Review: Ghostbusters (2016)


After all the buzz and backlash, the hoopla and hate concerning the new “all-female” Ghostbusters, it was underwhelming to discover that the film is just a decent reboot. It’s pretty enjoyable, faithful enough, but not very remarkable.

As Hollywood reboots go, the new Ghostbusters is straightforward. It includes nostalgic nods and cameos referencing the previous films while separating itself from the storyworld of Ghostbusters I and II. This is far from the narrative interplay and thematic complexity of “diegetic reboots” like The Force Awakens or even Jurassic World.  

The story is serviceable, mostly concerned with bringing together the new crew and continuing the previous films’ thematic interest in the legitimacy of the paranormal. When her past as a paranormal researcher comes to light, science professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) loses her position at Columbia University. In the process, she reunites with her childhood chum and fellow researcher, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Yates is aided by the crazy engineer, Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). A street-wise subway attendant, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), also joins the crew. The four hire the loveable idiot Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) to be their receptionist, and start up a ghost-catching business. Meanwhile, a weirdo employee in an old hotel, Rowan North (Neil Casey), has sinister plans to open up a portal between our world and the world beyond.

For the record, the new cast featuring comedy powerhouses Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig along with Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones from SNL works. My main complaint—the real complaint that should have been registered—is hardly something that I can pin on this movie alone. Sadly, the new Ghostbusters exhibits the dominant weaknesses of both 21st-century Hollywood’s zany comedy and action blockbuster: it needs a ruthless trimming.

Sharing characteristics with director Paul Feig’s other comedies starring McCarthy and Wiig, namely Bridesmaids and Spy, as well as the comedies of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Will Ferrell, Ghostbusters is a loose blend of rambling verbal jokes, erratic references, and slapstick visual gags. Many of the jokes land, but they sometimes owe little to the circumstances of this particular story: they could be fit into virtually any comedy starring the cast members. I was also surprised to see Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin steal the show. Hemsworth plays a hilarious mimbo! As is the case with Feig’s superior Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters should have been ruthlessly pared down. Contemporary Hollywood comedians should familiarize themselves with the trim running times of Monty Python.

The same goes for the action. This is Ghostbusters, so I don’t expect excellent action. What I didn’t need was a drawn out, action-choked climax in the vein of the current DC films and most Marvel movies.

Like the original, this Ghostbusters contains a pleasant mix of paranormal adventure and comedy. I’m not usually one to lament the loss of practical special effects, but I’ve always been fond of how the use of puppets in the original imparted a strange eeriness to its ghosts and ghouls. It was never very scary, but it was certainly strange and creepy. The new movie has a couple good creepy scenes, notably those in the old mansion, and I like the atmosphere of the old hotel Rowan works at, but spirits such as the green CGI dragon just don’t work. They look more silly than strange. The climax where ghouls are unleashed on New York City is probably as effective as the original’s, that is, if it hadn’t been drawn out for so long. I for one never think back to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene as the highlight of the original. I prefer the eerie set-up of both the original and this new one.

The new cast is probably solid enough for the new Ghostbusters to be remembered five years from now. (It underperformed at the box office, but I expect that it will have a decent shelf life on streaming services.) All in all, the female-lead cast seems like a good choice in terms of product differentiation. I would add, though, that this approach has its problems, and indicates Hollywood’s deep-set aversion to real risk. We need more female-driven blockbusters. As far as I’m concerned, though, the best method is not to simply redo a bunch of franchises using female leads. If the new Ghostbusters is any indication, it would seem that women in film are being held back not simply by active misogyny and anti-feminist attitudes in the industry, but also by the plain, stuck-in-the-mud lack of originality of contemporary Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking.

6 out of 10

Ghostbusters (2016, USA/Australia)

Directed by Paul Feig; written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig based on the 1984 film; starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Neil Casey, and Chris Hemsworth.