Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters

Rating

Director

Paul Feig

Screenplay

Katie Dippold, Paul Feig

Length

116 min.

Starring

Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Charles Dance, Karan Soni

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor

Original Preview

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Soundtrack

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Source Material

Review

After three decades, one of the most legendary films of the 1980s has been rebooted. Twisting the formula to fit modern comic sensibilities, Ghostbusters offers fans new and old an opportunity to imprint on a new team for a new generation and the results are outstanding.

In the annals of Summer blockbuster history, 1984 is one of the shining jewels. With films like Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Gremlins, and The Karate Kid on the docket, it’s hard not to see the season as a success for audiences in addition to being a success financially. However, one film stood above the rest of these. Ghostbusters was a huge success. It came in second for the year behind Beverly Hills Cop by less than $6 million. The film currently sits in the 34th position on the all-time adjusted chart, proving that it was indeed a blockbuster for the ages.

Like Jurassic Park‘s reboot Jurassic World last year, it was inevitable that a pop culture phenomenon like Ghostbusters would merit a reboot. The trouble is that controversy began brewing when it was announced that the original team, comprised of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson, were not going to reprise their legendary roles. Instead, director Paul Feig and Sony Pictures decided that they’d push to make the film one for a new generation of fans, particularly women.

In the new leads, Sony and Feig could not have been better served. Kristen Wiig leads the ensemble as Erin Gilbert, a renowned physicist attempting to lock down tenure with a prestigious university. Erin is a stick in the mud, but one with passion that simply needs to be ignited. There to light the fuse is her former writing partner Abby Yates played with straight-laced excitement by Melissa McCarthy. In spite of their falling out, Abby has successfully helped craft numerous items that may help lead them towards a better understanding of the paranormal, the subject of their joint book and thorn in Erin’s side.

Having split some years prior, Abby has instead turned to a brilliant engineer played by Kate McKinnon. McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann is a rambunctious, courageous, inventive scientist always looking to try out a new invention, if it doesn’t blow everyone up in the process. To round out the team, Leslie Jones brings a quick wit and noble mien to Patty Tolan, a New York City transit employee whose discovery of a ghost in the subway tunnels leads her to the door of the Ghostbusters, where she feels a kinship and invites herself to the team.

The four women work perfectly off one another, setting up and knocking down each joke with the skill of expert craftsmen. These four comediennes create wonderful characters filled with imperfections and nuances that make them both more credible and dimensional. Toss into the mix the riotously funny Chris Hemsworth as the bumbling secretary Kevin, whom they hire to answer phones, and you have a superb cast that fit impeccably well together.

As the new Ghostbusters, a term they initially reject as being too informal, Erin, Abby, Holtzmann, and Patty wield their proton packs and a healthy batch of new gear to help thwart a resentful bellhop who longs to bring the ghosts of the past back to destroy New York City and its citizens who’ve turned a jaundiced eye on him his whole life. The premise is loose and isn’t particularly deep, but it serves the film’s purposes well and develops in the most expected, but enjoyable way imaginable.

The comedy is hilarious, the cast is phenomenal, and the special effects are surprisingly excellent. Nevertheless, there are a couple of elements in Ghostbusters that don’t work. The post-conversion 3D effects don’t add much to the film, but thankfully the seemingly cheesy and coarse visual effects in the trailer are replaced with eye-popping wonders and gorgeous depth. In addition to the failures of 3D, there’s a major scene at the end of the film involving Abby and Erin that doesn’t fit the surrounding film. It’s a weak attempt at reconciliation that could have been excised without harming the surrounding conclusion.

McKinnon delivers the film’s best performance by a long shot. Every moment that Holtzmann is on screen, the audience is left in fits of laughter. The character almost towers above the film, but McKinnon keeps it controlled enough to blend in successfully with the team. Hemsworth is the secondary MVP (Most Valuable Player). Having become most familiar to audiences as the Marvel hero Thor, Hemsworth is given the ability to ply his comic skills and, when he’s around, there’s never a dull moment. Jones is just a slight step below this pair. She’s funny when needed, but provides the moral and emotional anchor for the film. Her excitement is contagious and that passion emboldens the viewer to embrace the events in the picture and the camaraderie that develops.

Wiig and McCarthy, both significantly better known than their Ghostbuster counterparts, are happy to dial back their normal manic performances to add simplicity to characters that might have come off stilted or forced in other hands. They are perfect scene partners, allowing each of the other stars to shine while getting their own terrific moments in due course. This is easily one of the best comedy ensembles in recent memory.

A number of fans of the original film were incensed when it was announced that the team would be all women. Yet, for many, the decision has paid . This film gives women of all ages and backgrounds a set of courageous, intelligent, and accomplished characters to look up to and aspire to be like. If that weren’t enough, the film also provides unequivocal evidence that casting decisions don’t have to conform to decades-old suppositions of capability to find success.

Ghostbusters won’t convert those looking for a rehash of the original film. There are several homages and the cameos and each are all sharply inventive, but the film still manages to stand on its own. It doesn’t require comparison to the original even if such comparisons are inevitable. Each is modestly similar in tone, structure, and content, but while the original is a touch more subdued in its comic sensibilities, this reboot lets its cast free to play fast and loose with genre conventions and define their own style within the universe, all of it done with remarkable wit and charm.

Sony may have been dipping its toes in the water to see if the franchise is worth expanding beyond this initial reboot, but as funny and entertaining as this new Ghostbusters is, I’m thoroughly excited at the myriad possibilities that exist with expanding the universe to include a more compelling and diverse cast of characters that span the globe with their Ghostbusting skills. Not everyone in the audiences will be enthusiastic for additional adventures. Still, there should be plenty of viewers whose exuberance will give the producers plenty of support for more.

Spoiler Discussion

Earlier, I referenced a scene at the end of the film that didn’t work. The scene in question, involves Abby being dragged into a massive swirling vortex of paranormal energy. Erin leaps in to save her, cementing their reunion after years of animosity. By this point in the film, the pair are already fairly unified. The scene itself was therefore unnecessary. It also felt tacked on. There are several opportunities, one could have come to the rescue of the other without resorting to cheap theatrics. It’s the most glaring problem in the film and its inclusion is disappointing, though not destructive.

It’s also unfortunate that Rick Moranis is the lone cast member of the original film not to take on a cameo role. Although he retired from live-action performance, he was an essential part of the original film and his presence was sorely missed. Still, it’s wonderful to see Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Murray, Ackroyd, and Hudson show up in their various roles. They even managed to fit the late Ramis into an early scene in the film, a clever way to pay tribute to him while insuring everyone possible made a trip back to the universe. Many of those scenes were incredibly funny, even if they were short-lived. Weaver’s appearance during the closing credits was easily the highlight, but Murray was also quite memorable.

Speaking of the closing credits, Hemsworth gives the audience one of the most delightful dance numbers in recent years. Hinted at in one of the late scenes in the film, Hemsworth’s possessed Kevin leads the pair of FBI investigators and several police officers on the scene at the final showdown in a musical number that is deliriously entertaining. And don’t forget to stay to the very end for an additional treat.

Oscar Prospects

Probables: Visual Effects
Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Review Written

July 26, 2016

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