I’m not sure a film has divided potential audiences as much as the 2016 reboot of “Ghostbusters.” The remake hit screens July 15, but it’s been a conversation starter for months.
When director Paul Feig announced his all-female cast back in January of last year, the proverbial poo hit the fan. There were those upset with the gender swap, while still others complained the classic 1984 comedy — with its 1989 sequel — was amazing and didn’t need to be remade.
People complained Feig was ruining their childhood by rebooting the series. And others were bothered by the fact that a statement was made by replacing the male leads with women.
It didn’t get better after the trailer was released. The first “Ghostbusters” trailer has become the most disliked video in Youtube history. It wasn’t a good trailer, but the dislikes weren’t based solely on its merit.
The new film focuses on Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), two scientists and friends who grew apart after writing a book on the paranormal. The two are thrown back together when the book resurfaces like Harry Potter on the Dursleys’ doorstep. Erin is on the cusp of tenure at Columbia University, but Abby is selling copies of the book online, and it’s being noticed.
Things go south for the scientists after they investigate a ghost sighting at a local historical mansion with Abby’s new partner, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The scientists find a very real ghost and, of course, film the whole thing, leading many in the city to call them hoaxes.
The three are later joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a seasoned New Yorker who’s had a scare of her own and wants to fight back.
One of the film’s biggest downfalls is its villain: Rowan (Neil Casey). He’s been disregarded and bullied by society, so he’s not going to take it anymore. There are some problems with Rowan. No. 1, he’s not creepy in that classical “ooooh, scary villain” way. He’s creepy in that “afraid to walk down a dark alley and have pepper spray at the ready” way. No. 2, he suffers from a complex that we’ve lately seen in a lot of films: a convoluted, implausibly intricate evil scheme. Gone are the days of simply taking over the world. To this end, the Big Bad also has gadgets and gizmos aplenty.
Rowan is the darkest villain we’ve seen in the “Ghostbusters” franchise. Granted, sex-hungry Zuul searching for the key to her gates, and Viggo — need I say more — aren’t great comparisons. The original films aimed for levity with their villains, while Rowan is a bullied, down-on-his-luck man who must make a big decision in order to bring about his diabolical plan. He’s super lame, but his subplot is extremely dark.
The cast is rounded out by Chris Hemsworth, who plays the Ghostbusters’ receptionist, Kevin. He’s dumber than a brick but he’s awfully pretty to look at. Both his lack of brains and abundance of brawn are an easy mark for jokes — and Erin’s slightly pathetic lustful stares.
As this summary demonstrates, this isn’t the “Ghostbusters” of the 1980s. Its differences both hurt and help the overall product.
Hollywood is full of remakes and reboots. Some of them succeed — 2009’s “Star Trek” or 2007’s “Transformers” — while others fail miserably — 2015’s “Jem and the Holograms” or 2012’s “Total Recall.” There are new ideas coming out of Hollywood, but there’s also a lot of rebooted, recast, recycled, rehashed and stories. (It’s what happens when attendance drops for original programming. Moviemaking is a business, and studios aren’t going to finance films that people won’t see. Intellectual properties with built-in fan bases are no-brainers from a business standpoint.)
Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is an excellent example of how to reboot a franchise. It’s fun. It has some fantastic performances by a very talented cast, who are the new Ghostbusters. They do a terrific job, and I never once doubted that they would be the people I was going to call if I saw something strange in my neighborhood.
Many have noted McKinnon’s breakout performance. I’m pretty certain I developed a girl crush during the most bad-ass takedown of ghosts I’ve ever seen during the film’s climatic fight. She also isn’t an analogue for any original Ghostbuster. She’s kooky and zany like Venkman. She’s a dedicated, slightly myopic scientist like Spengler. She also embodies a certain naive sense of wonder in the paranormal and science that’s reminiscent of Ray (Stantz).
McCarthy’s Abby and Wiig’s Erin are less dynamic. The pair function as obvious stand-ins for Spengler and Ray, but they’re also the conscience and heart of this team much like Winston (Zeddemore) did in the first ones. Their relationship is the crux of this movie, and it guides their relationships with the other protagonists. As they forgive each other, recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and welcome each other back into their lives, Abby and Erin begin to create a new family. It is a marked difference from the original team, which was less of an actual family unit and more of a fraternity of intellectuals who embraced the same goals and ideology.
Jones’ Patty is a fish out of water like Winston. However, she also brings attributes that haven’t been seen on a Ghostbusters team. She is driven and intent on doing what’s right from the beginning. She is the purest protagonist ever seen in this franchise. She has no self-interest. She just wants to fix problems in her city.
The film does have problems though. There’s the super lame villain. There’s the cameos that don’t quite work — all of the original film’s heavy-hitters except Rick Moranis and Ramis, who passed away in 2014, all make an appearance in the new film. Murray is a debunker who wants to prove the scientists are frauds, and Aykroyd is a taxi driver who declares a ghost to be a “Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor.” It was cute to hear Aykroyd say he ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but both of these cameos felt out-of-place and forced.
For the franchise’s faithful, the film does pay homage to some of the things we know and love about the originals. The Ecto-1 is back, and the fire station is still there. Even the iconic theme song by Ray Parker Jr. and Slimer are featured.
While the fan service might seem heavy-handed at times, the creative team behind this new film clearly knows and respects what’s come before. They know the love that fans have for the original Ghostbusters. It’s evident in every scene, every line reading, every shot. I don’t know why anyone would argue that this film isn’t respectful to the memory of “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II.” I’d argue that this film actually has a better comprehension of those films and what they were saying than the majority of reboots. As a result, the new “Ghostbusters” receives the creative torch and runs with it.
And, it’s worth noting that the original creative team were actually the ones who passed it. Aykroyd, who struggled for nearly 30 years to make a third Ghostbusters film, is executive producer on this one. Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two films, is a producer as well. Their production company, “Ghost Corps,” was the driving force behind it.
Audiences should be grateful for their dedication, because an entirely new generation has the chance to fall in love with eccentric New York parapsychologists. It’d be a shame if those of us who first fell in love with this intellectual property and turned it into a cultural phenomenon failed to support this new team. It doesn’t matter though, because that new generation has already discovered this team. I’d encourage everybody to meet this team for themselves.