“Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts”
They lied. I walked out of Paul Feig‘s Ghostbusters reboot to find my childhood intact. Memories didn’t disappear as the run-time progressed with cooties-infested women replacing the nerdy, elitist dickheads in jumpsuits who ran amok in New York City years ago. In fact, these 21st century scientists actually know more science than blind comedic references about proton-packs being compact nuclear reactors strapped to their backs. Who knew women could be nerdy dickheads too? Who knew they weren’t simply vessels to breath heavy and growl while possessed by demonic entities hell-bent on taking over the world? Ghostbusters 2016 doesn’t ruin our childhoods because Ghostbusters 1984 hasn’t been erased in the process. What it accomplishes, however, is providing this generation’s girls witty, intelligent, and strong role models to idolize.
That’s not to say Sigourney Weaver wasn’t strong, smart, or funny. I just mean that the days of being dismissed by your male friends with a “You can be Dana” are over. Now the boys can be relegated to playing Kevin—Chris Hemsworth‘s vapid dolt serving as eye-candy to flex muscles and grin while being possessed by a demonic entity hell-bent on taking over the world. This is the point of remakes, isn’t it? Not to necessarily “improve” upon a previous work, but breathe new life into properties with rejuvenated energy and excitement instead. This is what Feig and Katie Dippold do. They take what Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (whose death sparked the switch from sequel to reboot) did three decades ago and flip it upside down.
Admittedly they don’t flip it quite enough to improve upon the original. Its reliance on a clearly defined adversarial figure conversely proves how fresh and invigorating Aykroyd and Ramis’ script was for allowing its evil to remain an incorporeal force that didn’t have to continuously be seen or confronted for impact. As soon as the camera pans to show a blue, electrified device hidden under the table next to an old mansion’s basement door housing a malicious spirit we can’t help but feel our hearts drop a bit. These ghosts stem from a man-made device? I won’t lie and say it wasn’t disappointing, but the filmmakers do eventually explain how this man (Neil Casey) is merely coaxing out what’s already there. Maybe the dead would have risen anyway.
In any case, the ghosts are here and who you gonna call? The answer’s always the sane person. Yes the chaos is scary and supernatural. Yes it may have made you soil your pants upon witnessing its terror. But it’s in our nature to give the unexplainable explanation. This is why the owner of the aforementioned mansion (Ed Begley Jr.‘s Ed Mulgrave) confronts Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). She may have co-written a book on the paranormal realm with her old high school friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), but she’s also now a tenure candidate at Columbia. Erin walks with a foot in academia and the fantastical no matter how much she’d like to put the latter way back in the rearview. Proving ghosts exist is a childhood dream.
Pair this duo with Abby’s latest colleague, the memorably eccentric and perhaps certifiably insane Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and you have a trio to rival Venkman, Stanz, and Egon. Holtzmann is obviously a callback to Ramis’ iconic character complete with wry grin exuding excitement at the strangest of occurrences and Abby is very much a channel of Aykroyd’s child-like innocence. There’s none of Bill Murray‘s ambivalence in Erin, though. She embodies Wiig’s own awkward straight-man sensibilities by trying very hard to establish an accredited career. She scoffs at joining the Ghostbusters not because they’re nonsense, but because she knows the world would think they are. Like Venkman before her, experiencing the impossible will change even the most skeptical person alive. Just ask MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones).
Patty rounds out the quartet with her never-ending encyclopedic knowledge of historical NYC trivia and no-nonsense attitude to shutdown the more esoteric trio of scientific minds. She’s the antithesis of them, the opposing force to keep them honest—much like her predecessor played by Ernie Hudson, Winston Zeddmore. Patty is practical, Holtzmann theoretical, and Erin and Abby the heart. They get badass hand-held toys this time with ghost chippers, proton gloves, and grenades. Holtzmann relishes the fine line between effective and catastrophic while the others constantly allow themselves to be the guinea pigs of her experiments. They attack these ghosts, flinging them this way and that with their proton streams doubling as lassos. The point and shoot days are over. These girls get proper combat and its fantastic.
Ghostbusters becomes a world-building exercise in a way, easing us into the updated universe with all its improvements and alterations. There are a ton of references to the original films—the visual cues are perfection while the cameos and dialogue unfortunately prove grating—but thankfully the plot doesn’t quite regurgitate in much the same way. Beats are similar like the cold open’s malice (tempered by a ton of humor thanks to Zach Woods‘ deadpan sarcasm) and the final fight against a mammoth monster wreaking skyscraper havoc, but the genesis of them come from mankind’s hubris rather than otherworldly aggression. This decision to include an actual villain slows things down, but it also allows Feig and company to develop their characters with trials and tribulations devoid of hardcore mythology.
It seems they’re leaving that heavy lifting for inevitable sequels and I’m all for it. Like with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this period of re-acclimation harms the initial investment while hopefully cultivating room for subsequent entries to run wild with unbridled imagination. We follow the rudimentary trajectory of Ghostbusters versus crazy-pants psycho because it provides them tests to learn and accustom themselves to their new careers. I could have done without the easy jokes like Ozzy Osbourne‘s unnecessary appearance, but I get it. That stuff sells just as well as Indian as periphery comic relief—a niche market Karan Soni has cornered with his Dopinder in Deadpool and Bennie here. The comedy is different than its 1984 counterpart, but so is the 21st century’s sense of humor.
Whatever shortcomings exist in plot or hit and miss laughs, Ghostbusters lacks nothing with its characters. McCarthy is always better reined in with an ensemble and she shines here as a result of not having to shoulder so much weight. Wiig is the perfect foil, so similar and yet so different. Jones owns Patty’s every-woman appeal and Hemsworth is having a blast playing the bimbo. But like so many have noted already, the real runaway success is McKinnon’s Holtzmann. She’s weird and endearing, brilliant and unhinged. She gets the greatest one-liners, has the most memorable reaction shots, and possesses the standout look to render her as out-of-this-world as the stunning CGI work. This cast is the real deal and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 116 minutes | Release Date: July 15th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Paul Feig
Writer(s): Katie Dippold & Paul Feig / Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis (based on Ghostbusters)