Let me be clear about one thing before I begin. I’ve never been a huge fan of the original Ghostbusters. I probably haven’t seen it more than once or twice since it was first released in 1984. I have absolutely no opinion about whether or not it is sacrilege to reboot it in 2016 with a female cast. I share this only to let you know that this will be an entirely objective review, with no comparisons between the two and no judgment about their differences. It is based solely on a new movie I saw three days ago.
I enjoyed the new Ghostbusters. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has a surprisingly strong story. However, like most other movies, even ones I love, it’s not perfect… not by a long shot. There are probably more missed opportunities than there are golden ones. Whether or not you like it depends on how you like the cast… who you think is funny. If you’re not fond of Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon or Leslie Jones, you’re going to have a tough two hours. The situations themselves aren’t necessarily funny; but their reactions to them can be.
Three of these four women come from Saturday Night Live. Generally speaking, when SNL stars make the transition from television to movies, they’re not always successful. They may be great at characters in short sketches, but not so great at creating fully-formed characters in longer movies. (That’s probably why so many of them are memorable only when they have brief cameos.) The difference lies in being a comedian/performer vs. being an actor. That’s how I’m going to consider the four Ghostbusters.
Faring best is Leslie Jones. I feared her character, Patty Tolan, a New York metro transit employee who wants to join the team after having a close encounter in a subway tunnel, would be as one note as her SNL persona. She’s normally loud and bombastic. She’s loud and bombastic here, too, but she also shows range. She’s the funniest person in the movie and shows the most promise as a real actress. She also seems to be the most genuine resident of Manhattan in a movie where the plot revolves around its location.
Next best is Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates, the “founder” of Ghostbusters, if you will. Really, she’s playing Melissa McCarthy, or the version of her with which we’re all familiar. We’ve seen all her reactions, her subtle side comments, and her facial expressions before. I happen to think she’s very funny, so I enjoyed her character. However, there’s nothing fresh about Abby. Much of the slapstick revolves around her talent for physical humor, even though I didn’t enjoy the slapstick moments in Ghostbusters.
Most disappointing is Kristen Wiig as Erin Gilbert. She starts out promising as a serious physics professor trying to get tenure. When it’s learned that in her past she co-wrote a book about the paranormal with Abby, it’s the beginning of the end for her career and she loses her job. Wiig is perfect as the nerdy, uptight “straight man,” but we never see her transform satisfactorily into a new person. Instead, she’s reduced to fawning over the hunky assistant, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), in what becomes a running one-joke gag.
Kate McKinnon fares worst, but I’m not surprised. I know everyone thinks she’s the greatest thing to hit SNL, but to me her characters are just characterizations, based on quirks and mannerisms rather than more substantive qualities. She’s exactly the same here, and I didn’t laugh at her even once. If possible, she overacts… the quirks and mannerisms of Jillian Holtzmann, the “techie” of the team, are distracting. Maybe she tries too hard? Either that, or she was given free rein to improvise, but had no understanding of what it means to act.
Hemsworth is funnier than at least two and a half of the women on the actual Ghostbusters team. He starts out as a blonde god who’s dumb as a box of rocks. Just when you fear he’s going to be only the other half of Wiig’s running one-joke gag, he becomes a major player when he’s possessed by the ghost of the movie’s big bad, Rowan North (Neil Casey). Hemsworth as North expresses joy and wonder at suddenly inhabiting the body of someone who works out and gets by on his looks and charms rather than by his smarts.
The plot revolves around North’s attempt to create a vortex that will release all of New York City’s ghosts and start an apocalypse. Of course, he’s successful, or the team wouldn’t have any ghosts to bust in the giant, special effects laden finale. When I said the story was surprisingly strong, I meant that screenwriters Kate Dippold and Paul Feig, who directed, do a good job of spreading out the overall plot and weaving it into the other shenanigans. Structurally, I think it’s stronger than the paranormal fault lines the crisscross the city in the movie.
I hope this isn’t a spoiler, but it surprised me because I’ve tried to avoid all the negative internet publicity about Ghostbusters. Key cast members of the original movie do indeed have cameos. I would have preferred they did not. If you’re trying to do something new and there’s such controversy about it, don’t pander to fans of the original; remain confident in your ability to start fresh. Worse than that, the cameos are just not funny. When you squander appearances by Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson gets the biggest laugh, there’s a problem.
Overall, though, I enjoyed Ghostbusters, probably as much as the original, if I remembered it. That means I won’t tell people it’s amazing and I won’t tell people it’s awful. I’ll let those who like it, like it, and those who don’t, don’t. That also means I won’t be a huge fan of it and I won’t be watching it over and over again. I’ll just appreciate it for what it is, a stronger than average comedy with its laughs as well as its groans. The best thing I can say might be that it’s not offensive. It’s not necessarily a welcome experience, but it’s certainly not an unpleasant one.