreciate that in a film. Apart from that, she’s just funny in what she says and does. In some scenes where the others have terrified or concerned looks on their faces, Holtzmann is elated. It doesn’t look out of place, it just cements that her brain is possibly running on a different operating system than her colleagues. She’s adorably quirky. During the film’s climax, there’s a short part where the action focuses on Holtzmann while she blasts ghosts with two particle thrower handguns and it’s pretty glorious.

Abby and Erin are great too, and there’s a real sense of history and a betrayed friendship at the start of the film. The two resolve their differences pretty quickly, and that’s good because I don’t think a two-hour arc of them arguing about the past would have been very interesting. There is a nod to it as Erin saves Abby from the vortex, but it mostly serves to reaffirm the friendship.

Chris Hemsworth plays Kevin Beckman, a receptionist the Ghostbusters hire. He’s sort of one-note – he’s a terrible receptionist and so clueless that he barely functions. Erin just wants to keep him around as eye candy so he’s hired. He’s used sparingly enough that the “himbo” shtick doesn’t get old or annoying, which shows an odd amount of restraint that’s missing in other aspects of the comedy. Towards the end, Beckman becomes possessed by the ghost of the movie’s main villain and actually manages to upstage the actor who had been playing the villain up to that point. That actor is Neil Casey, who plays Rowan North, a villain who honestly lacks any sort of menace or presence until he dies and comes back as a ghost. I do like the form he takes at the end of the film both as a nod to both the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and the Ghostbusters logo.

There are cameos galore in the movie. The trio of surviving original Ghostbusters all make appearances that range from oddly awkward to a fun payoff I didn’t see coming. Bill Murray plays a skeptic trying to debunk the new Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson turns out to be Patty’s uncle who’s upset with what’s happened to the hearse his niece borrowed, and Dan Aykroyd has an awkward cameo as a cab driver who “ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Sigourney Weaver gets a mid-credits scene as Holtzmann’s mentor and Annie Potts plays a desk clerk at a hotel. The late Harold Ramis isn’t forgotten and his image appears as a bust outside Erin’s office at Columbia University, and at the end of the credits the movie is dedicated to him. Other cameos include Al Roker and Ozzy Osbourne – I don’t know which upsets me the most, that Al Roker has so many acting credits or that Ozzy was brought in for one dumb joke.

Apart from the awkward cameos, the only other things that really bothered me were a dancing scene that was clearly cut for time and placed over the end credits, and the ad-libs. If a joke falls flat on its face in this film, it was probably an ad-lib, because when they happen they are so incredibly out of place it’s obvious they weren’t in the script. Ad-libbing can really lead to some funny and memorable lines in movies, but you really need a director who knows when to rein in the actors if they’re just going on a tangent. There’s a part where Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy go into this shtick about flying babies or something for way too long and it’s just cringeworthy. Just watching the movie I wanted to scream “CUT!!” because obviously Paul Feig forgot to or fell asleep. There’s also a running gag about Abby ordering Chinese food that seems like it’s only there so Melissa McCarthy can ad-lib at the delivery guy for a few minutes.

The writing is good – or I hope it is. If any of those ad-libs were actually in the script I’m taking back that compliment. The dialogue is punchy, the story flows nicely, and even at a running time of two hours, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome. The movie even turns a few clichés on their heads – the mayor is well aware of the presence of ghosts and is supportive of the team’s work…behind closed doors. Out in the open, he doesn’t want to cause a panic so he repeatedly denounces and discredits the Ghostbusters as merely a hoax to keep the public calm and ignorant.

The effects look much better than they did in the trailer. I don’t care what others say, the bright neon look of the ghosts just works. This isn’t The Ring, the ghosts can be bright and colorful without losing their menace. Sure it looks a little campy, but anyone who’s going to say “campy” doesn’t fit with Ghostbusters has never really paid much attention to the original films.

Is it a good film? Yes. Is it in continuity with the other films? No. Does that matter, though? Do you know what’s probably in continuity with the original films? THIS. Is this a necessary film? Well, yes. I needed some entertainment and Ghostbusters did that to great effect. Is it necessary as a remake? Are any remakes necessary? For its part, it’s the best remake it could possibly be, yet still stands on its own as a good film. There’s enough different to make it a separate enjoyable film. If you don’t enjoy it, that’s okay! It won’t be for everyone. If you find you like the originals more, watch those! Because guess what, fellow nerds? I just checked my DVD copies of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 – they’re both still there! I know, right? Amazing that they survived the remake. I’m sure if they were sentient they wouldn’t even know a remake happened at all. It’s almost like…like Ghostbusters (2016) had no positive or negative effect on the originals whatsoever! Like they’re separate entities that can both be enjoyed either together or apart from each other. This is incredible! Imagine if word got out about this! Fandom as we know it could change forever!!

Anyway, go see the new Ghostbusters, have a laugh, possibly discover something new about your sexuality through Holtzmann if you’re a woman. Oh, and stay for the after-credits scene, there’s sequel bait. And for fuck’s sake, stop reading internet comments!

…please comment below.

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