Review: The New GHOSTBUSTERS is Way Better Than It Looks
When a female-led reboot of Ghostbusters was announced, I never could have anticipated just how terrible internet commenters would react to the news. More toxic hatred was spilled online about this movie than any in recent memory, and things only got worse when the trailers started coming out. Having loved director Paul Feig's previous film, Spy, which also had some awful trailers advertising it, I held out the slightest sliver of faith that Ghostbusters (which has now officially been retitled Ghostbusters: Answer The Call to avoid confusion with the original) would end up being worthwhile...so it's with a massive sigh of relief I tell you that the movie is pretty damn good.
(Light spoilers ahead.)
The first half of the film is expertly plotted; one point naturally leads to the next with a smooth flow and perfect pacing. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a Columbia University employee trying to secure tenure when she's confronted with some bad news: without Erin's permission, her former colleague and friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has published a book the two co-wrote but abandoned years earlier, which details their theories about the paranormal. These unsubstantiated claims could ruin Erin's career, so she confronts Abby and her friend's engineer/physicist lab partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), who agree to stop selling the book if Erin comes along to answer a report of a possible ghost sighting.
Once this early incarnation of the Ghostbusters takes shape, they round out the group with Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their endearingly idiotic receptionist, and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker who's had her own ghost encounter and wants to join the team. A proliferation of ghost sightings occur all over the city, and it's up to the ladies to figure out what's causing them and to stop the person responsible before the city is completely destroyed.
Despite the somewhat lackluster humor depicted in the trailers, the movie is often laugh-out-loud funny. There are a handful of jokes that don't land, but for the most part, the ratio of success is much higher than I hoped. Wiig does solid work as the traditional straight woman opposite the rest of the group's more bombastic personalities, gamely taking the brunt of the film's big slime moments. McKinnon is a movie star waiting to happen, a delightfully zany presence whose facial expressions and darting eyes are almost as funny as her dialogue. And Jones, who the advertising indicates might be the weakest link of the group, is a natural fit with this group and works much better in context. She's a welcome addition to the team, and her character's in-depth knowledge of New York City history doesn't have the stench of feeling "written" for the sake of plot convenience, it feels like she's a fully-formed person who is legitimately interested in these things in her spare time.
McCarthy, meanwhile, is a performer I haven't quite been able to wrap my head around. In her lesser movies (example: The Identity Thief), you can almost feel that classic comedian desperation radiating from her, as if she's trying so hard to throw herself into the role for our amusement that it ends up being more sad than funny. But every time she works with Feig, that sense of desperation goes away, and their collaboration seems to be the secret ingredient that allows her to really shine. Her worst tendencies are largely curbed here, and she's not nearly as physical with her comedy as she often is elsewhere, which is to the film's benefit. Put another way: it's like she's playing a real character in Ghostbusters instead of a "Melissa McCarthy character."
The supporting cast is killer, too, with every small role filled by a recognizable actor. Zach Woods, Cecily Strong, Matt Walsh, Michael K. Williams, Andy Garcia...the list goes on, and they all knock it out of the park. But the best supporting player may be Chris Hemsworth, whose moronic receptionist Kevin gets some of the film's absolute funniest lines. Hemsworth's super-serious Thor has never been my favorite take on a Marvel character, and I haven't seen him in Vacation, so I'm not sure if he was a comedy highlight of that film or not, but this is the first time I saw him in something and thought, "I underestimated this guy. He's capable of more than I thought." (There's a bit about the name of Kevin's dog that's the funniest thing I've heard this year.)
I've essentially been doing nothing but praising the movie in this entire review, but the film isn't flawless. The visual effects are outstanding throughout, but by the time the film arrives at its VFX-heavy climax, I felt as if the visuals started to get a little repetitive. There's an extended sequence in which the Ghostbusters fight waves of ghosts in the middle of an abandoned New York City intersection, and while I appreciate the introduction of new gadgets that allow for some variation from the proton packs, the scene seemed to stretch on a few minutes too long. That was the first moment I was taken out of the movie and left thinking about how even though the effects look terrific right now, they'll surely look dated in a few years.
An objective comparison between this movie and the original is impossible, especially since the first film is so clearly tied to not only to its era of filmmaking and the iconic heights of its stars at the time, but because of how we were all younger when we saw it for the first time and nostalgia can cause us to put up blinders when it comes to finding faults with things we loved as kids. A majority of people have already made up their minds about if they're going to hate this movie before they've even seen it, so while it has a couple of references and callbacks to the first movie (stay after the credits to see another one), it's not aimed at 30-something year old males who loved the original. It's aimed at a new generation and a different demographic, and it's awesome that today's young women will be able to see this and think about how busting ghosts is cool and fun when they may not have been able to have the same personal identification with the 1984 classic. But when you strip away all of the gender politics surrounding the movie and just look at the movie itself, I came away with one clear thought in mind: I'm just glad it's funny.