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‘Ghostbusters’ Review

‘Ghostbusters’ ain’t afraid to be a reboot, and that’s why it works

Feig and the Ghostbusters team have built a strong foundation for a rebooted series that seems more than capable of standing on its own.

From the moment it was first announced back in 2014, director Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters has been the focal point of debate. A depressing amount of that discussion has centered on the decision to go with four (very funny, very talented) women in the lead roles, but the real question — for sane, rational people, at least — is the one that lingers over any reboot, remake, or sequel these days: Does the movie justify the decision to start over?

Fortunately, while Ghostbusters does indeed stumble and occasionally feel more like 1989’s Ghostbusters II than the 1984 original, the final product not only does the franchise proud, but leaves you wanting more adventures with its all-new team.

Co-written by Feig and his screenwriter on The Heat, Katie Dippold, Ghostbusters casts Bridesmaids actresses Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy as a brilliant particle physicist and an expert in the paranormal, respectively, who find themselves caught up in an investigation of spectral pests plaguing Manhattan. They’re assisted by an eccentric engineer played by Saturday Night Live cast member Kate McKinnon and a former subway station worker played by fellow SNL veteran Leslie Jones.

To their credit, the cast of Ghostbusters does a nice job of creating some distance between their characters and those of the original film’s stars.

Naturally, the team’s investigation leads to the discovery of a far more sinister threat facing the city, and the Ghostbusters soon find themselves in the role of reluctant heroes as they face off against a villain whose diabolical scheme could put an end to the world — or at the very least, New York.

As far as reboots go, Ghostbusters is positioned in a comfortable place at the midpoint between slavish, shot-for-shot remakes and movies that share nothing in common with their source material beyond a title.

To their credit, Feig and Dippold break new ground where necessary, but still seem to keep the original 1984 film just below the surface of their story. Many of the over-arching plot points echo the original, from the down-on-their-luck scientists treated like frauds who step up to become heroes, to the story’s reverence for New York City and its role as a nexus of sorts for paranormal phenomena.

The movie also doesn’t shy away from overt call-backs to the original, with much of the 1984 film’s primary cast appearing in the reboot in cameo roles (and in the case of one particular cast member, a bit more than a cameo), and more than a few tongue-in-cheek references to elements of the first film that have found their way into the collective memory of fans.

While the motivation behind all of the call-outs and cameos is obvious, at times, all of the nostalgia does weigh down the story Feig is trying to tell. Fans might enjoy the sight of so many familiar faces and lines from the original film, but those elements rarely feel organic and occasionally end up stalling an otherwise fun story right as it gets rolling along on its own momentum.

To their credit, the cast of Ghostbusters does a nice job of creating some distance between their characters and those of the original film’s stars.

There are few surprises to be found in the performances of Wiig and McCarthy, who play to their strengths and essentially play smarter, scientist-type versions of the characters they’ve had so much success playing in the past. Wiig’s Erin Gilbert is equal parts ambitious and awkward, while McCarthy’s Abby Yates is simultaneously confident and a little bit flakey. They’re the sort of characters both actresses do well with, and to their credit — and to the credit of Feig and the Ghostbusters creative team — they’re not simply female analogs of the male characters in the original film. Fans of the two actresses will find a lot to like about this new setting for them to continue doing what they do best.

McKinnon is the real standout in the film.

In the role of the team’s quirky tech expert, McKinnon shines as Jillian Holtzmann. At times, Holtzmann feels like an embodiment of all of the best parts of the original film’s Ghostbusters, brimming over with confidence and intelligence to spare, and not giving a damn what anyone thinks — or which safety concerns she might need to overlook to get the job done. She’s a butt-kicking science warrior on a quest to know the unknown, and she absolutely, positively isn’t afraid of any ghosts.

Possibly the best testament to Ghostbusters is that it does indeed deserve a sequel.

Basically, if any character in Ghostbusters is action-figure worthy, it’s McKinnon’s Holtzmann.

It’s Jones who ends up being that aforementioned exception — through no fault of her own.

Jones’ Patty Tolan is a subway station worker whose encounter with a ghost leads her to the Ghostbusters who eventually make her part of the team. Tolan is the closest thing to an analog the film has with its 1984 counterpart. Jones’ character is every bit the outsider that Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddmore was in the original Ghostbusters, and serves much the same purpose in the story. She’s the audience stand-in caught up in a wild, supernatural adventure, and although she gets more screen time than the underused Hudson did in the original film, their characters essentially exist for the same reason: to hold a proton pack and be the team’s voice of common sense and rational thought amid all of the scientific and supernatural chaos.

Jones does a fantastic job with what she’s given, but her role is limited. The film’s post-credits scene (yes, you’ll want to stay through the credits) suggests that she’ll play a far more integral, active role in the team’s investigations down the road — if there is a sequel, of course.

The film also features a fun performance by Thor star Chris Hemsworth, who plays the team’s meathead receptionist, Kevin. The superhero actor does a surprisingly good job with the comedy and holds his own alongside some pretty formidable funny actors, but does overstay his welcome with more screen time than seems necessary for a film about the Ghostbusters (not their receptionist). Janine never got this much time in the original.

1271033 - THE WALK
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If there’s one flaw that permeates Ghostbusters, it’s the film’s reliance on some pretty heavy digital effects for its ghost characters — effects that occasionally feel too cartoony.

Texture is often the key to selling digitally created elements, and far too many of the specters and paranormal pests in Ghostbusters feel like flat images on a screen instead of characters in the story. It’s a problem in more and more movies as Hollywood leans heavily on digitally created elements. The issues with Ghostbusters shouldn’t be construed as a vote against computer-generated effects (or for practical effects, for that matter) but more of an example of what could use more attention in a sequel.

Possibly the best testament to Ghostbusters is that it does indeed deserve a sequel.

Feig and the Ghostbusters team have built a strong foundation for a rebooted series that — despite all of the issues that come with a nostalgia-laden property like this one — seems more than capable of standing on its own. Even where Ghostbusters falls short, the film shows a tremendous amount of potential for the characters (more Holtzmann, please) and the franchise down the road.

Here’s hoping that audiences — particularly those who could be the next generation of Ghostbusters fans — see that potential, too.

Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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