I’m not much of a Ghostbusters fan. I like the original 1984 film, but that’s really about it. I’ve never watched the 1989 sequel, though I hear it’s not as good; I’ve never seen the cartoons associated with the films, though many seem to like them; and, really, despite the fact that I enjoy contemplating high-concept blockbuster movies, I have not given this franchise much thought at all*. I point this out because, as I have recently discovered, there are a surprisingly large number of people who seem to hold this particular property in pretty high regard, and these folks are an interesting lot. On the one hand, their love for Ghostbusters has its benefits, like this fascinating video which explains how the original film is a subversive masterpiece. On the other hand, their dedication to the franchise as they see it can be a little troubling, particularly in regards to this year’s reboot. Some have fully rejected it as something akin to heresy and refused to see it, while others seemingly orchestrated a movement to give this new Ghostbusters‘ trailers overwhelmingly large numbers of thumbs down ratings on Youtube. Fandoms are strange sometimes.
Anyways, I’d like to think that I have approached this reboot with an open mind. I didn’t have any strong feelings either way going into the theater, and I was willing to accept the film if it was good or to knock it if it was bad, all the while ignoring the overlying conversations and arguments that it has generated.
And, as it turned out, this movie falls somewhere in between for me. It’s not an especially good film, but it’s not awful either. It’s the cinematic equivalent of store-brand vanilla ice cream: real ice cream/movie aficionados may have their issues, but most people will be okay with it.
By far, the best aspect about the movie is the cast. The four Ghostbusters–played by Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones–are all terrific. They all have very distinct personalities and work well off each other. Some of the best moments of the movie don’t involve them hunting ghosts but rather just have them talking with each other, exchanging funny quips, and letting the audience get to know them as people first and foremost. I like the tense backstory between Wiig’s and McCarthy’s characters, for example, and I appreciate how quirky and off-center McKinnon plays her role. It’s very enjoyable. And I know some people were worried that Leslie Jones’s character might be too obnoxious, but that’s really not the case. She’s generally fairly competent and intelligent, and the kind of humor people were worried about is appropriately spaced in the film so that it’s not laid on too thick. There’s also Chris Hemsworth playing against type as the Ghostbusters idiotic, bumbling secretary. It’s a little strange, but that’s kind of the point, and I thought it was acceptable.
On top of that, the movie features amusing cameos by actors from the original Ghostbusters movie. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver all make appearances, which are all very great moments and constitute the right amount of fan service.
Unfortunately, despite the film having good characters, it doesn’t have the best writing. For one, the film isn’t as consistently funny as you would hope for. There’s no shortage of jokes, but they’re only amusing about half the time. The other half they’re overly juvenile, undermined by bad timing, or simply fail at being funny. Next, while the story is not an exact retread of the 1984 original, the basic beats that played out in that picture play out here as well; only this time around the narrative doesn’t flow as well, with an improper allocation of time for the movie’s various moments. The result is a plot that is clunkier than it should be, alternately feeling rushed in some areas and dragged out in others.
While I’m on the subject, I admit that I went into this film intending to evaluate it entirely on its own terms, independent of the 1984 version, but, as you can probably tell, it really is next to impossible to do that. By having the same general plot and cameos from 1984 film, this movie does much to invite comparisons to its older namesake. And the allusions to the original don’t stop there. This movie also features the same Ghostbusters logo, the same goofy-yet-awesome Ray Parker song (and a few different covers of it as well), and even some non-human cameos from the 1984 film, such as Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man (both the actual character and another character at the end that is clearly riffing on him). Not only is this movie obviously living in the shadow of its predecessor, it seems quite happy to do so; and despite having a completely different continuity and the freedom of the filmmakers to tell any story they would want to, it looks as though they would rather be a retread than a reboot.
That’s fine, I guess, but it does earn unfavorable comparisons to the original when this movie fails to live up to it. I really wish this newer picture had tried to be a little more different, in terms of story, than its predecessor. The concept of fighting ghosts with high-tech weaponry could generate countless narratives; I don’t see why they had to stick so close to the 1984 film in that regard.
That’s not to say there’s nothing new, but much of what is new is flawed. The villain, for example, is fascinating in principle and certainly something original — at least until the end when he essentially does the exact same thing that Gozer did in the original Ghostbusters — for these movies, but in execution he’s fairly boring. In another example, the movie has an interesting plot point involving the attempt by the government to cover up and discredit the Ghostbusters’ actions in order to avoid widespread panic, but it’s too under-serviced to have any kind of real impact. One of the new things about this story that does work, though, involves some brand-new weapons that the Ghostbusters develop to fight the ghosts. It makes for a fun finale to see the Ghostbusters use a variety of different tools to take on hordes of ghosts, and I definitely would have liked to have seen more of that sort of thing throughout the rest of the film.
This movie straddles a weird line between good and bad for me; but it ultimately gets enough right that I will come down on the side of liking it. The characters are appreciable, the cameos are enjoyable, the action is alright, and it’s funny enough to get you through the times when it’s not so funny. This movie has its fair share of problems, but I still consider it a net-positive theatrical experience and recommend checking it out. So yeah, today, I’m eating that store-brand vanilla ice cream. And I really do hope that some of the folks who expressed genuine rage at this reboot can calm down. It’s not as good as it could have been, and it’s perfectly understandable not to like this movie in comparison to the original, but it really doesn’t deserve the anger that it has gotten, particularly when considering all the other garbage in theaters at the moment.
That all being the case, I do want this film to be enough of a success to get a sequel; preferably one that goes in a completely new direction with this material. As I said earlier, there are countless possibilities for a film about the Ghostbusters, and I would love to see these characters explore some that we haven’t seen before. I think that would be pretty cool. In the mean time, yeah, go see this movie.
*That is until all the rage about this reboot started, anyways.