Spoilerific. Be Warned.
Non-spoiler review: It was a fun, well-made movie. Better than Ghostbusters 2. Go see it.
I am an OG Ghostbusters fan. I was there in 1984 on the first day and several times more that summer. In ’89 I was there again, slightly less impressed, but happy to see the team back in action. I own the soundtracks on vinyl, cassette, CD, and digital. When there were no toys, I made them. I loved the movies, the RPG, the cartoons… it was my jam. I feel a sense of ownership and entitlement about the franchise but I realize that is just an illusion. I feel protective of my memories and the reputation of this thing that provided me more than just entertainment but had an effect on my life and the course I chose through it. Alas. Sony Pictures is not beholden to me or my memories to make another movie representing the now 34-55 male moviegoer. This is Ghostbusters for the kids of 2016, not the ones of 1984. Or 1986. Or 1989. That said, it is not inaccessible to the rest of us. In fact, great pains were taken to make sure OG Ghostbusters was honored.
Some folks don’t get that and will hate the new Ghostbusters because it isn’t “theirs.” It’s a shame, too, because the new movie is actually really good. In some respects, it is brilliant. It is far better than Ghostbusters 2. It is almost as good as the original. But it is a different movie. And that’s one of its strengths.
Most of the complaints filed about the trailers and characters were unfounded. Let’s be honest: it isn’t a perfect movie, but neither were the first two. But beyond the sad clowns who believe this will ruin their childhood memories, there is a body of people who believe this is just a cash-in and an unnecessary movie. That isn’t really true. Yes, it follows a familiar pattern, but it is a funny, engaging feminist film that stands on its own.
Or, you can believe Mr. Pecker…
Sorry. Moving on.
This is the same general story about paranormal investigators coming together at a time when they are needed to save the world. This time, the crisis is a ley line breech caused by a weirdo who just wants to watch New York burn. He uses the same technology the Ghostbusters designed to amplify psychokinetic energy and raise ghosts around the city. In many ways it is a better explanation for the Ghostbusters existing than the original’s which was just good timing going into business.
Yates and Gilbert wrote a book on the paranormal where they agreed ghosts were real. Years later, Gilbert is trying to be a legit scientist disavowing the “pseudoscience” of the paranormal. Yates, on the other hand, has re-released the book on Amazon KDP and is selling print copies at her city junior college where she works in the basement with Holtzmann, a brilliant engineer trying to prove ghosts exist. The sudden re-appearance of the book costs Gilbert her tenure and her job. Yates and Holtzmann are thrown out of their college when they go to the Dean for more money and he reveals he had no idea they had a parasciences department and closes it down.
With no other option and faced with the reality of supernatural manifestations around the city, they three scientists rent an office over a Chinese restaurant and get to work trying to catch a ghost in order to prove their existence. Scientifically. Of course.
And they hire Thor as their secretary, providing some of the most surreal comedy bits of the film.
One of the complaints about the film focused on Leslie Jones’ character, Patty Tolan. While she isn’t a scientist or an academic, she “knows New York.” While a lot of people took that statement in the trailer to mean “street smart” in the stereotypical sense, Tolan is a local historian. She provides context and insight to a group of relative shut-ins and introverts. She is just as smart and it is only when we get into the extremes of supernatural activity that she is out of her element. But the only Ghostbuster who doesn’t is Holtzmann. Because she is bad ass.
The movie also provides the Big Bad (if you can call him such) who uses Yates & Gilbert’s book to learn how to amplify supernatural energy which will open a hole between our world and the ghost world and turn him into a giant ghost Godzilla thing. He doesn’t do this to bring about some Elder God or fulfill a dark prophecy; he just hates people. A lot. The thing is, we don’t get a lot of screen time with him. He’s a weirdo. People talk about him but he doesn’t actually do anything mean. He’s a sympathetic character who literally commits suicide at the end of the second act to trigger his larger plan. That is the point where he becomes an asshole.
One of the major differences between classic and new is its lack of mythology. Aykroyd was meticulous in his creation of a history and Gozer mythos as the basis for what was happening. Here Rowan is creating his own origin story by using machines to attract and unleash thousands of ghosts, then open a portal to bring all the rest of them into our world.
The third act “Battle of Times Square” was the kind of video game action sequence that Ghostbusters needed. An army of ghosts against four ghostbusters. Bad ass.
Let’s break it down.
This isn’t Ghostbuster Ladies Club. The material isn’t treated differently because of the gender. They happen to be women. Hollywood doesn’t force a romance subplot or the story to involve the Ghostbusters overcoming their gender liabilities to become heroes. The women are not sexualized or subject to various sexist tropes. It is a story about four strong characters with different personalities and backgrounds fighting pretty scary, if poorly developed, adversaries.
Patty Tolan, as played by Leslie Jones, was a likeable, effective character and not the everyperson POV character the trailers implied. Jones’ performance was more subdued than the trailers implied, as well.
Jillian Holtzmann stole the film. (Dork Thor was a close second.) Kate McKinnon was infectiously weird and funny. I love her in strange, almost uncomfortable ways. I also appreciate that Paul Feig identified her as “pansexual” even though it wasn’t a factor in the film. However, there is a clear moment of tension between Yates and Holtzmann when she is first possessed by Rowan in the office. They are nose to nose and Holtzmann looks ready to make a pass. That’s as close a hint to her sexuality as the movie offers and I might be reading into it.
The Aldridge Mansion was a fantastic, classic Ghostbusters teaser.
The technology Holtzmann designed required a level of insanity and ethical flexibility Egon and Ray lacked, but was perfect for this group. Seeing them actually ‘bust’ ghosts in addition to trapping them made an awesome battle at the top of the third act.
Thor was very, very funny.
We finally got Bill Murray to appear in another Ghostbusters movie and it was probably the best way possible. (He has his own theme music, so his cameo has a little more meat).
I loved the effects and the projection of elements into the black space border to enhance the 3D effects.
The villain was weak. While Neil Casey’s “Rowan” was creepy and weird, he felt more like a minion than a Big Bad. I kept looking for the final reveal of the puppetmaster. In a history of Gozer and Vigo, even Samhain from the cartoon, Rowan felt underwhelming. He had great power, but it was used inconsistently. He could make all the soldiers and police freeze and dance like puppets but he doesn’t use it against the team with the nuclear accelerators? Plus, he never really established the kind of threat posed by predecessors. In the first few minutes of being “Big Fluffy Rowan” a small explosion burns half his face off. At that point everyone in the room over the age of nine realized Rowan could be taken out with a team of flamethrowers or a tomahawk missile.
The Slimer appearance here was even dopier than the one in Ghostbusters 2. Girl Slimer was just… (sigh.)
The cameos, while appreciated and thrilling, pulled me out of the movie. Each time, it was Feig saying “okay, HERE old fans” and they were fun, but my excitement in seeing them distracted from the new stars a bit much. Even the non-GB celebrities (Ed Begley, Jr. for example) pulled me out of the film wondering where those characters were going in the movie. Andy Garcia was wasted as the mayor when the real comic juice came from Cecily Strong playing his assistant.
For me, Yates and Gilbert were too much alike. They were co-leaders, which was fine, but once their initial differences in philosophy were resolved at the end of the first act, they became interchangeable. Each had a different character “voice” and sense of humor, but those differences were superficial. Much has been said about the original team being the Mouth, Heart, Brains, and Muscle of the team.
The ending was too clean and neat. For all the spectacle and CGI monster madness, there were no real consequences. People who were killed (not shown directly but there was no way it didn’t happen) and buildings that were demolished got a clean reboot at the end. I have to assume that the dead from the hotel explosion/implosion, the soldiers who were trampled, and anyone else in Rowan’s way are now in whatever place Rowan ended up, which is a terrifying thing to consider. But at least the nuclear explosion rebuilt everything. I guess.
These are minor points in a film where comedy and action balanced out. In the great continuum of Ghostbusters movies, I’m happy to welcome these new members to the family.