Review: ‘Ghostbusters’ Features Strong Characters, Weak Story

John Allegretti ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The 1984 Ghostbusters is a product of its time. It’s a Reganomics-era, pop song-ridden, special effects-driven extravaganza that makes you want to sit back and pop open a can of Ecto-Cooler. The 2016 Ghostbusters (or is it Ghostbusters: Answer the Call?) is a reboot that takes the series in a new direction while paying tribute to Ivan Reitman’s original film. The original Ghostbusters rode a fine line between comedy and horror, and the reboot is able to successfully carry over that tone into a new universe. The funny parts are funny and the scary parts scary.

The reboot follows Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a professor at Columbia University who is fired after the staff gets ahold of “Ghosts from Our Past”, an old book Gilbert co-wrote with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Gilbert swears she burned the only two copies in existence, but finds that the book is alive and well on the internet. With nowhere to go, Erin reconnects with Yates who is running a paranormal research lab at another university with the eccentric Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The trio are eventually joined by MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and go up against a paranormal plot to take out New York City.

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

The characters are far and away the best part of the new Ghostbusters. All of them feel fresh and exciting instead of cheap copies of the original Ghostbusters cast. What’s interesting about Kristen Wiig’s character is that she’s something of a paranormal agnostic. In the ’84 film the main cast’s belief in ghosts was just taken for granted and it’s refreshing to see the main character of a paranormal film be the skeptical one. Melissa McCarthy is the foil for Wiig’s character, both of them forming the emotional core of the film. Leslie Jone’s character is also surprisingly funny and well-rounded, something the ’84 Ghostbusters failed to do with the character of Winston (Ernie Hudson). A textbook example of the token black dude, Winston gets introduced midway through the film and doesn’t really have a character or an arc. Jones is an integral part of the reboot and has some great comedy moments, even if some of them feel more at home in a Tyler Perry film.

But the standout characters in the new film are Kate McKinnon as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann and Chris Hemsworth as Kevin Beckman. A veteran of SNL, McKinnon seems to be having the time of her life. Every shot featuring Holtzmann is funny because of McKinnon’s insane knack for comedy. Her non-stop jokes and quirky facial expressions conjure laughter from the audience without ever feeling forced, and that’s an insanely hard thing to do. Hemsworth also shows off his comedic talent, playing a clueless secretary the Ghostbusters only keep around for sex appeal. With lines like, “Fishtanks are just submarines for fish” it’s clear Hemsworth has a bright future in comedy. Neil Casey is also great as Rowan North, the rare blockbuster villain with a plot that actually makes sense. North does some things within the Ghostbusters universe that are so smart you wonder why none of the previous villains ever attempted the same thing.

Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

The biggest problem with the new Ghostbusters is how much it tries to emulate the original. The story plucks bits of iconography from the first film much like The Force Awakens did with Star Wars. Even in the final frames of the movie, Ghostbusters is still trying to ride off the nostalgia and success of the original. Every song in the film is just a cover of the first Ghostbusters theme. Even the frequently maligned Ghostbusters 2 had an original song that was just as catchy as the first. Most of the original cast show up in cameos that range from funny and organic to meandering and forced. Some are so unnecessary to the plot that you wonder why they weren’t cut from the final release. Slimer, the titular spirit from the original Ghostbusters, also makes an appearance that feels as needless as the cameos. It’s apparent the new Ghostbusters needed their own BB-8, a different character that evoked the same mood Slimer did.

Ghostbusters is a film that creates amazing characters, but is held back by a needless obligation to pay homage to the ’84 original. The original Ghostbusters isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s frustrating to see the reboot with such potential copy an imperfect film. But the main thing to take away from the reboot is that the Ghostbusters franchise has finally been reinvigorated. Here’s hoping the next outing stops paying tribute to the Reitman films. Who knows? It may just eclipse the original.

Overall Grade: C

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