Monday, July 18, 2016

I Ain't Afraid Of No Girls

Year: 2016
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Man alive, am I glad the remake of Ghostbusters is in theaters so people can finally shut up about it. This needlessly divisive remake has had the one-two punch of taking on the mantle of a virulently nostalgic property and igniting the raging misogyny of certain online cave dwellers, so it has not been a fun time being a member of the horror community. 

As pointless and awful as many remakes are, I’m always willing to give them a chance. Especially when they’re from the team behind Spy, my favorite comedy of last year. Not to mention the fact that Ghostbusters is an iconic franchise with a series of major narrative flaws spiderwebbing across its surface, making it a more or less perfect property to update, if we have to reboot movies at all.

Hollywood certainly seems to enjoy it.

Ghostbusters doesn’t recreate the original plot so much as it sets it back to square one with different characters and sees where they go from there. These characters are Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a meek doctor of particle physics who has attempted to suppress her belief in the paranormal in a weak stab at getting tenure; Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), her high school best friend and a true believer who has dedicated her life to paranormal research; Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), a dubiously sane engineer with an anarchistic flair for creating extremely dangerous, untested machinery; and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway worker who is the Ghostbusters’ first client and quickly becomes a part of the team.

As the Ghostbusters jet around New York City investigating apparitions, spirits, and grim grinning ghosts, they realize that a sinister someone is creating devices the amplify paranormal activity (which might explain why it got five sequels). They must figure out his plan and stop him before it’s too late.

Probably how most people felt when they heard this film was in development.

Is Ghostbusters better than the original? No. If you’re here on a hate odyssey, this is your cue to stop reading.

OK, now that the angries are gone, I’m safe to tell you that the remake is actually pretty good! As it should be. This is Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy, not some anonymous music video director and Tiger Beat’s plastic Teen of the Week. Just like the original four Busters, these ladies weren’t chosen because they were sexy, of-the-now superstars. There’s a reason they didn’t cast Margot Robbie, Gal Gadot, Olivia Munn, and hell, Jennifer Lawrence, why not. They cast genuinely funny women who can sell a joke like it’s a Pokémon Go in-app purchase.

And Ghostbusters really is funny. That’s its greatest strength, which is probably good news considering it’s a comedy film. Obviously, humor is in the gut of the beholder, and the jokes are in a vastly, almost unrecognizably different vein from the original, but there’s a lot of great stuff at work here. Chris Hemsworth is an obvious standout because every line he’s given is a joke, but his ditzy receptionist nabs the best scene in the movie, a job interview-cum-Abbott and Costello routine that is delivered with diamond-sharp comic timing. Kate McKinnon is also a magnetic presence, presenting a spectacularly offbeat, unpredictable set of line readings that are always bizarrely fascinating. 

Probably the best overall performance is Wiig’s, because she effortlessly finds the po-faced wackiness in her straight-woman character while maintaining enough of an emotional throughline that she provides us an easy access point to the more out-there characters and developments.

Everyone else is good too, but I can’t just copy-paste the cast list here and call it a review.

Ghostbusters is very funny from beginning to end, but here’s the thing. At a certain point in the second act, it kind of stops trying to be funny. When the jokes come, they’re mostly just as solid, but during the course of its typically vast Feigian run time it slowly starts to kind of take itself seriously, presenting lots of ghostly action and the series’ traditional deus ex machina climax with hardly a glimmer of irony.

Then it attempts to tie a goopy little bow around everything with a series of character moments that strain to pump raw emotion from a one-dimensional well. These characters are great to watch as they quip and bounce off one another, but only Erin and Abby’s arcs have any meat on their bones. Everyone else is far too weak to support the more dramatic turn the film abruptly shifts into in the middle of the finale. Hell, even Erin and Abby are given a scene so heavy with melodrama and a wailing Schindler’s List score that it topples face-first into the dirt.

But after a bit, Ghostbusters remembers what it is and course corrects. It never fully recovers from that massive hit, but it’s still a sprightly, amusing popcorn picture. Once again, the trailers for this Feig comedy dreadfully undersold what it had to offer, so while it was better than I worried it might be, it wasn’t really as great as I’d hoped. Oh sure, it’s unique and hilarious enough to stand on its own two feet in the Ghostbusters canon and its fun cameos mostly avoid incessant pandering (mostly), but it’s not a resounding success to the tune of a Spy or a Bridesmaids.

The only thing I will concede to the haters is that the FallOut Boy cover of the Ghostbusters thing is truly dreadful (they also donated the worst song of 2014 to Big Hero 6), but the filmmakers know what’s up and they give Ray Parker, Jr. more than enough airtime. Anyway, go see it! It’s a dizzy, fun summer movie the likes of which haven’t really been packing multiplexes this year.

TL;DR: Ghostbusters is a wholly decent remake that isn't better than original but offers a unique enough entry to be worth watching.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1003
Reviews In This Series
Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984)
Ghostbusters II (Reitman, 1989)
Ghostbusters (Feig, 2016)


  1. I feel like your review was nicer, but my score was higher--well, that's a pickle.

    Anyway, are there any remakes this year that do drive you batty, B? Personally, having been mostly pleased by Ghostbusters, I still remain deeply, deeply suspicious of The Magnificent Seven and Ben-Hur remakes. Especially Ben-Hur. I mean, what, are we gonna get a fully-animated CGI chariot race? What the heck is the point of that?

    (Mag Seven could at least correct the sole problem the original has, which of course was "being made under the Hays Code." Presumably, since that one's Antoine Fuqua, it won't simply allude to bullet wounds with a few ketchup-stained shirts.)

    1. Obviously, Ben-Hur is a frustrating one, if only because it looks so awful. Maybe Martyrs, because there's no way America could pull off a movie like that.

      Oh, and Cabin Fever because that movie was garbage the first time around and I'm definitely not looking for another one of those.