Ok nerds. Feel free to relax. The new Ghostbusters is here and it’s a good time. Funny, bright, colourful, and downright goofy, it’s a big old blockbuster comedy that actually works. That’s actually far more rare than it sounds. In the 30 years since Ghostbusters proved that comedy and special effects could go together, pretty well every attempt to recreate that magic has failed. Not even Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman could pull off the trick again with the sequel or other unfortunate attempts.
The exceptions are pretty much limited to Gremlins (released the same weekend as Ghostbusters, so it barely counts), Innerspace, the Bill & Ted flicks, the Back To The Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Men In Black. Other than that, every single attempt to make a comedy with a special effects budget has been a mess. So, the fact that Paul Feig and co. pulled off that trick at all is impressive. The fact that they did so while remaking Ghostbusters is practically a miracle. The fact that they did so with an all female cast shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. Honestly who cares? Not me. I don’t intend on mentioning that again and hopefully once the dust settles from the inevitable weekend of think-pieces and twitter wars heading our way, it’s not something that will be dwelled on much again.
This movie is very much a remake and pretty slavishly follows the structure of the original Ghostbusters movie from 30 years ago. Kristen Wiig stars as one of her patented awkward dorks who is about to be tenured at Columbia when an old book on ghosts that she co-wrote pops up in stores again and puts a stain on her career. Her old writing partner is Melissa McCarthy, a manic scientist obsessed with ghosts who has now partnered up with an even more eccentric scientist (Kate McKinnon) who builds experimental ghostbusting technology.
As soon as the gang are reunited, they’re whisked off to a haunted house where they see a ghost, get slimed, film it, post it on YouTube, and Wiig is promptly fired. The gals then decide to start their own ghostbusting business, renting out part of a Chinese restaurant when a New York firehouse proves to be wildly out of their price range. Soon they partner up with Leslie Jones who knows everything there is to know about the city and hire Chris Hemsworth to be their pretty boy secretary despite the fact that he’s barely capable of answering a phone. Fortunately they’ve created the business just in time because a creepy loner (Neil Casey) is going around energizing all of the ghosts in the city with apocalyptic intent.
First things first, the new Ghostbusters are a damn fun team built on comedic types that bounce of each other nicely. Wiig’s pent up bag of insecurities, McCarthy’s whirlwind of manic energy, and Jones’ perpetual need to call out crap all balance each other well. Best of all is Kate McKinnon whose sly grin, crazy eyes, and physical flailing essentially combine into a live action cartoon that slips in and out of the group to steal away scenes without ever overwhelming anyone else. Together, the gang is rock solid and built to carry a franchise that may or may not follow (not to mention Chris Hemsworth, who is absolutely hysterical in a manner that is deeply unfair for someone so attractive).
Paul Feig also wisely populates every supporting role with a character actor or comedian to ensure that not a scene passes without some sort of improv opportunity to spice things up. As a director, he’s always known how to get the best out of his cast and that continues here. He’s also gradually taught himself how to handle action and spectacle through The Heat and Spy, so he does just fine delivering simple scares and action when required. The ghost designs all knowingly feel like they were pulled out of the cartoon. In fact, the movie is dripping with perhaps a little too much reverence and fan service, despite the fact that so many childhoods have been ruined according to message boards everywhere.
Make no mistake, this is a remake absolutely enamoured with the original Ghostbusters, almost to its detriment. All of the original busters get a cameo (including a cute head nod to Harold Ramis) with varying degrees of success given how funny those folks are/aren’t these days. There are even cameos from a few side characters from the original and the most famous ghosts pop up. Lines are quoted. The stream of technobabble that Aykroyd crammed into previous scripts appears again. It’s a parade of Ghostbusters nostalgia and winking that’s kind of adorable when it doesn’t tip over into annoying overkill.
In fact, the movie’s biggest weakness is the problem that plagues the original Ghostbusters and its sequel. After cruising by on character comedy and lovable leads, the flick eventually devolves into a festival of special effects action scenes that quickly grows tiresome. It’s a shame to see the laughs disappear in favour of CGI city destruction. However, that’s increasingly a plague in all blockbusters these days, not just Ghostbusters. It was likely required to get a summer blockbuster budget. Ah well, at least there are a handful of funny scenes crammed in after the city-saving to leave audiences on a laugh.
Ghostbusters 2.0 is a perfectly entertaining popcorn timewaster and probably the best product released under this brand name in 30 years. Is it perfect? Far from it. However, it’s funny and exciting and amusing and it works. That’s no easy task and the gang responsible should be applauded for their efforts. Compared to the recent wave of 80s nostalgia reboots, the flick is easily one of the most successful. The reason is simple: it was made by talented people who cared. The only time the team screwed up was when they were trying too hard to replicate the past. Whenever they departed in their own direction, things went shockingly smoothly.
Hopefully, this gang gets to make a sequel, because now that they are freed from franchise world-building and made every in-joke possible, they’ll be able to expand the new universe farther and probably end up with a final product that’s even funnier. This is a silly, goofy, funny, and amusing blockbuster. It’s not a political statement. It’s not a gamechanger and it won’t ruin your childhood; It’s just a bit of fun. If you can somehow look beyond all the nonsense that elevated Ghostbusters 2016 into something that it’s not and merely look at it as the entertainment machine it is, you might be surprised by how well that machine works. Don’t be afraid. Embrace the change. You might even like it.