Review: 'Ghostbusters' Passes the Proton Pack to the Next Generation
by Adam Frazier
July 15, 2016
The original Ghostbusters from 1984 captured the imagination of a generation in a way few films do. As a kid, I was obsessed with the spooky-but-silly world director Ivan Reitman and writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis created. I watched The Real Ghostbusters cartoon religiously, had Ghostbusters-themed birthdays, and experienced a memorable Christmas in which Santa left Slimer, The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the Fire House Headquarters, and Ecto-1 under the tree. I idolized Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler and spent entire days busting ghosts with my proton pack, ghost trap, Ecto-Goggles, and PKE meter. For "Ghostheads" — diehard fans of the franchise — Ghostbusters was their childhood. But even though I have many fond memories of my time with the boys in gray, I would never consider myself among them.
Honestly, I was (and always will be) a Star Wars fan first and foremost. As a devotee of that seminal space saga, however, I understand the passion that drives the Ghostheads to build their own proton packs. I understand loving something so much you let it define your existence. I understand the anger that comes when someone tinkers with the thing you're so passionate about. Fandom is a powerful and sometimes dangerous thing. It can consume us and turn us into selfish, entitled elitists. It can encourage us to share our passions with the world around us, or make us shut everyone else out. I've seen the best and worst of it, from dedicated cosplayers visiting children's hospitals in their screen-accurate costumes, to the misogynists and racists who boycotted The Force Awakens because of the casting of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
So, when it was announced that Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) would be directing a Ghostbusters reboot, I knew that the best parts of Ghostbusters fandom would be overshadowed by the ugly, entitled, and very vocal minority. Most of the online outrage has been over Feig's predominantly female cast, who received death threats from these so-called fans for "raping their childhood." That isn't fandom. That's terrorism. Others maintain that it isn't a gender issue at all, that they just hate the idea of remaking a beloved classic. That's a valid opinion, but we live in an era of sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, and shared universes. Nothing is sacred anymore — anything that was successful or meaningful to one generation is destined to be reimagined for the next. All we can hope for is that the movies are made by people who genuinely care about the property they are giving new life to — that they hold the original in the same reverence we do.
By that measure, Ghostheads should celebrate Feig's Ghostbusters. It's a love letter to the franchise that still manages to be its own thing, with a great cast, big laughs, and top-notch ghostbusting. Co-written by Feig and Katie Dippold (of Parks and Recreation, The Heat previously), the story begins with physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) working to secure her tenure from Columbia University. There's only one problem: a book she wrote years ago with then-friend Abbie Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal, has reemerged to ruin her reputation.
The book falls into the hands of Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley Jr.), proprietor of the haunted Aldridge Mansion, who hopes to rid the establishment of a pesky poltergeist. Erin, who left the paranormal world behind for academia, discovers the book is available on Amazon and decides to track down Abbie to put a stop to its release. Unlike her former friend, Abbie has dedicated her life to proving ghosts exist. She's now working with a new partner, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (SNL's Kate McKinnon), to field-test equipment designed to track and capture ghosts for study.
Erin begrudgingly joins Abbie and Holtzmann at Aldridge Mansion where the trio makes contact with a ghost and captures it on camera. After the footage goes viral, Erin is fired and forced to go into the ghostbusting business. The three scientists are joined by Patty Tolan (SNL's Leslie Jones), a Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee whose knowledge of New York City history makes her a valuable addition to the team. All four Ghostbusters deliver great performances, but it's Jones and McKinnon who steal the show. As Holtzmann, the charismatic McKinnon gets to be equal parts freak and geek, while Leslie Jones brings an energy to Patty that is infectious. There's some great chemistry going on here, and Feig and Dippold make sure to give each character plenty to do; no one feels misused.
Once formed, the Ghostbusters search for a place to call home. They tour a firehouse in Tribeca, but it's out of their price range. Instead, they set up shop in Chinatown, above Zhu's Authentic Hong Kong Food. To man the front desk, they hire Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), a dim-witted receptionist made of "pure muscle and baby soft skin." Kevin is an amalgam of Louis Tully and Janine Melnitz, but weirder and even less interested in doing his job. It's clear that Hemsworth, known in the real world for playing huntsmen and Norse gods, is having a blast as the dumb hunk. His improvised dialogue with the team makes for some of the film's funniest moments.
The villain of the piece is Rowan North (Neil Casey), a creepy little man responsible for the uptick in the city's supernatural activity. The angry, lonely outcast is set on breaking the veil between our world and the hereafter, bringing about a cataclysm in which the dead will torture the souls of the living for eternity. Rowan makes for an interesting villain, one that I wish would have been explored more, especially since he is an avatar for the misogynist dweebs that rallied against Feig's film.
When it comes to the look of the movie, production designer Jefferson Sage evokes the original without replicating it. While both movies use New York City as a backdrop, Feig's Ghostbusters was shot primarily in Boston. As a result, the film lacks the energy – and authenticity – of the original. You can recreate Slimer and the Ecto-1, but it's hard to capture the vibe of NYC unless you're actually shooting on location. Still, there's enough iconography, like the Hook & Ladder 8 firehouse, to trick you into thinking you're in NYC.
One of my favorite things about Reitman's original 1984 film is the design aesthetic. There are so many iconic visuals, from the neon-glowing ghosts and Terror Dogs to the proton packs' colorful energy beams. Here, visual effects supervisor Peter G. Travers blends old-school camera tricks with contemporary, computer-generated effects to create ghosts that are beautifully macabre. When Rowan succeeds in his plan and Times Square turns into Spook Central, Feig and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman create a hallucinatory spectacle that brought to life all my childhood ghostbusting fantasies. It feels like something right out of The Real Ghostbusters — and when Holtzmann goes all John Woo on some nasty phantoms, I felt the urge to suit up and answer the call. Busting makes me feel good, after all.
Ghostbusters has a great first act and a finale that, while messy and entirely predictable, delivers big on fun. The middle section, however, suffers from a lot of pacing issues and jokes that don't quite hit the mark. Everyone is so preoccupied with being funny — and referencing the original film — that telling a great story takes a backseat to lesser gags that won't hold up over repeat viewings. Still, despite an underwhelming script and too much time spent rehashing what's come before, Feig's film succeeds on the strength of its cast. These women are smart, strong, and hilarious, and they get the opportunity to be heroes in a genre where women are often relegated to love interests or damsels in distress.
It will be interesting to see how the fandom, young and old, responds to this new movie. Will they make room for different interpretations of what Ghostbusters can be? Or will that entitled vocal minority cling to the past so tightly that they choke out any hope of new life? I'm excited to see what the future holds for this cast and these characters. I hope we get a sequel that takes more chances and explores new ideas. Until then, Feig's Ghostbusters will serve as a worthy addition to the franchise, a film that is without question better than Ghostbusters II, even if it can't help but pale in comparison to the original.
Adam's Rating: 3 out of 5
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