Of all movies to end up being one of the biggest, most recognizable franchises out there, Ghostbusters always seemed like the odd man out. Not just because it’s a pretty simple high concept comedy, which, granted, has earned its status as a stone cold classic, but in that it was a lightning in a bottle miracle that was never replicated successfully. Ghostbusters 2 may hold some nostalgia, but suffers from every bad sequel problem in the book. The first cartoon is somewhat inspired, but mostly disposable, the second one was trash. The 2009 video game was passable, I guess. Yet, despite all that, the Ghostbusters’ name is still a valuable brand. It was inevitable that a reboot of some kind was going to come, especially when the passing of Harold Ramis made it near impossible for a satisfactory belated legacy sequel. The reboot we have is from co-writer and director, Paul Feig, who brings a whole new team at the helm.
The new Ghostbusters team consists of Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). We begin the story with Erin, who reunites with her old friend, Abby, but only as a way for her to remove their old book about the paranormal to be removed from publication, so Erin can secure a position as professor at Columbia University. However, she ends up losing the job and ends up joining Abby and her partner, Jillian, as paranormal investigators. Things are a little rocky until local history expert, Patty points them to some activity involving these mysterious devices. As things unravel, the group come together as the Ghostbusters to stop a dangerous plan from Rowan North (Neil Casey).
While we could go on forever on whether or not a Ghostbusters reboot needed to happen, I think Paul Feig, co-writer, Katie Dippold, and the cast really do make the most of it. Ghostbusters is actually really solid, good even. There are a few things that prevent it from being a home run, but otherwise, it works. At the very least, it works in the one way it absolutely needed to, the characters. I love these new characters. I love their dynamic, they each bring something different to the table, the central crux of Erin and Abby coming to terms with each other is compelling, and they are all a total blast to watch even when they’re just hanging out. Throw in a delightfully dopey Chris Hemsworth as the receptionist, Kevin, and you get more than enough moments of pure comedic gold.
Obviously, if Paul Feig’s work hasn’t done much for you in the past, then the jokes may not be as effective as one would hope, but if you dig his style, then there are plenty of laughs to be found. I’ve enjoyed his particular brand of sharp and quippy character based humor, admittedly to varying degrees, but I found that a vast majority of the jokes landed. The only times when they didn’t work were the few moments where Feig and the cast began to indulge in tedious ad libbing or making gratuitous callbacks to the original film. For a film that felt so confident in its story and characters, the ever present references and cameos reminding us about the original film kept grinding the story to a halt. I didn’t care for most of those scenes, and that was just one of several examples of how Ghostbusters kept making unfortunate mistakes that seemed to reflect on the faults that many blockbusters tend to fall into.
When you begin to describe some of the problems that keep popping up in modern blockbusters, there are a few things that come to mind, a weak villain, a climax that indulges more on spectacle and VFX, and a web of overly complicated plot beats. Oh, and a bright beam of light that shoots into the sky for the final action scene. Sounds familiar, I know. Be it a Marvel movie, or some other, more disposable summer nonsense, a lot of problems that one would find in those movies can be found in Ghostbusters. The villain leaves absolutely zero impression despite some potential in the basic idea. There’s an attempt at generating some lore through the patterns in the villain’s plan that feels incredibly half-assed and is barely referred to again after they’re introduced. The climax feels too big for its own good, being too much of a special effects extravaganza that isn’t as rooted in characters as I would’ve hoped. Hell, I think the climax for this Ghostbusters movie might actually have a significant body count.
These are really the only things that hold the film back from being truly great, but everything else still works. While the basic plot mechanics are questionable at times, the film does a great job at allowing you to get to know these characters. You grow to enjoy their presence and you have fun just being on the ride with them. That’s really what keeps the movie going and it’s basically all it needed. And at the very least, it makes the idea of a sequel that much more awesome since we can hopefully see these characters again (hopefully with less references and cameos, too). And as much as I like Paul Feig, a similar problem from him even from something like Spy, which I loved, is that he isn’t a particularly cinematic director. He’s great with characters, but in terms of capturing action and using the camera as a way to capture story and theme, it’s not really in his skill set. His roots are in television and that is how a lot of his work feels like. Granted, he does manage to deal in VFX heavy shots with enough slickness to not feel cheap or amateurish and the 3D is surprisingly outstanding.
Ghostbusters doesn’t reach the comedic heights of Spy or even the thematic resonance of Bridesmaids, but it’s a solid blockbuster offering from Paul Feig (and honestly, I liked this way more than The Heat). The characters are so lovable and effortlessly performed. Kate McKinnon in particular shines, as she pretty much single-handedly turns camera mugging into an art form. Their dynamic works and the jokes are mostly consistent enough to make up for the constant, unnecessary callbacks and the unfortunate restrictions from the slavish commitment to the modern blockbuster structure. It’s flawed, for sure, but it works where it counts. It’s a thoroughly joyful experience that left me with a big grin, and I would love to see these characters again in a new adventure, which is more than I can say for most of the movies I’ve seen this summer. 70/100