Of all the films to generate controversy in 2016, the fact that Ghostbusters has generated more of it before release than anything else – including the very divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – is a bit mind-boggling. Don’t get me wrong: I understand how we form attachments to films that are integral parts of our childhood, and Hollywood has a lousy track record when it comes to rebooting intellectual property as a way to make money. Within reason, I understand why some might be a little leery of this reboot, especially when the first trailer didn’t look all that promising (though to be fair, the same could be said of writer/director Paul Feig’s other films). But for readers who aren’t already predisposed to hate this film the 2016 Ghostbusters is a genuinely fun and thrilling piece of summer entertainment with a clear love of the original film.
In this new universe, physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is on track for tenure when she learns a book she cowrote years ago with former best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) on the paranormal is now available to purchase online. Before Erin can convince Abby to take the book listing down, though, she gets looped into investigating a potential haunting at an historical mansion. The two, along with engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), go and discover that ghosts are not only real, but…a bit agitated, to put it mildly. As the three begin to investigate this new surge in paranormal activity, they’re joined by MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and hunky-but-dumb receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) to form the Ghostbusters.
If any of this seems familiar…well, it should. Ghostbusters makes a slew of references to the original in its plot, from the disgraced scientists with a layperson as the fourth member to the government interference (updated for 2016 to the Department of Homeland Security), plus the accusations of the heroes being frauds. Add in the cameos from the original cast members and other bits of Ghostbusters iconography into this film, and it may seem a bit familiar.
What sets this version apart from the original is how the film takes certain aspects of the original and runs with them in new directions. Old weapons like proton packs are present, but so are new weapons like proton pistols, ghost grenades, and a “ghostchipper.” These aspects also stretch out to the new characters, who may vaguely resemble aspects of the original characters, but are ultimately unique new creations.
Take the most obvious example: Holtzmann fills in the Egon role as the inventor on the team, and is the most quirky member of the team. But Holtzmann isn’t just a retread of Egon. McKinnon brings a wonderfully weird energy to her performance, with every line coming from her mouth in a wholly original way. On top of that, she’s by far the biggest badass on the team, with the most impressive action scene in the film’s action-packed third act. McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and Hemsworth all bring their own strengths to the film, as well, but McKinnon is by far the biggest standout.
Paul Feig does an impressive job jumping into franchise filmmaking as well. While the film is a bit reined-in compared to his work on Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – the inevitable result of shifting from R-rated material to PG-13 – he brings a visual energy to the film that manages to contribute to the broader Ghostbusters franchise. It’s surprising, for example, just how scary some of the ghosts can appear. While the film itself is certainly not scary, the frightening visuals help this remake feel different from its predecessors. On top of that, the visual effects and art direction are impeccable. While it all has some of the sheen of a major 2016 film, and certainly pops compared to its predecessor, it doesn’t cross over into looking ridiculous. It’s a nice evolution from the tremendous but now-dated practical effects of the original film.
As for that small but vocal portion of the Internet that’s spent the last few years attacking the film: the film gets in a few good swipes at them, including a scene featuring some YouTube comments (“ain’t no bitches gonna hunt some ghosts” sounds ridiculous wherever you read or hear it). The fact that the main villain, Rowan (Neil Casey), is a sad and pathetic loner who’s angry at the world? I can’t imagine he was intentionally fashioned to resemble the stereotypical person behind those Internet comments, but it’s fitting nonetheless. The final resolution to destroying the “big bad” ghost at the end, though, feels like the best response to the misogynistic comments of the past few years. Let’s just leave it there.
It’s worth noting that the real uproar over this film didn’t start until it became public knowledge that the film would be an all-female team. Would the response have been less vitriolic if the team was made up of four males, or if the film had a feminine spin on the original film’s name? Probably, though in the case of the latter, this film would likely be knocked as a Ghostbusters rip-off. Maybe before the film’s release, at least, there would be no way for this film to win. But the team responsible for this film has managed to create a rare reboot that doesn’t feel like a simple remake of a beloved classic. There’s a clear love of the original film, and enough imagination to wonder where this crew could go next. I don’t know about you, but I know who I’m gonna call.