The accumulated bad vibes surrounding Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters remake reached such a fever pitch recently that most of us here at FRC didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Between the manbabies complaining about the film’s feminist agenda and the other manbabies complaining that remakes were ruining their childhoods, it became incredibly easy to write off this whole franchise as toxic and unsalvageable. But then a funny thing happened: Ghostbusters turned out alright. More than alright, actually. Ghostbusters is a delightfully absurd romp that has absolutely no time for nitpicks* or naysayers. The fun train’s leaving the station, guys, and you’re either on it or you’re not.
When a terrified Ed Begley, Jr. brings news of a ghost sighting to Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Gilbert is forced to reunite with estranged childhood pal Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) to investigate the matter. With tech wizard Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in tow, they discover that not only are ghosts very real, but that together they have the means to capture and contain them. The ladies soon go into business, renting out office space above a Chinese restaurant, hiring an unfathomably dim-bulb receptionist named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) and enlisting the help of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway worker who knows all about the history of New York City landmarks. The newly-minted Ghostbusters soon find themselves tangling with a disgruntled hotel bellhop named Rowan (Neil Casey), who plans to unleash an army of ghosts against the city.
Right from the word go, it’s apparent that this is a different kind of movie from the 1984 original. Where Ivan Reitman’s film dropped three consummate goofballs into a horror movie filled with ghosts, Paul Feig’s film is wall-to-wall comedy. The very first scene features Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods leading a tour group through an old mansion, cracking numerous jokes along the way. The original Ghostbusters were their own comic relief, but this time around everyone gets in on it. This changes the tone considerably, since now that everything is fodder for a joke, there’s very little here that one would call outright scary. Some of the ghosts are a little freaky, but then… they’re ghosts. If this is a film meant to appeal to children as much as adults, this strikes absolutely the right tone.
It’s tempting to ignore the human sludge spilling out all over the internet over this film and just discuss it on its own merits, but Ghostbusters addresses that sludge head-on. When the ladies’ first ghost encounter videos hit YouTube, they marvel at the comments all decrying them as phonies and hacks. (“Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” one reads.) Paul Feig, co-writer Katie Dippold, the cast, the crew, everyone knew the uphill battle they were facing with this film, and with a couple of well-placed jabs, Ghostbusters wisely sidesteps it and moves on. As a villain, Rowan feels cut from a similar cloth as the kind of basement-dwelling weirdos who object to something as harmless as the idea of female ghostbusters, but the film barely pays him enough attention to even warrant the comparison.
It would have been easy to bog the film down in a metaphorical battle against MRAs, but Ghostbusters is much more concerned with the fun of worldbuilding, cool-looking ghosts and silly, silly jokes. To that end, we spend a lot of time watching our heroines testing out their new toys and almost blowing themselves up. Half the fun here is witnessing how hilariously inept their whole business enterprise is; the other half is watching them succeed in spite of their many goof-ups. Things only come to a head against Rowan out of a sense of obligation to the plot. If this movie didn’t end with some kind of big CGI battle against a litany of spectral monsters, there would be rioting in the streets. Still, the design of the ghosts and the effects used to bring them to life are pretty damn good, even if the reasons they show up aren’t particularly clever.
Choosing to remake the concept of Ghostbusters rather than Ghostbusters itself turned out to be the right move, as it frees the cast from having to ape any one aspect of the original. The biggest revelation in this regard is Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann, who on the surface appears to be the film’s Egon analog, but shares practically none of Harold Ramis’ deadpan delivery. She’s instead this strangely manic genius savant-type, waiting in the wings to drop a hilarious one-liner or bizarre physical gag. It’s hard to categorize her, because Kate McKinnon refuses to let the character be a one-dimensional joke machine.
That turns out to be Chris Hemsworth’s job, as Kevin tries with all his might to steal the film away from Holtzmann with nothing but a smile and a braindead sense of humor. Kevin is tragically vain and just as stupid, and he seems to stumble with minimal effort into some of the film’s best jokes. These two characters generate enough big, unexpected laughs that even if everything else were an unfunny slog, I would still recommend it just for their performances alone. Fortunately, Ghostbusters has a lot more to offer than two good characters. Everyone gets a moment to shine here, including the original cast in a handful of very fun cameos.
It’s clear that Paul Feig has spent his last few directing gigs developing the chops to put together a film of this size. Utilizing what he learned about wrangling ensembles and staging action sequences in Bridesmaids and Spy paid off, as Ghostbusters is his most well-rounded piece yet. His impulse to let his cast improvise still turns a handful of scenes into comedic dead ends, but for the most part Ghostbusters is a winner. It’s exactly the sort of update it needed to be, naysayers be damned.
*Here’s my one and only nitpick: Anytime anyone in any Ghostbusters movie falls down onto their proton packs, they should explode.Liked This? Share It!