Before we can address anything to do with this year’s heavily contested Ghostbusters reboot, it’s unfortunately impossible to do so without acknowledging two things; First, this is a reboot/remake of an especially beloved 80’s franchise that began with the standout Ghostbusters movie from 1984. Second, there has been a hydrogen bomb’s worth of internet outrage and vitriol surrounding the existence of this reboot, and sadly, a disappointing amount of that revolves around its all-female lead ensemble of title characters. So, before we go on, I will say that, if you’ve already made up your mind about this movie one way or the other, then you have no business here. No review in the world is going to sway you, no matter how detailed or informed, so why are you even reading reviews? If you’re coming into Ghostbusters with a big stake in comparing it to the original, or actively proving an avid love or a burning hatred for it, then you’re going to see the movie you want to see, not the movie that’s actually in front of you, and nothing will change that. If that’s how you’re approaching Ghostbusters, then you do you, and keep me out of it.
I apologize for the need to snap some people back to reality, something that I don’t usually feel the need to do when reviewing movies, but unfortunately, Ghostbusters has made that a sad necessity. It’s nigh on impossible to assess the movie objectively for many people, and that’s going to make this arguably one of the most difficult movie reviews of my career, and likely the careers of many other reviewers. If I say the movie is good, I will be accused of being a shill, or a dreaded ‘SJW’. If I say the movie is bad, I will be accused of bandwagoning and getting swept up in the anti-hype. If I say the movie is average, I will be accused of being a coward that is afraid of upsetting the special snowflakes of the internet. There is no winning when reviewing Ghostbusters, and I will temporarily break professionalism to outline that, and to entreat you to try, please try, to take this movie for what it is, not what you think it should be, which should be the ideal approach for any and all movies. With that all out of the way… The obvious question remains… Is Ghostbusters the unmitigated disaster that the internet decided long before its release that it was going to be, in a spectacularly eyebrow-raising display of jumping the gun so much that the racetrack hadn’t even opened yet?
… Of course not! Anyone with a functioning brain stem could have told you that. Just as some movies get so impossibly hyped by the peanut gallery and studios alike that they will inevitably disappoint many people due to impossible expectations, some movies, like Ghostbusters, can be given so much aggressive, outlandish anti-hype that they can’t possibly be as bad as many people are strangely hoping that they will be. In fact, since there is no winning with reviewing Ghostbusters, I thus have no reason to lie in one direction or the other, which is somewhat liberating. So, I’ll just come right out and say it; I liked the movie, quite a bit actually. Call me a shill, call me an SJW if the sorting hat of the internet really must (even if it’s a lie on both counts), but overall, I think Ghostbusters is a pretty good time, and honestly, it’s one of the better Summer movies that we’ve had this year so far, if you keep an open mind about it, and just turn your brain off and enjoy yourself.
However, it is also true that the movie is not perfect. The Ghostbusters reboot is a clear and noticeable improvement over 1989’s sub-par sequel, Ghostbusters II, but it does predictably fall shy of the 1984 original. The reboot is not without charm, fun or humour, and its new cast of leading ladies is one element that actually does match the appeal of the original lead cast from 1984, amazingly enough. That’s of course before a more slick sense of polish and vastly improved special effects in this reboot (sorry, dissenters, but the special effects in this movie are actually pretty good in the end, especially when quite a few of the best effects are not featured in the trailers), which make it an undeniably rad and engaging Ghostbusters movie in terms of spectacle, if also a merely decent comedy that elicits chuckles more so than belly laughs.
Right away, we have to address the new, all-female squad of Ghostbusters. Believe it or not, the fact that the title leads are all women isn’t really a huge part of the movie. It’s of course referenced with a few jokes here and there (one of which slyly takes a jab at the internet backlash from the movie’s leads being women), but for the most part, the lead characters could have all been men, and most of the story material and jokes would have been exactly the same. Sure, young girls will probably get a kick out of the female leads especially, but if you’re prematurely declaring this reboot to be a, “Girl power anthem”, sorry, but that’s not really accurate. In fact, if anything, the movie is actively avoiding the feeling of being a girl power anthem, since it derives a lot of dark humour from the leads being seen as jokes and frauds throughout virtually the entire runtime, even when they do prove themselves, confidently subverting the expectation that many people tend to anticipate from movies with high-profile all-female lead ensembles. Ironically, many people are declaring this movie to be a political statement, and yet, are becoming the butt of a joke by the director about how much the movie isn’t a political statement, which, in a way, might sort of be poetic justice.
Like I said as well, the new cast is actually genuinely comparable to the classic cast of Ghostbusters from the two 80’s movies as well. You can sort of see the baselines from the classic cast that these new characters sprung from though, granted. Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert is your Peter Venkman stand-in, for starters, being the reserved one, while Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates is the Ray Stantz stand-in, being the one most gung-ho about fringe paranormal science, with Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann clearly being the Egon Spengler stand-in, being the oddest of the bunch who invents most of the gadgets, and finally, and not just because of their race, Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan is clearly the Winston Zeddmore stand-in, being the everyperson non-scientist that sort of stumbles into the Ghostbusters’ operation from a more grounded point of view. That’s really where the comparisons end though. Beyond that, the women portray entirely different characters that stand firmly apart from their classic male predecessors, and never truly come off like they’re trying to copy the original 80’s personalities.
Regarding the performances, they’re pretty goofy, but then, Ghostbusters in general is pretty goofy, so that’s not really a fair criticism. It’s easy to see though that Kate McKinnon is the big standout among the leads. McKinnon steals the movie and runs with it in within every scene that she’s in! Holtzmann is a hilarious favourite, being a very outgoing and very improper scientist that is rather unstable, but constantly lovable. Leslie Jones is also a standout, if for no other reason than her innate brash charisma, which effectively makes Patty fun and over-the-top, without making her annoying. Wiig and McCarthy, surprisingly, are a little overshadowed, meanwhile. Wiig is largely playing to type, being an awkward, mousy motormouth once again, and she’s fine, and has a handful of really funny lines, though Erin Gilbert is completely Kristen Wiig, with no real stretching. McCarthy at least goes to a greater effort to play against type as Abby, a character that isn’t McCarthy’s usual schtick of being a rude, loudmouthed slob, and is now a more straight-shooting oddball that still has moments of loud rudeness, but is mostly a silly caricature of a nerdy outcast. Again, it works, but compared to the much more noteworthy performances of McKinnon and Jones, McCarthy is a bit overshadowed in terms of being memorable, alongside Wiig.
Moving beyond the Ghostbusters, another big character in the movie is Kevin Beckman, the Ghostbusters’ receptionist, played by Chris Hemsworth. Depending on your outlook, some may be a tad bothered by Hemsworth’s performance, since he’s portraying a very over-the-top rendition of the dumb, very attractive and oblivious receptionist stereotype, except obviously turned on its head by making the character male instead of the usual female. If you don’t take offense to the idea that Hemsworth is making the only major male hero in the movie out to be an aggressive wannabe moron though, Hemsworth is another comedic standout, even if he’s definitely not portraying a real, grounded person. Some of the jokes with Kevin are a bit strained, since he’s sometimes played to be a bit too stupid, but Hemsworth is clearly having a great time in the role, and that helps Kevin remain likable, even when you’ll have literally no clue why he hasn’t been fired in any given scene.
One noticeable weakness in the cast however is the movie’s villain, Rowan, played by Neil Casey, a scientific genius that is laying devices around New York that are calling out ghosts. Casey does his best with what he’s got, but his antagonist is just too shallow to be worth caring much about, which is a shame, because he’s probably the most interesting antagonist that this ‘franchise’ has seen yet, on paper. The movie brings up an interesting connection between Rowan and the Ghostbusters, but beyond a mention, it barely does anything with it, which is a huge missed opportunity. Hell, in the third act, Casey even sort of just exits the movie, as if even the filmmakers know that he’s not very interesting. You’ll see how that works in the climax, which is a solid climax in all honesty, but considering the attempt to make a Ghostbusters villain that feels a bit more grounded, Rowan just never feels like a truly worthy foe to these ladies. Instead, it’s the ghostly threats that engage them a lot more, which I suppose is fair enough.
There is a fairly sizable cast beyond these characters, such as Andy Garcia as the city’s ass-covering mayor, and both Matt Walsh and Michael Kenneth Williams as two CIA agents that intervene in the Ghostbusters’ work, and they’re fairly inconsequential. What about the veteran Ghostbusters actors though? Well, I won’t spoil the details, but you will see familiar faces from the original two Ghostbusters movies, and many of them play into some amusing scenes and roles. In the end, many of the movie’s personalities don’t end up being that deep, but then, the personalities of the original Ghostbusters movies weren’t that deep either. What matters is, if your mind is open, the characters are pretty entertaining, and they will show you a good time in this fresh spin on a classic movie duology.
Another incorrect ‘observation’ from internet loudmouths that was spoken many months before the movie was even out, is that this Ghostbusters reboot tells exactly the same story as the 1984 original. That one’s actually not even close to correct! One particularly big strength in this reboot is the fact that its storyline is actually highly different from the 1984 original, and yet, still fits smoothly into the sensibilities of this property. Sure, there’s some common elements, like the Ghostbusters having to cobble together their operation after ending up out of work, and the climax involving a ghostly invasion of New York City, but pretty much everything else is heavily altered, or wholly unique. If you’re worried about this reboot rehashing the original movie, don’t, because, even beyond the genders of the leads, the difference between the 1984 movie’s story and the 2016 movie’s story, is night and day.
I won’t talk too much about the story, for want of avoiding spoilers (this is a movie that benefits from you knowing little about the story before going in, and no, seeing the 1984 movie does not count as, “Knowing the story”), but I will highlight some key differences in the progression to exemplify that prior point, and how it changes the reboot. First, the Ghostbusters were celebrated in the original movie (Walter Peck notwithstanding), after they did their first ghost capture. In this reboot however, the Ghostbusters are always made out to be frauds by just about everyone, and that creates a highly different obstacle in the story, to go along with the human villain. The second major difference is that this reboot is set up a lot more like a superhero origin story for the Ghostbusters. What that means is, there’s a lot more explanation given to the development and arsenal of the team, just as there’s a lot more focus on their public perception. Essentially, the 1984 movie was a more straightforward story of a group of oddballs fighting an evil they can’t comprehend with what amounted to an eccentric pest control racket. The 2016 movie however is about a similar group of oddballs battling their own reputation in trying to protect people, when the world around them is trying to deny a clear and present danger that only they seem to be paying attention to.
Honestly, the 1984 movie’s storyline is a little more consistently fun, but it’s also less developed, to compensate. Sometimes, that works in the original’s favour, especially when the reboot is left to rely more on quirky dialogue and character moments that can sometimes be hit-or-miss, but one thing that the reboot actually does better than the 1984 original, is that it takes some of the basic story concepts that were hinted at in the 1984 movie, and makes them feel a bit more effectively fleshed out. For better or for worse, the reboot, while still definitely a popcorn flick, is actively setting up a larger universe that will lend itself to sequels and spin-offs, whereas the original Ghostbusters seemed like it was being treated as a one-off, before its lesser sequel in 1989. Considering the better fleshed-out storytelling in the reboot then, it’s a shame that the big laughs come a bit sporadically, even if most of the movie does a good job of eliciting smiles and chuckles from audiences of all ages that aren’t determined to hate what they’re seeing.
As a comedy, the 1984 Ghostbusters is better for sure, though that’s not to say that the 2016 Ghostbusters is unfunny. It’s just not quite as consistently funny, since some of the jokes are strained, or just don’t land. As a Ghostbusters movie that’s about the actual, you know, ghost-busting material in the story though, the reboot is the superior movie, no question. It just does a lot more with the actual ghost-busting material than the original did, and that makes the action feel more ambitious and more appealing, just as it makes the ghosts feel more like an actual danger, rather than a mild nuisance like they were in the 1984 movie (again, Gozer notwithstanding). That’s another huge difference between the reboot and the original; In the original movie, the ghosts weren’t an active threat, and were merely an inadvertent side effect of the coming of Gozer, who largely minded their own business until they were provoked. In the reboot, the ghosts are a direct threat, and are legitimately dangerous and harmful to people, which, when you think about it, makes the Ghostbusters a lot more necessary, because this time, they actually are protecting people! That’s ironic, considering that this is the movie where the Ghostbusters are actually almost never taken seriously, unlike the original, where they were widely loved by the public before long.
So, which storyline did it better? Well, it’s kind of a wash. The original 1984 movie was a bit more fun, funny and tightly-constructed, but it was clearly gimped by the more primitive filmmaking technology of the 80’s, which held back quite a few of the more spectacular scenes. The 2016 reboot, meanwhile, isn’t consistently on-point with its comedy, but it definitely has the more cool and engaging storyline between the two movies. If you’re going for the ghost material, you definitely won’t be disappointed, even if Ghostbusters’ comedic elements don’t manage to keep pace with many of this Summer’s previous offerings.
Director, Paul Feig has made a career out of making funny movies with funny women, and has already made a name for himself with a trio of hits, those being 2011’s Bridesmaids, 2013’s The Heat, and 2015’s Spy. Ghostbusters is easily Feig’s most ambitious movie to date, being a true blockbuster with spectacle and action, on top of being a proud comedy. That’s why it’s a bit surprising that Feig nails the spectacle more than he does the comedy in Ghostbusters, even if he does still manage quite a few very funny scenes, especially with this movie’s solid cast to work with.
The major gripe with Feig’s directing in Ghostbusters is that the way some action scenes are stitched together sometimes feels a bit manic and sloppy. This movie is clearly trying very hard to be the slicker and cooler Ghostbusters story in contrast to the 1984 original, and in fairness, it does succeed at that for the most part. It’s just too bad that it’s difficult to follow a few ghost-driven scenes, especially in the climax, since Feig seems to have a good knowledge for setting up scenes, but not as careful a hand with executing some more chaotic ghost sequences. There’s also a handful of abrupt smash cuts as scenes change too, which can be a bit jarring, if reasonably infrequent. Since several scenes from the trailers are missing in the movie’s final cut, it’s probable that Ghostbusters was edited down quite a bit after the backlash by studio mandate, especially since this nearly-two-hour movie originally clocked in at four hours long in its rough cut, according to Feig in an interview. The editing hiccups are a bit distracting sometimes, but not a dealbreaker, especially since Feig still balances spectacle and fun pretty well overall.
Another element of Feig’s direction, for better or worse, is a willful acknowledgment of the legacy behind the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie. Sometimes, this is done well, with cleverly-placed references and sight gags. Sometimes, it’s a little on-the-nose, and stinks a bit of the reboot being afraid of disrespecting its predecessor. As much as not every reference to the 1984 Ghostbusters is a real winner though, it’s tough to really accuse this reboot of disrespecting the original, which it’s clearly made with a lot of love for. Feig’s earnest adoration of this reboot’s inspiration is palpable in every scene, and yet, he does provide a more spectacular, colourful spin on the idea for the modern age, which helps his reboot stand apart from the 1984 original very nicely. Feig’s direction has been more consistently appealing in his prior movies, but this is still a movie made by its helmer with no shortage of love and heart.
Theodore Shapiro composes the soundtrack to Ghostbusters, being a small-scale comedy composer that seems like an odd choice, given this reboot’s grand designs. Surprisingly though, Shapiro’s music suite revels in the chance to celebrate this movie’s spectacle, being intentionally overblown, to the point of almost feeling like self-parody. It’s an interesting direction for the music, though fortunately, the movie does work in the classic Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters” song in a couple of appropriate instances, including the intro, which intentionally calls back to the opener style of the original Ghostbusters movies from the 80’s. There’s also a remixed version of the, “Ghostbusters” song by Fallout Boy, featuring Missy Elliott, which makes a couple of appearances in the movie itself and credits, and it’s actually a better tune than you would think! The original Ray Parker Jr. tune is better, but the hip-hop/rock remix by Fallout Boy and Missy Elliott is respectable, and helps further contribute to the reboot’s modern identity.
The rest of the sound composition and mixing is also pretty good overall, especially in a premium theatre format like IMAX. If you’re watching the IMAX 3D cut, the impressive scale of the ghosts is captured well with some very choice sound effects coming from the IMAX speakers, which make both the ghosts and the Ghostbusters feel like powerful, unstable forces clashing together, lending a lot of impressive might to the reboot’s action scenes. The equipment of the Ghostbusters is a real highlight in fact, with Proton Packs, Ghost Traps and some of the cool all-new gadgets really sounding impressively built and realized! You’ll really believe the destructive potential of the ghosts and their power in the reboot’s climax as well, which is so efficiently chaotic that even the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man would be impressed!
As much as there were complaints about the look of the modern CGI ghosts of 2016’s Ghostbusters in some circles, it’s difficult to deny that the 2016 Ghostbusters movie looks very impressively realized! As I said, the all-new gadgets of these new Ghostbusters are just as cool as the classic Proton Pack and Ghost Trap devices (which are given conservative, but polished redesigns in this reboot, beyond the P.K.E. Meter, which has been given a full overhaul to fix its dated-looking 80’s display), and the way that their effects combine with the ghost effects actually makes for some pretty dazzling shows of light and colour! Another thing that the reboot actually does suceed at doing better than the original on this note is making a squad of even more outfitted Ghostbusters with an even cooler arsenal of gear, which creates more of an action focus in the climax especially, but when the new devices are this impressive to see in motion, wrangling ghosts and repelling spirits, it’s really difficult to complain.
As much as the ghosts’ designs are blatant CGI though, which makes sense, considering that they’re not physical beings, Ghostbusters actually makes use of a lot more practical effects than the trailers let on too. The Ghostbusters’ gear is all real, and its destructive effects are all done with practical effects work. Likewise, a lot of the physical comedy is done without the aid of CGI, whenever ghosts are involved or not, leaving Ghostbusters as a movie that isn’t afraid to use CGI for the ghost designs, and as aids for whenever is necessary, but it also doesn’t lean on it as a crutch either.
Even the ghosts are also given a more physical dimension than you would think in the reboot, since all of them ‘slime’ whatever they come into contact with (this is no longer unique to just Slimer, apparently), on account of a human scientist finding an artificial means to force them into the living world. The slime is all done with practical effects, and it’s a way to help the CGI ghosts better feel like they’re actually there, even when they’re clearly not. Truth be told, the special effects work in Ghostbusters is really great, and has clearly had tons of effort put into it. It’s tough to really understand why anyone would take issue with it, since this is probably as good as a modern Ghostbusters reboot could possibly look!
That statement becomes all the more true when you see the movie in 3D as well. I was genuinely blown away by the 3D presentation in Ghostbusters in my own IMAX 3D screening, since the 3D presentation is actually phenomenal! This is probably the best 3D movie that I’ve seen all year, and I never imagined it would be! In fact, the movie is given a letterbox format that actually resembles one of those classic 3D attractions from theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios, with objects and projectiles sometimes dangling and dropping over the letterbox bars, which makes the 3D incredibly potent and immersive. True, the 3D can sometimes be gimmicky, as Proton Packs’ streams constantly blast around the audience, ghosts appear to vomit slime right in the viewers’ faces, and projectiles appear to fly all around the theatre, but if you’re not uptight about it or over-sensitive to it, the 3D presentation in Ghostbusters is actually a ton of fun, and a massive incentive to see the movie in theatres! I absolutely insist that you see Ghostbusters in at least standard digital 3D, since some of the visual magic just isn’t the same in 2D. If you have the means, I’d even insist that you spring for the IMAX 3D cut if it’s an option for you, which, surprisingly, makes for one of the most visually stunning movie experiences that has hit theatres so far in 2016, especially with the audio upgrade that you’ll also get in an IMAX theatre!
Ghostbusters does a handful of things better than the 1984 original, even if it doesn’t manage to overtake that classic as a whole in the end. Still, in the moment, the movie really is very entertaining, and quite a lot of fun, if you don’t think about it too hard, which, sadly, most Ghostbusters fans and movie buffs will. The comedy is slightly above average, with a handful of standout funny moments that usually come courtesy of Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth or Leslie Jones, but where this Ghostbusters reboot really shines is in terms of its action-packed spectacle. Ghostbusters has never looked, sounded or presented itself in a more impressive and cool fashion, and that’s especially true when you experience it in 3D and/or IMAX!
Like I said, if you’ve already made up your mind about this reboot, then you will see the movie that you want to see, and no review or opinion is going to change your mind on that. Thus, I do hope that you approach Ghostbusters with an open mind, divorce your expectations from the 1984 original, and appreciate this reboot for what it is; A pretty good popcorn flick that looks very distinct and impressive for its time. When it comes down to it, isn’t that exactly what the original was in 1984? I suppose in that respect then, the Ghostbusters reboot does succeed at replicating that appeal for the modern era, which is why it’s a huge shame that the peanut gallery of the internet doesn’t even want to try to accept that. As much as many 80’s kids put the original Ghostbusters from 1984 on a pedestal, to many average adult moviegoers and to critics, that’s all it was; A distinctly fun popcorn flick that many never imagined would grow into such a beloved movie many decades later, let alone spawn a sequel, cartoons, video games, and a huge selection of toys and collectibles.
So, do I recommend Ghostbusters to those who are at least willing to try to meet it halfway? Absolutely! After all, it’s just a movie, and it never invited the ludicrous level of controversy and backlash that it sustained in any capacity, especially when its final product turned out pretty well, all things considered. The reboot probably won’t stand as the same enduring classic that its 1984 inspiration is, but in the moment, in today’s theatres, it’s a great time, especially in 3D, and it does manage to do a satisfactory amount of groundwork in terms of expanding the lore behind this concept, and creating a bigger, more engaging ghost-busting world that lends itself to a renewed, modern franchise.
I didn’t know the man, but I’d imagine that Harold Ramis would be pretty proud of this movie. It’s not perfect, but it’s true to the spirit of what he created, and it’s very entertaining. Maybe you won’t like it, despite your best efforts, but this is not a movie that you should actively try to view with contempt. I doubt that Ramis would have. Please bear that in mind whenever you feel the need to perpetuate an undeserved, uninformed and highly gun-jumping online shitstorm that just makes my entire generation look bad, regardless of the outcome of the product in question.
- New Ghostbusters characters are a lot of fun, especially Holtzmann and Patty
- Fantastic action and effects, with phenomenal 3D work
- Honours the original's legacy while forging a new, unique story
- Some fumbled editing in the action scenes
- Villain is shallow and forgettable
- Humour can sometimes be hit-or-miss