Review: Ghostbusters (2016)


© Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures Releasing

© Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures Releasing

Last year's Oscar-winning film Mad Max: Fury Road opened in theaters to a bout of controversy. When it quickly became apparent that Charlize Theron's Furiosa would actually be the film's central character, a vocal minority of men's rights activists began to raise their hands in alarm. How could they possibly take such an iconic, masculine character as Max Rockatansky and belittle him to the passenger seat next to an empowered - and incredibly badass - woman? I feel as though many of those outcries fell silent when Fury Road proved to be one of the best action films in decades; around the same time, however, similar sentiments began circulating the Internet like a shark smelling blood in the water and circling its prey.

Ghostbusters serves as a reboot of the classic franchise started back in the mid-1980s. The new film opens with Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a Columbia University professor on the cusp of earning tenure just as her hidden ghost-hunting past rears its ugly head. Infuriated that her chance at earning a career at a prestigious university has been put on the line, she goes to confront her old colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who has never given up the chase for the paranormal and seems to be ready for a breakthrough of her own. Joined by her new partner Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), the three quickly find themselves in the midst of investigating an alleged apparition that opens their eyes to a world of possibility. With a rise of spectral visions appearing across New York City, the trio adds the street-smart Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to complete their ghost-busting quartet. Little do they know that a larger plot may be at play that could spell certain doom not only for their city but also for the entire world. 

Many consider the original Ghostbusters film to be a comedic classic of the 1980s, but I want to preface the rest of my review with this sentiment: I am not a massive fan of Ivan Reitman's original venture; I find it entertaining, but I've never truly been smitten with the '80s brand of humor so present in that original film (Note: at the time of this writing, I have yet to see Ghostbusters II, so any commentary on the previous films in the franchise will be limited to my knowledge of the original movie). I can begin to understand the inherent obsession with the flick, but I can't begin to comprehend the impressive and disheartening recoil from the collective interwebs when this new reboot was announced to have been cast with women in the central roles. I don't think I'm making much of a stretch when I say I'm sure the same people who publicly denounced last year's Mad Max just might be the ones attempting to silence this new Ghostbusters entry. 

While I won't go so far as to say that this new installment outperforms the original classic, it still proves to be a fun and entertaining film that manages to distance itself from its predecessor while still holding onto some of the themes and ideas set in place back in the '80s. This new Ghostbusters is inherently a remake, traveling a path familiar to the one we've already seen, but the filmmakers do a pleasant job of updating certain scenarios to make the film feel as though it belongs in the 21st-century. Sure, we're given a few throwback moments for the sake of nostalgia, and some of them work while some of them don't. Yet it is in its attempts to distance itself from its predecessors that this new film cements itself as its own standalone idea. 

The success of this film was always going to rely on its cast and its ability to create a group of characters that could stand toe-to-toe with such an iconic set of individuals. If this new film does anything dreadfully wrong, it's in its handling of the slew of cameos and brief appearances we see throughout the film, mostly from the likes of actors who appeared in the original Ghostbusters saga. Was it nice to see the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver grace the screen for a moment or two? Sure, but it all felt a tad bit forced. It felt like an unnecessary passing of the torch, so to speak. 

The true stars of the new Ghostbusters film are the Ghostbusters themselves. McCarthy and Wiig have both made careers portraying extreme and out-of-the-box characters, but they reign it in here, instead playing intelligent scientists with more middle-of-the-road personalities. It's nice to see that the two of them can play the straight (wo)man if necessary, and it opens the door for their on-screen colleagues to chew the scenery as much as they possibly can. McKinnon and Jones, both Saturday Night Live alums, bring a fantastic presence to the screen and account for a large number of the main group's comedy. While they both seem to be playing personas they've created and enhanced during their time on SNL, both fit perfectly into the vein of the style of comedy this movie wants to project. Kate McKinnon absolutely steals the show, bringing a level of insanity not often seen in your big-budget comedy; we may very well be seeing a star-making turn with this particular venture. Where this quartet truly shines, however, is in their chemistry. They were able to blend their four personalities in a way that I never truly felt while watching the original Ghostbusters could. This new movie presents a team that simply feels more put-together than its predecessors. 

While the main cast does a fantastic job of crafting believable characters, the supporting cast doesn't quite hit the same mark. Aside from Chris Hemsworth playing against type as a lovable moron, no one really gets close to the overall effectiveness of our four protagonists. Andy Garcia feels incredibly miscast as the lackadaisical Mayor of New York who spends the entire film attempting to downplay and deny the existence of a paranormal menace wandering his streets. Neil Casey, who stars as the film's central villain, suffers from a lack of clever writing that leaves his character feeling like a stereotypical genius-gone-bad. Cecily Strong brings the audience a one-note performance as the Mayor's PR woman, and though she gets close, she can't quite stand toe-to-toe with the likes of McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, and Jones. In a way, the sub-par performances from the rest of the cast only helps bolster the strengths of our protagonists, letting them truly take the film's reigns. 

In the same way that I'm not a fan of the dry comedy of the 1980s, I'm also a little opposed to the current vein of comedy in the twenty-first century. This brand of comedy, which has its origins around the turn of the millennium, focuses on taking a joke as far as it possibly can in the hopes of generating just a little more laughter at the expense of one continued punchline. To me, it feels a bit like overkill, and unfortunately, Ghostbusters mostly falls in line with that particular style for most of its runtime. While there are a number of solid jokes, including one Jaws reference that warmed my heart, the overall level of comedy feels like more of the same when it comes to the current status quo. If the film does anything well comedically, it offers a very tongue-in-cheek look at the public outcries against it. The film offers quite a few moments that play with the idea that such a large number of people have been publicly outspoken about this film's creation. I won't go so far as to say that Ghostbusters is metatheatrical, but it definitely plays with the real-world issues circling itself. 

Is Ghostbusters a good film? I'm going to lean towards a mostly spirited yes; while a few of its moments don't quite hit their mark (just like the original), there's more than enough here to craft a fun and engaging foray into the world of people who chase and capture ghosts for a living. Is Ghostbusters as good as the original? I personally think it's just as effective in conveying its storyline and delivering its humor, but I would still give the slight edge to the 1984 venture purely on the basis of originality. That being said, I definitely laughed way more during this one than I ever have whilst watching that '80s flick. Is this movie worthy of all the conversation surrounding it? Absolutely yes.

I haven't paid much specific attention to the worries and concerns of the incredibly vocal minority chastising this female-centric endeavor, but from what I've heard in the past week since the film's release, it seems as though a large portion of this group thinks the movie is a feminist, anti-man march. As a man myself, I never really felt all that attacked by anything in this movie, and I honestly liked the different point of view that plays against your typical conventions. Let me give you an example: throughout the film, Wiig's Erin pines for the affection of the hyper-good-looking Hemsworth, but every time she starts to make a move, her three colleagues tell her she's being ridiculous in her fruitless quest. Now let's switch the roles and look at the same scenario from a male-centric film that utilizes the same style of comedy. Guy A would vie for Hot Woman A, and all his buddies would stand around saying, "Yo, you gotta hit that!" Now try to count just how many different movies popped into your head. I think that the female cast in Ghostbusters shows a level of comedic restraint that most male-based comedies haven't shown in years, and that's something that I can appreciate. But never once did I feel like this movie was trying to bash me or my male counterparts. 

I've been giving it a lot of thought, and I think that the individuals battling against the women in this film are scared of three things. First, I think they're worried about how that change might affect their nostalgic attitude towards the original. To an extent, I understand the desire to reconnect with your childhood or adolescence. When Jurassic World and Independence Day: Resurgence hit theaters, I hoped above all hopes that they would do justice for the five- and seven-year-old Shaun sitting in the theater. Ghostbusters hit all of its nostalgic marks through situational moments, and it didn't need the cast to make it happen. Second, I think there's a stigma that women don't have the capability of being funny, but I think we crossed that threshold years ago. Madeline Kahn received an Oscar nomination for her comedic turn in Blazing Saddles back in the mid-1970s, and that's just one example off the top of my head. Ladies are allowed to be and are capable of being funny. Finally, I think these individuals fear the possibility of women having and holding a strong leading role, and by "leading," I don't necessarily mean the "main character." One of the reasons this Ghostbusters works so well is that we're given a group of women who are all highly intelligent in fields of science or local geographical history, and it's done in such a way that the scientific jargon isn't watered down for the audience. So often do we see science-based films that have to explain everything for the audience to understand, but it's always so refreshing to just have intelligent characters on the screen saying what they need to say and doing what they need to do. In the real world, no scientist would stop to explain complex concepts and theories in the midst of of an end-of-the-world situation. By allowing these characters to be our scientists, they become the leaders of the film, the ones who know what's right and what's at stake as soon as things turn sour. Powerful and well-written female characters are hard to come by in Hollywood, but I think that we've finally started to turn the corner. Unfortunately for this set of Ghostbusters, this particular turn coincided with the remaking of a beloved classic, and it opened the floodgates for a slew of men intimidated by powerful women and ready to throw unwarranted sexist balderdash in the hopes of slowing them down. 

At the end of the day, this Ghostbusters film wasn't made for me, and it certainly wasn't made for those individuals dead-set on slander. This Ghostbusters, with its simple and silly premise about a group of people capturing spectral spirits and placing them in a thermos, is for the young girls of the world looking for new heroes and role models. Film has been around since the late-1800s, and in that time, men have been given a seemingly infinite number of heroes from the medium from which to choose. Contrarians will say that women have been given plenty too, but I'm more than sure that that particular graph is skewed strongly in one particular direction. Don't worry fans of the original: you can still have your Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddmore. Just let the girls of today and tomorrow have their Gilbert, Yates, Holtzmann, and Tolan, too.