The original Ghostbusters was supernatural. The world's hottest comedians at their creative peak, an irreverent script, and some pretty impressive special effects combined and underwent some strange alchemy to create a pop culture juggernaut, one whose impact is still felt today. And now, 32 years after the original, a new addition to the series has arrived, helmed by a completely new creative team and taking place in an on-screen reality where the original Ghostbusters never existed. And so, to the large, ghostly elephant in the room: does this reboot come close to the matching the highs of the much-loved original?
No, it doesn't.
To be fair, not even the original team behind the 1984 film could replicate its quality, creating a so-so sequel in 1989 and never quite able to successfully launch a third film despite years of trying. The 2016 Ghostbusters falls short, yes, but short of a bar that was impossibly high to begin with. Taken on its own merits, this new film is an uproarious, sometimes thrilling experience, filled with laugh-out-loud moments and featuring a new group of characters that are appealing and intriguing in their own right. There's a noticeable sag in the film's second half as it reaches a somewhat flat climax, but these new Ghostbusters certainly deliver the goods.
It all starts with the characters. The quartet of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are some of the best comics working right now, and their performances as the new group of Ghostbusters lend the film an infectious, manic energy. The first half of the film--where we're introduced to kooky paranormal scientists Abby Yates (McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), the uptight Abby Yates (Wiig), and brash train station attendant Patty Tolan (Jones)--is an absolute delight. It's a gag-filled introduction to the new team, and there are plenty of well-earned character-based laughs that make the foursome immediately endearing. McKinnon, in particular, is a standout. McKinnon has some of the best lines, but she's also visual magnet in this, constantly drawing your eye thanks to her hilarious expressions and reactions. Thor star Chris Hemsworth shines, too, in the role of an almost "too dumb to function" hunk of himbo the Ghostbusters hire as their new secretary.
All of the leads bounce off each other so well in the film's joyous first half that its energy almost manages to carry the film through its more pedestrian closer. Once the Ghostbusters actually join together and bag their first real ghostly catch, the film becomes more leaden, servicing a plot that never really feels that involving. The film's big bad (played by Neil Casey) has been deliberately setting off devices that amplify paranormal activity, and it's up to the Ghostbusters to track him down before that activity reaches catastrophic levels. But that threat never feels real, thanks to the film's very broad, Haunted Mansion-level portrayal of the undead. The ghosts here are all screams and fury, with only a little menace thrown in. The film's action climax treats these malevolent spirits as little more than cannon fodder for proton packs, with the Ghostbusters slow-mo'ing their way through dozens of them, all set to a rock version of the film's original theme song. It's all rather silly, but spectacular looking in it's own way.
You could rightly say, of course, that this threat-light approach to ghosts has been a hallmark of the series. But in the original Ghostbusters, Gozer was always treated as an outsized menace, spoken of in hushed tones amidst furrowed brows. In this film, the villain is a put upon, socially awkward loner. Hardly in the same league as someone whose nickname was "The Destroyer".
Comparisons with the first film are difficult to avoid, given the new Ghostbusters movie is aching to be both a wholly new experience while still paying deep homage to what came before. While the main crew of Ghostbusters aren't directly analogous to their male counterparts from the 1984 film, key beats and even some plot points have been lifted wholesale from the original. It opens with a similar ghost attack, has the Ghostbusters being oppressed by government bureaucracy throughout, and even has a familiar, giant-scale ending (right down to the choose-the-form-of-your-doom choice). Most of the original cast make cameos, too, although some are better integrated into the film than others. Original Ghostbuster Dan Ackroyd's cameo, for example, is nothing but groan-worthy.
When you invite direct comparisons like this, the new Ghostbusters film sadly comes up as the lesser of the two. But when the film breaks free, when it focuses on its outstanding new characters, when it plays within the world and mythos of the Ghostbusters universe without slavishly referencing the original movie, it shines. It may not be the 1984 film, but it's now 2016, and on the strength of this joyous, fun movie, these new Ghostbusters have the potential to build a strong new franchise all on their own. The old Ghostbusters are dead. Long live the new Ghostbusters.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Great new cast and characters||No, it's not as good as the original|
|Very funny, especially in its first half||Some cameos were awful|
|Bad guy isn't memorable|
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