I’ll admit, when I heard a new Ghostbusters movie was coming to theaters in 2016, I was skeptical. The passing of Harold Ramis made it clear that this film would in no way be a follow-up to my favorite film in the franchise, Ghostbusters 2 from 1989, so what could they possibly do that would be a satisfying re-telling of the 1984 comedy classic?
Sony eventually revealed that an all-female cast would be strapping on the proton packs and keeping the world safe from paranormal calamity. While I didn’t immediately damn the film for this, like so many Ghostbusters purists online, I wondered if Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones could stand on their own as the Ghostbusters for a new generation. Was director, Paul Feig up to the challenge of creating a horror-comedy that delivered the funny along with the scares?
Now that I’ve seen the film (along with my commemorative poster and pins), I can tell you that Ghostbusters 2016 was a divisive viewing experience for our household. Not so much along the lines of whether it was good or bad, but rather a complete difference of opinion regarding what the most entertaining elements of the film actually were. So in addition to my analysis, you’ll get second-hand commentary by my wife based on our post-viewing discussion. Also, I’ll try to keep it relatively spoiler free.
First off, if you are worried that this film is just a re-hash of the original with women in the title roles, fear not. Ghostbusters 2016 as written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig is definitely it’s own animal in terms of characterization and story. While it hits a few of the same story beats, the similarities are mostly surface level, with a totally different comedic sensibility. This was a welcome change to my wife who dared to reveal that, “I didn’t really like the jokes in those 80’s Ghostbusters movies”. Trust me, she’s a wonderful person otherwise.
The driving force of the film is the fractured friendship of Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig’s characters. Outcast childhood friends who together produced a book on the paranormal, the poor reception of which led McCarthy to dive deeper into creating tools to track and study ghosts, while Wiig escaped to the world of academia seeking validation from upper-crust educators and very nearly earning it.
When a mysterious weirdo plants devices that release spirits from other side back into our world, the former friends are reunited as their previously scorned research is validated and they are called upon to solve a haunting at a local historical building, the New York subway and a musical venue, before stopping a larger scale supernatural invasion in the middle of the city. That’s the basic story, but it’s the nuances provided by the cast that give the film it’s personality.
Melissa McCarthy as Abby has a great running gag regarding Wonton Soup from the Chinese Food restaurant, above which the Ghostbusters eventually set-up their offices. It really pays off during the end credits scenes, so be sure to stick around after the big finale. My wife is a fan of McCarthy’s work from her days on Mike and Molly, which is likely why she laughed at all of the comedienne’s jokes, while I chuckled a total of 3 times. Though I must confess that the former sitcom star did have the most chutzpah of the 4 protagonists.
Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann was definitely positioned in the promotion of the film to be the quirky, breakout star of the new cast. The sheer number of fan art interpretations showing her eclectic fashion sense available online is evidence of that. However, I found her performance a little too over the top in terms of idiosyncratic behavior.
Holtzmann is supposed to be the mad genius, but comes off as a little girl desperate for attention, constantly dancing, posturing and talking in funny voices as if to say, “Look at me, I’m unique!” The one redeeming moment for me was her speech in the post climax scene where she awkwardly reveals her love for this new “family” that has formed around her. Very sweet.
Kristen Wiig as Erin is the de facto main character from whom we get the most pathos. We learn that her struggle to be taken seriously by the world was the result of childhood teasing that still causes her to make snap decisions. This plays out dangerously in the cameo by a member off the original cast who appears as a paranormal skeptic akin to Walter Peck from the original movie. My wife very much enjoyed the ultimate fate of this snobby character.
We also see Wiig play the part of a lonely, lovestruck goof who constantly hits on their hunky, airheaded receptionist, Kevin as played by Chris Hemsworth. These are Wiig’s funniest moments as she can hardly keep her hands off the former “Thunder God”, who is a light, silly presence in the film. The writers used the Homer Simpson model of comedy for Kevin, basically plugging him into any joke they had laying around relating to stupid people. Yet, he is the lovable mascot of the group you can’t help but love.
Leslie Jones as Patty had some great things to bring to the table as the street level “every-woman” character who has a real penchant for the history of New York City. I have to admit that she was the actress I was least familiar with coming in, not having watched Saturday Night Live in a few years, but really brought heart to the team. Patty is involved in the the creepiest moment of the film where possessed mannequins wander the halls of a theater during which a Heavy Metal concert is being haunted. This scene also features a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Ozzy Osbourne. They should make a whole spin-off movie about these creepy creations.
The villain of the story, Rowan as played by Neil Casey, is another outcast who is constantly put down by the world around him. He is the yin to the Ghostbusters’ yang, positioned as the angry, revenge-filled person with similar supernatural knowledge that is planning to wipe out the population of the world and start over as the leader of all humanity, living and deceased. His final form is a great homage to the iconography of the franchise, creating an exciting foe for our heroes to battle.
It is in these final moments that I feel the film delivers the most entertainment value and really adds to the Ghostbusters mythos. Holtzmann is constantly devising new ghost-zapping gadgets that are truly innovative. Ghost zapping gauntlets, grenades and even proton stream whips make short work of spooky attackers in style, giving this generation of young girls a new set of action heroes to idolize.
So the cast is endearing, the action is exciting, the ghosts are spooky, but is it funny? This is where my wife and I had the greatest disagreement. She found the film hilarious, appreciating all the humor being thrown at us during the 1 hour 57 minute run time. I on the other hand, found the comedy lacking. There were so many set-ups and moments that were obviously meant to be funny, but due to poor editing or lackluster writing, 75% of these jokes fell flat.
It was a case of putting a smile on my face, but very few guffaws, chortles or laugh out loud moments. Whereas the original films had undeniable laughs every few minutes thanks to clever dialogue and expert performances. As I remarked to my wife, “It just isn’t a film I feel the need to see again.” To which she replied, “Well I thought it was great and I’m going to buy it on Blu-Ray when it comes out.” This is major praise from my wife who hasn’t bought a non-Disney movie for her personal collection since Ever After starring Drew Barrymore (she has owned 3 copies).
As much as I hate to admit it, ultimately I think the difference in opinion on the films comedic value comes down to gender. Of course guys can relate more to the cocky, blue-collar heroes being forced into saving the girl, while saving the world as presented in the original Ghostbusters duology. Who wouldn’t want the quick wit of Peter Venkman or the brains of Egon Spengler when presented with life’s challenges?
Meanwhile, the female sensibility is bound to be more drawn to the confident, band of true friend underdog female scientists, struggling to be taken seriously in a world that is constantly overlooking their accomplishments. This is personified by a running thread of the film where the Mayor as played by Andy Garcia is constantly asking the Ghostbusters to keep their heroic endeavors secret and accept that to prevent a public panic, the quirky quartet have to be made to look like attention-seeking crackpots.
So in the end, is Ghostbusters a film I recommend? Definitely. It’s got it’s own attitude to set itself apart from the original, while providing plenty of cameos by familiar humans and ghosts you remember, but it doesn’t lean too heavily on nostalgia just to earn our attention. It’s worthy of a watch, but whether or not it’s a new comedy classic remains to be seen.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of SequelQuest, the podcast adventure where we imagine a direct sequel to the first 2 Ghostbusters films starring the original cast. Click here to watch the video podcast now.