It is difficult to review Ghostbusters, in that one can no longer view it in a vacuum. This film received a lot of vitriol ages before anyone actually got to see any of it, based largely on the fact that this wasn’t going to be a continuation of the franchise with the old characters, but instead, a reboot featuring an all-female main cast. In the midst of the outrage (which must be noted, seems to mostly come from males), it is nearly impossible to watch this film without any effect from all the outside noise. Given all that, I can mostly say that I enjoyed the film, despite having issues with it. It doesn’t do enough to really separate it from the original, but it is a fun two hours filled with good jokes and strong performances.
Physics professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is up for tenure at Columbia University when she discovers that her former colleague Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has rereleased a book they wrote together about ghosts. Worried that this might affect her chances at tenure, she looks for her old friend, and demands that she recall all the books. She is instead dragged into a paranormal investigation, where the two find definite proof that ghosts exist. Along with fellow scientist Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and MTA employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), the two resurrect their partnership, and attempt to prove to the world that ghosts are scientifically provable. Along the way, they all discover that something or someone is causing increased ghost activity.
The story is kind of anchored on the friendship between Erin and Abby. The film starts with them having issues based on Erin’s need for legitimacy, and the film’s resolution is built around repairing something between the two. It doesn’t quite work out. It’s a pretty good idea, but the script doesn’t do a great job of keeping that tension between the characters. The denouement doesn’t land like it’s supposed to, and it ends up feeling like a bit of extra business. The plot works out all right, although it is a bit weighed down by having to keep referencing the past. Given the current outrage, it might have been risky for the film to go off in a completely new direction. But it might have made for a much tighter story.
But the best way the film pays tribute to the original is just by being really funny. There are plenty of strong, sustained comedic elements. The film gets a lot out of riffing on its outsized version of New York City, which it populates with plenty of strange, distinct characters. And the movie also has a lot fun putting together weird visuals. Paul Feig doesn’t quite have the chops to really go all out in the strangeness, but it actually comes off as a lot more visually engaging than the original film. And as long as these characters are talking to each other, the laughs come pretty easily.
It isn’t difficult to get laughs when your cast is this good. This is a fine set of comedians they’ve assembled in the main cast. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play off each other really well, the two conveying a familiarity between them that sells their characters’ history even when the script falls a little short. Leslie Jones brings strange verisimilitude in a role that has her dealing with ghosts. And Kate McKinnon is a pile of compelling strangeness, her Holtzmann a living cartoon that fits perfectly in a world as weird as the movie’s. In the supporting cast, Chris Hemsworth gets a plum role playing their totally incompetent receptionist. This character is one of the most reliable sources of laughs in this film, and also the most subversive in some ways.
Ghostbusters comes into this world with all manner of expectations. There are people who have already decided that it can only be bad. Conversely, as a reaction to that prejudice, there are people who are really invested in it being good. As with most things, the truth is likely somewhere in between. It just feels important not to get caught up in either wave of strong emotion that surrounds this film. It is what it is, ultimately: a somewhat fun, somewhat flawed remake of a film that is fondly remembered. What can’t be said is that this film doesn’t do proper homage to the original. It might even be said that it is a little too slavish in that regard. The film is actually best when it brings something new to the table, when it uses modern sensibilities to really twist expectations. It has smart things in the fringes. It would’ve been nice to see those things take center stage.