Release Date: July 15, 2016
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Katie Dippold & Paul Feig (written by), Ivan Reitman (based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters directed by), Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters written by)
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Reviewing Ghostbusters seems like an exercise in futility, since everyone online seems to have formed their opinion months ago based on the film’s cast, the first trailer or other people’s reactions. But, for all the attention – both positive and negative – it turns out that ultimately it’s a perfectly serviceable, yet unremarkable reboot.
The film centers around three paranormal scientists – Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) – and a subway worker they befriend named Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who become the titular Ghostbusters. Paranormal activity begins to increase in the city of New York thanks to Rowan North (Neil Casey), an eccentric doomsdayer who wants to bring about the apocalypse. It’s up to our team of Ghostbusters to stop them.
Tonally, the film feels a bit inconsistent. The beginning is very broad and overly jokey, with a lot of snarky comments and physical humor thrown at the audience in quick succession. Things settle down as the story unfolds, giving us a more serious and emotionally-satisfying saga. Then the climax devolves into an overly-long action sequence with our heroes mindlessly battling a horde of bland ghosts. The middle of the film really is the sweet spot and I found myself wishing the beginning and end could have more closely resembled the tone established there.
Disappointingly, the film throws out a lot of intriguing aspects of Erin’s life that felt like they could have been fleshed out into themes or overarcing storylines, but abandons them all fairly quickly. We learn that she’s a well-regarded physics professor at Columbia who is up for tenure – which is threatened by a book she wrote with Abby about the paranormal asserting ghosts are real. Her friendship with Abby became fractured at some point and they stopped speaking to each other. We also discover that she saw a ghost when she was a child, but no one believed her (except Abby).
I would have loved the film to explore any of these ideas in depth. But all of them are either resolved or thrown by the wayside too quickly to have much of an impact. Her emotional baggage over no one believing her as a child, in particular, feels like is should have had more weight, especially since it causes her to act rashly at one point to prove the existence of ghosts; a scene which is played for laughs but has dire consequences.
The other characters feel less developed than Erin, but seem to work better. Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones are both enjoyable in their roles, but it is Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann that truly shines. McKinnon makes really bold choices with the character that pay off, making Holtzmann this unsettling weirdo that you can’t take your eyes off of. With her tinted glasses, fondness for licking her weapons and odd mannerisms, she really makes Holtzmann her own, giving an incredibly memorable performance.
I also enjoyed Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, their hapless receptionist. It’s an easy joke to make him a handsome airhead, but the film finds fun ways to play with his cluelessness. Also, Erin’s completely unprofessional lusting after him is highly enjoyable.
Reboots like this are inevitably filled with references to the original film and cameos by its cast. Ghostbusters handles most of those nods fairly organically. Bill Murray, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson’s cameos are neatly folded into the overall story. Dan Aykroyd’s is a bit more superfluous, but still fun. They even manage to work the firehouse, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer into the mix in really fun ways. It’s only Sigourney Weaver’s cameo that felt really forced and underwhelming.
But while there are obvious nods to the original, the film wisely steers away from rehashing its source material. (Though a post-credit scene hints that they might not be steering too far away if given a sequel.) It doesn’t always work, but I respect Katie Dippold and Paul Feig for doing their own thing. There are a few flaws and missed opportunities that keep it from being a truly worthy successor, but as far as unnecessary reboots go, it’s perfectly adequate.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org