To say anticipation for Paul Feig‘s rebooted Ghostbusters has been high is a bit of an understatement, but also a bit of a misrepresentation. The Internet at large has been disproportionately hostile toward the movie from jump, and each subsequent trailer or clip or bit of information has resulted in more and more bile being spewed. Whether this stems entirely from sexism, as some suggest, or if, as most of the most vocally upset have maintained, it’s because they fear their childhood will be “ruined,” the result is a movie that was behind the 8-ball from the beginning. I’ve seen it. It won’t ruin your childhood, but I fear your childhood might have ruined it.
People wondering if this version–which Feig co-wrote with Katie Dippold–would be faithful to the spirit (pun intended) of the original, or indeed if it would tread all the same ground as the 1984 movie, can rest assured that the story feels almost entirely different, while there are certainly references and nods to what people remember about the old one. There’s also the inescapable sense that Sony–seeing how the web reacted to the first trailer–got their fingerprints in the mix a bit too much, especially in the third act where the action really kicks off. When the movie feels like Feig is the driving creative force, it works much better.
To the story: Kristen Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, a brilliant physicist trying to get tenured at Columbia University. This life goal gets foiled when she realizes, to her dismay, that a book she wrote many years ago with her former best friend Dr. Abigail Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal has been steadily selling online. Abby is now working on paranormal science with the brilliant but unhinged Dr. Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and they’ve got all sorts of new gizmos and gadgets. After begrudgingly joining Abby and Holtzman on an investigative mission to a haunted house, Erin sees an actual ghost and the three decide (not on their own accord, really) to quit teaching and become paranormal investigators full time.
And it’s a good time they did, because someone or something is causing ghosts throughout New York City to cross over into our plane and cause havoc, something that’s witnessed by MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who knows a ton about New York history from sitting in her booth and reading all day. Eventually, the four women team up to find and trap these angry spirits to prove the validity of their work, which comes at the price of secrecy that the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia), his aid (Cecily Strong), and two Homeland Security Agents (Michael Kenneth Williams and Matt Walsh) all want to keep. But what’s more important: keeping things under wraps or protecting the city from multicolored phantasms?
As I said above, when the movie feels like a Paul Feig movie–i.e. full of weird humor, one-liners, and extended ad-libs, it’s the most successful. There are some hilarious moments and scenes in the movie for sure, most of it coming from McKinnon’s off-the-wall performance, or from Chris Hemsworth as the abysmally stupid eye candy they’ve hired as a receptionist. When it tries to be too “badass,” that’s when it loses steam a bit, especially toward the end when it’s nothing but big CGI ghost explosions. This is not to say it’s entirely unsuccessful in this, but that it feels the most like the studio forced it to be less comedic and more “awesome” during the climax. Some of it still works, other parts simply don’t.
Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie and I think the main takeaway is that it’s completely inoffensive, which may seem like damning with faint praise, but when so much vitriol has been littering message boards and comment threads for over a year, the fact that it’s not only not that bad but it’s perfectly fine is a victory in and of itself. I’d love to see what Feig’s director’s cut looked like, but the film we have now is nothing at all to be upset about. In fact, I’d wager anybody who rips the movie apart went in ready to hate it.
That said, I do wish it had distanced itself more from the original. While the storyline is completely new and none of the characters are direct retreads of the ones in the first one, there are constant nods that have a tendency to take the viewer out of it. There’s an argument to be made that the original surviving cast members should have played their original characters in a passing-of-the-baton moment, but I’m actually glad they didn’t. The actors are there and pass the baton just fine in their cameos; we don’t need Dr. Peter Venkman or Dr. Ray Stantz there to make people say “Why couldn’t we just have had them do a movie?”
I wish for the sake of shutting up haters that the movie had been a grand slam, or even just a home run with a couple of runners on base. As it is, it’s a base hit in the top of the 3rd inning. It does its job, you can watch it, laugh, and move on to hating something else before you’ve seen it.