Ghostbusters is a funny, funny movie.
In a sane, more rational world, this would be all that mattered when discussing the film. And for the purposes of this review, I’m going to pretend that we live in that sane world, rather than a deeply flawed world where rebooting a 30-year-old film franchise is political statement that you must be “for” or “against” before you have even seen the movie.
Ghostbusters director Paul Feig has put his trust in a quartet of women to recapture the feeling – if not the specifics – of the 1984 original, and the women have delivered the funny in spades.
Based on her shared history with Feig, it would not have been that surprising if Ghostbusters had turned into a Melissa McCarthy vehicle with minor roles for the other women in the cast. Instead, Feig put his trust in in his entire cast and they succeed as an ensemble in ways that may even surpass the chemistry of the original.
McCarthy is solid as Abby, a good-natured, earnest scientist who has spent her life pursuing proof of the supernatural. But the plot is actually centered around Kristen Wiig’s Erin, Abby’s former colleague and former friend who is desperate to hide her scientifically dubious prior obsession with ghosts from her colleagues at the prestigious university where she is seeking tenure.
After stumbling on a real live ghost, Erin loses her tenure but regains her passion and her friend, and the Ghostbusters are born.
Wiig is delightfully awkward as Erin – a neurotic, mousey nerdette in offensively frumpy clothes. Her rediscovery of both her belief in ghosts and her friendship with Abby is the solid foundation that the plot rests on.
Based on the trailers, I was somewhat concerned that Leslie Jones’ Patty would be a reductive stereotype. Instead, Jones tamped down some of her “in your face” persona to give the most nuanced performance I’ve seen from her yet, while keeping her humor strong and bold. The character is smart, and her role in the film and on the team is both larger and much better defined than poor Winston was in the original films.
But it is Kate McKinnon’s surreal take on engineer and particle physics expert Jillian Holtzmann that steals almost every scene she is in. Ostensibly, Holtzmann is this film’s Egan – the clever scientist who builds all of the gadgets. But rather than Harold Ramis’s wonderfully dry delivery, McKinnon is full of wild-eyed manic energy, giving much of her performance through wonderfully creative physicality since her dialog in the script is often limited to describing the tech she has built with a bunch pseudo-scientific jargon.
With Holtzmann McKinnon has created a classic character that elevates her game far past what we have seen from her in the past. If they actually gave Oscars to actors in comedies (they don’t), McKinnon would absolutely deserve a nod for this performance.
The primary cast is rounded out by Chris Hemsworth’s gorgeous lunkhead receptionist Kevin. Hemsworth is clearly having a blast playing the fool. His Kevin is literally unbelievably stupid (phones seem to confuse him). But they could make an entire movie out of Wiig’s nerdy Erin repeatedly throwing herself at the hilariously oblivious Hemsworth, and I would watch it.
While it is a very good movie, Ghostbusters does have some flaws that prevent it from reaching the “classic status of its predecessor.
In the first two acts, the cast flourishes under Feig’s trademark “let the funny people be funny” style of direction. If at least some of the dialog is not improvised, it feels like it is in the best possible way. But the third act is a bit muddy from a narrative sense and gets bogged down by flashy action sequences – that while beautifully executed and filled with excellent special effects – take us away from the movie’s real strength: those funny, funny women and their funny, funny dialog. I suspect at least some of the excess of that third act can be chalked up to studio notes that demand bombastic finales to every summer blockbuster.
The film also features an underwritten villain that either needed more screen time to establish menace or less to establish mystery. And while it was fun seeing the cameos from the original cast members, some of them fit rather awkwardly into the narrative. Though it seems blasphemous, it would likely serve the movie better if they were left on the cutting floor.
These are all minor nitpicks in a thoroughly enjoyable film that – if there is justice in this world – should be the beginning of a new franchise.
The absolute best endorsement of the movie came from Sara, the nine-year-old girl who sat next to me at the screening, peeking through fingers at some of the scarier ghosts and absolutely enthralled when the female Ghostbusters saved the day. By the time she hit the lobby, she was begging her parents to rent the 1984 original.
Far from “desecrating” the original Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters (2016) honors its illustrious predecessor while also introducing a new generation of fans to a new kind of hero.