Rather than talk about the 30 plus year history of the Ghostbusters franchise and ask you to pull out pop culture textbooks to discuss its impact, I’d rather just tell you what it means to me. I didn’t see it at the theater. I was only five years old when the first film debuted, and Zuul would have frightened me to a level my parents wouldn’t have been prepared to deal with. To this day, Vigo the Carpathian scares the wits out of me. If I had to pinpoint a date, it was probably 1986 when I rented the movie for the first time and fell in love with everything about it. It’s still the initial reason Bill Murray has been one of my heroes, to the extent I wrote him a letter shortly after watching Quick Change a few years later.
I’ve watched it alone, I’ve watched it with friends, I’ve watched it with mom and dad, and I’ve even watched it late at night with girlfriends. It’s just always been there, just like Fletch and Back to the Future. I constructed a cardboard proton pack and wore it to a church lock-in once. That whole “girlfriends” thing, it didn’t come around until MUCH later, which I know shocks you after reading the previous sentence. I drew the Ghostbusters symbol on everything from church bulletins to graph paper to overhead transparencies. I bought tracing paper just to learn the proper way to draw the ghost, and never quite got there.
When I hear “pencil neck,” I think of Ghostbusters (and Classy Freddie Blassie). When I see marshmallows, I think of Ghostbusters. When I watch the early seasons of Saturday Night Live, I see Dan Aykroyd and think of Ray Stantz. When I see a Hi-C logo, I think of Ecto Cooler. So many things remind me of it, because it was so important to me as a kid. When I finally got the chance to record it as a movie of the week, I’m surprised the tape didn’t break from overuse. I remember my dad taking me to the sequel, and as usual, falling asleep, because it was a late night show.
Believe me when I tell you, the day I heard the first word about a “Ghostbusters III” with Kevin Hart as part of the cast, I was appalled. What was the point? The original remains a classic and still holds up, because the chemistry in that cast is undeniable and what’s funny is always funny. Then came word of Paul Feig’s remake, with an all-female cast, which seemed like a great idea, except that I still didn’t believe the film needed updating. But, if you were going to do it, this had real potential.
You can’t get into the 2016 film without discussing the backlash over the female angle, but I’m going to tell you, what was most irritating in the lead-up to Ghostbusters were the comments from people like Judd Apatow, who came out and said if someone didn’t like the new movie, it’s because they were sexist. No offense, Judd, but go (insert crude activity) yourself. The reason for any negativity I personally had about the film was about one incontrovertible fact, and I’ll challenge anybody who disagrees with me on this…
The trailers for Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters were embarrassingly awful.
With each new ad spot, it looked worse and worse. You never want a preview to give away all the secrets, but I’d have settled for one. Everything about it looked like dog shit, from the writing and the camp all the way to the hideous one-liners. What never mattered in the least was the below-the-waist equipment of the actors. That’s not to say there aren’t some numbskulls out there, but at least among those in my social circle, it was always about the quality. And those trailers sucked. It’s just that simple. You’ll read more publications, both print and online, that are doing stories on how Ghostbusters is in a no-win situation, even if it’s good, because these people secretly hope they’re right, so that their outrage can be justified and the boogeymen they’ve created in their heads actually exist.
Perhaps they do, but it’s high time everybody shut up about the reaction to the film and just gave it a chance on its own merits. Was it good? Was it crap? That’s all that really matters. Keep your social commentary to yourself, but don’t assume you know the motives of everyone who had a bad thing to say about Ghostbusters two months ago when the previews ran and it was the trailer equivalent of a Slimer-regurgitated hot dog.
At the premiere this week, I walked in with an open mind. Sometimes, first impressions can be deceiving, and sometimes they can be flat out wrong. I remember thinking The 40 Year Old Virgin looked like a bust, and it ended up being one of the funniest films of the century. Before the screening began, I counted no less than eight adults dressed in Ghostbusters (1984) gear, including light-up proton packs that would have made lock-in me a lothario at that church.
So, how was the film?
The trailers and marketing were among the worst I’ve ever seen. The film itself was pretty good.
It’s impossible to read reviews these days where the writers don’t spoil things, but I’m going to do my damnedest here not to do that, because part of the experience is in discovering the callbacks to the past, seeing the cameos, and watching how Feig weaved the spirit of the original into a completely new depiction of the Ghostbusters universe.
The film can’t work without the right cast, and in this case, the decision-makers knocked it out of the park. All four leads are solid, with a few minor annoyances, such as Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) being a little too dry and Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) being a little over the top. The latter is the film’s star, even if it wasn’t necessarily the plan. Wiig was good, but her role stood out less than the other three, even though Erin’s relevance to the story is arguably the most important. She got by more because of her own skill, rather than the material she was given. As for Kate, she stands as one of the finest performers in SNL history, male or female, and she finally got an opportunity to show her stuff to a wider audience on the big screen. She absolutely crushed it.
They all did.
I’ve made no bones about my distaste for Leslie Jones on SNL, but here, she’s not live, and if something doesn’t quite work, it can be reshot. Patty Tolan, her character in Ghostbusters, is well constructed and Jones is terrific. She has some excellent lines in the movie, especially shortly after we meet her and she’s still acclimating herself to her new situation.
Melissa McCarthy, when she’s at least toned down, is extremely effective, dating back to Gilmore Girls. Here, Abby Yates approaches slapstick a few times, but in general is Melissa at about a “7” rather than a “10,” and it’s to the film’s benefit. Her friendship with Erin has enough depth and backstory to make sense, and in terms of the reason why these four women came together, I’d say there’s more logic behind it than what drew the original quartet to one another 32 years ago.
Women replaced men, and in one key spot, a man replaced a woman. Janine is no more, and in her place comes Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth). Once you see it, you’ll understand this a bit better, but one thing about Annie Potts’ character was she was never an idiot. Hemsworth is an absolute moron. I couldn’t help but think if those roles were reversed and it was originally a halfway-intelligent man who became a ditzy woman, the same people looking for a reason to be offended…would have been. But, you won’t hear a peep about this, and that’s perfectly fine. He’s mind-numbingly stupid, but it’s generally funny and the theater laughed a lot through many of his scenes.
The story itself is adequate, if unspectacular. There are some nice little tricks thrown in that you’ll enjoy quite a bit, but Ghostbusters is more a showcase for the leads, just like it was in 1984, than it is a screenplay award waiting to happen. At times, the movie tries to do too much. In comparison to its grandfather, which was a Class V Free Roaming Vapor, the new film is about 40 of those specters all running out of control. You’ll see things happen that seem more appropriate for a sequel than an original. One of the biggest examples is the fact that the ghosts that appear have a human puppeteer. Someone is behind what’s happening, and personally I’d rather have just seen ghosts popping up everywhere without any necessary explanation.
The special effects didn’t do much for me, but Ghostbusters was never about those things. That’s not to say they’re bad, but they’re nothing you haven’t seen done far better in many other films with more of a focus on the visuals. Music, well, Ray Parker Jr. has nothing to worry about, because the Fall Out Boy remake is terrible. It will make you beg to hear the classic. And, I’d have been fine to get through the movie without hearing DMX. Music and score is an easy win for 1984 and 1989. “On Our Own” would have been a nice touch as well, even if Bobby Brown isn’t winning any humanitarian awards these days.
One sequence during the climax, which relates to Abby’s fate, is definitely something I wish hadn’t happened, because it took me out of things a bit. It was too far down the supernatural or fantasy road, and was out of place. Half a point gets knocked off, at least, because of that one scene. It’s not a deal-breaker, but Feig didn’t need to go there.
If this were the first Ghostbusters film we’d ever seen, no one would be talking about it three decades from now. It doesn’t have that resonance that made the original a classic, but that was a different time. It’s not a movie that could stand-alone and make a significant dent with no mythology behind it, but it doesn’t have to accomplish that feat. All it needs to do is be funny and not merely a complete retread, and that’s what you get. Many things in Fig’s version, which he wrote along with Kate Dipole, have plenty of similarities to the past, but it’s NOT the same movie.
Had it been a pure retelling, it likely would have failed, because the audience would have balked. Instead, Ghostbusters is a movie that succeeds in its mission, from Zach Woods’ opening scene through the post-credits teaser you’ll definitely want to stick around to see.
It’s raunchier than its predecessors, less serious, and more designed for rapid-fire laughs, but if you liked Bridesmaids or Spy, or portions of Freaks & Geeks, you’re likely going to find plenty to enjoy in Ghostbusters. I’d definitely stop short of calling it great, but I’m perfectly happy in deeming it pretty good, and not in any way the disaster some feared. As it comes to a close, you’ll want to see the new foursome in action again, and you’ll stroll out of the darkness of the theater with a smile on your face.
Step back from the ledge. It may not be an A+. But, it’s a borderline B-. Ignore all the social critique on both sides, because it’s all just a pink river of slime. This is summer popcorn entertainment, and if you’re willing to have fun, it’s there for you to take. Watch the movie with your eyes open and most importantly, with your mind open to the new ideas Feig and Dipole present. You can’t compare it to 1984, and if you do, you will hate it. Give it a chance to toast the past, but with its gaze and its sensibilities firmly fixed on the world as it stands today. I’m not sure it will create a new generation of fans, but it might coax a few into going back and watching what came before. That’s all it takes to care about the future of the Ghostbusters franchise.
I’m @GuyNamedJason. Okay, who brought the dog?