It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dealing with its considerable baggage, so let’s start unpacking.
The four most annoying words in fandom are “You ruined my childhood.” To a certain degree, fans do possess ownership over the pop culture they love. That’s one of the things George Lucas could never understand. Yes, he owns Star Wars in the legal sense (or did, anyway), but the fans have an ownership of it, as well. He owned it, but we bought it. We paid for enough action figures to make him a billionaire, but he sees the films as his and his alone. Unfortunately, sometimes that feeling of fan ownership crosses over into entitlement, and that’s when fandom gets a little insufferable. Such has been the case for the past two years with Paul Feig’s new Ghostbusters movie.
God knows Dan Aykroyd has been desperately trying to get a new Ghostbusters film off the ground for the past couple of decades, and Bill Murray has been just as desperate in resisting it. When it was announced two years ago that a new Ghostbusters was being made but without the original creative team and cast, well, it broke some people’s brains. That the new Ghostbusters were going to be women added an exciting, new layer of misogyny to the mix, as a large section of fans screamed, “You’re ruining my childhood!” The added sexism was disgusting. And even those who denied being sexist claimed they were really upset that they weren’t getting the movie they wanted. That’s an alarming sense of entitlement, when you complain that Sony isn’t spending $120 million to make the movie you want to see. Oddly, they wanted a new movie from the old creative team, some of which is no longer with us. Murray doesn’t want to do it, and Ivan Reitman hasn’t made a good movie since the ’90s. Who would want to see that?
Even stranger was the rejection of director Paul Feig who has a recent track record of directing highly regarded comedies like Bridesmaids and Spy. Hell, Feig was the driving creative force behind the beloved series Freaks and Geeks. But the detractors seethed with anger and have decided anything about this movie is going to fail. They are actively hoping for it to fail. They hate a movie they haven’t even seen yet, which brings us to the most important point: Is the movie any good?
It’s not quite as good as I was expecting, but it’s nothing near the disaster the haters are hoping for. It’s easily (easily) the second-best of the three existing Ghostbusters movies. The fanboys often ignore or conveniently forget how terrible Ghostbusters II is. I can’t imagine any of them changing their tunes about it or admitting they were wrong, so let’s just forget they exist.
The really good news is it has the same kind of loose, improvisational tone as the first movie. This feels like Ghostbusters and looks like it, too.
Kristen Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, a high-strung professor at Columbia University who is about to be tenured. Problems arise for Erin when her estranged friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) starts selling an old book they co-authored years ago about the paranormal on Amazon. Terrified the book’s resurfacing will be a professional embarrassment that kills her tenure track, Erin confronts Abby and her weirdo engineer sidekick Holtzman (Kate McKinnon in a star-making turn). The three of them encounter an actual haunting and decide to continue their research together. They are joined by Patty (Leslie Jones), a city transit worker who’s an expert on the history of New York and has recently encountered a ghost in a subway tunnel. It wouldn’t be Ghostbusters without a receptionist, and this time the role is gloriously filled by Chris Hemsworth as Kevin. Turning the “hot, but inept, assistant who’s kept around as eye candy for the men” trope on its head, Kevin is spectacularly stupid, and Hemsworth more than holds his own opposite a who’s who of formidable comedy veterans. He’s a revelation. Kevin’s job interview alone is worth the price of admission.
This is the first film in the franchise to feature a human as the primary antagonist, and his name is Rowan (Neil Casey), a creepy dude who’s setting of devices all over New York that are designed to open a portal that will flood the city with the undead – real wrath-of-God-type stuff. The movie moves along at a brisk pace, and Feig’s screenplay (co-written by Kate Dippold) is tightly structured, but I would have liked to have seen more of Rowan to make him a formidable villain.
The film cruises along on a really fun vibe, but I wish it had contained three or four more big laughs. It’s definitely funny, but a couple more big gags here and there would have buoyed the chuckles. The original 1984 film got funnier on repeated viewings, and I think this one will too, especially all the weird line readings McKinnon brings to the show. If a sequel gets made, I’d like to see a little bit more of the edge Feig has brought to some of his R-rated comedies.
With a lot of successful reboots like The Force Awakens or Creed that have come along lately, I think the new Ghostbusters does itself a disservice with all its callbacks to the first film. I enjoy the reverence to the source, but like in The Force Awakens, all the fan service undermines the fact that all the new stuff is working like a charm. All the major cast members from the original that aren’t dead or dropped out of show business make cameos (Murray’s is funnier in theory than in practice.), and huge chunks of iconography from 1984 like Slimer and Mr. Stay Puft drop by. (Actually, if you have really sharp eyes you’ll see the late, great Harold Ramis making an appearance.)
I’m not a supporter of post-converted 3D, but I saw Ghostbusers in IMAX 3D and the format does add an element of fun. Taking cues from the wonderful flying fish sequence in Life of Pi, the streams from the proton packs pop out of the letter boxing that frames the aspect ratio, as do a lot of the ghosts. It’s neat. A lot of recent 3D films seem timid to really let the images pop, but shouldn’t 3D give movies like this give the audience a little bit of a theme park ride feel? I really liked it here, and Feig acquits himself well in his first film to feature a ton of visual effects work.
Over the past few years, there have been a lot of cynical movie remakes made simply to cash in on the familiar title of a well-liked previous picture. We’ve already been subjected to lackluster new versions of Robocop, Total Recall, and Point Break with new versions of The Magnificent Seven and Ben-Hur still to come in 2016. Comedy is a very subjective animal, so people will obviously have a range of reactions to the movie. But having actually seen it makes the vitriol aimed at it that much more puzzling; this is clearly a film made by folks with a deep and abiding affection for the original Ghostbusters who are trying to do right by it. It’s odd to me that fans of the original Robocop didn’t respond with this much anger when that remake turned out to be genuinely awful and deeply cynical. Surely, there is some overlap in that fanbase.
Maybe if they’d made Alex Murphy into Alexandra Murphy. . .