Wonderfully reimagined escapism — fun for fans new and old.
On the eve of receiving tenure at a prestigious school, physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) discovers an old book she co-wrote is selling on Amazon; self-published by her former friend and co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), the contents could jeapordize her career. In the time since Erin and her parted ways, Abby and her co-worker Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) have continued work into paranormal investigation — including cooking up a few homemade gadgets — but after an investigative opportunity provides their first actual recorded proof of ghosts, the three scientists are set on a path to work together. Enter Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a city transit worker and NYC history buff who’s also had a recent ghostly encounter, but something else found in the subway tunnels suggests to the team that the sudden appearance of so many ghosts may not be a natural phenomenon.
It’s finally here: the thing that will ruin the happy memories and childhoods of anyone who remembers the 1984 hit Ghostbusters…or so we’ve been told. The truth is far simpler; the Ghostbusters intellectual property is valuable, so a new movie was eventually going to be made. No one wanted a repeat of the lackluster Ghostbusters II (especially Bill Murray), but neither the cast nor a script could be counted upon. With the passing of Harold Ramis, there was no chance of getting the old gang back together, so new directors were tapped to come up with fresh ideas. It wasn’t until director Paul Feig pitched an all-female team rebooting the entire franchise that the project moved forward, paving the way for what may end up being a lucrative summer blockbuster.
The best compliment that can be paid to the 2016 version is that it feels like a Ghostbusters movie: lethal ghosts, dangerous equipment, and quirky personalities generating comedy to relieve dire moments…something the 1989 sequel struggled to do. Scary moments are scary, even when mixed with the situational humor; Feig seems to understand this dynamic and uses it to the film’s benefit. The reworking also includes clever nods to the original film (ruining nothing for those unfamiliar with it) such as the origin of the no-ghost logo, building up the equipment so that each encounter is a chance to upgrade for the next, and someone finally addressing the U.S. government’s official position on the phenomenon of paranormal activity (of COURSE there’s a conspiracy).
So, nitpicks — the film’s not perfect. While Chris Hemsworth’s model-worthy receptionist Kevin is played off as an idiot, it can be argued that he’s preoccupied and wholly distracted with himself (as indicated by being oblivious to Erin’s borderline obsession), but even as a comedic opportunity for the actor, is it really intended as a feminist statement that “men are useless and stupid?” Also being honest, the idea of a “laser lasso” to catch ghosts is inherently absurd, so it isn’t surprising that Feig’s version ups the ante by creating more weapons based around the concept and making for some fun visuals in the epic climactic battle — some far sillier than others. There’s also the case for Peter Jackson Syndrome — one-upping the previous version (re: King Kong) by doing the same thing even bigger — and the original Boys in Gray never had so many ghosts to battle or ones that were specifically targeting them (and TWO Slimers for the price of one!) Overkill? Perhaps, but in context, it can be overlooked; if you want to appear more heroic, you need a lot more villainy.
With access to top-notch CGI effects, the new Ghostbusters may not look as practical as the original film, but quite a few of the ghost effects were real actors enhanced by costuming and CG rather than pure effects to give them a more realistic look. Standouts in the cast include Kate McKinnon’s Jillian, stealing every scene she’s in unless Hemsworth is there, but everyone has a part to play with more than a few surprising reveals in their backgrounds seeded through the story. The movie is a family friendly PG-13, mostly due to spooky elements and “zap-gun” violence (you can’t make this stuff up, folks). While the haters have already made up their minds that this reboot is somehow offensive to them and a sucker punch to the gut, the open-minded wanting more Ghostbusters and willing to take a chance on an exemplary cast having fun twisting around an existing concept will be rewarded. Stay throughout the credits to catch all the Easter eggs and to the very end for a hint at what a sequel could be about if the film is a success.
ADDITIONAL INFO: after an additional viewing, the movie is more entertaining in 3D, taking full advantage of the technology.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)