Picture it: 2016. I have just purchased my ticket for the mostly female Ghostbusters reboot movie at Brooklyn’s Pavilion. When I get to the (very tiny) theatre proper, it is literally plastered with trash and filled with broken seats. Unbeknownst to me, the Pavilion was on its last legs (and would eventually become the newly-renovated Nitehawk).
The situation is so bad I have to go get my money back…Ghostbusters unseen.
Finally, in 2019, as our internet continued to be out because of seemingly interminable construction and weather issues…I purchased a DVD of the movie at my local 7-ELEVEN.
And now…I can tell you what I really think about Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters.
First, let me tell you what I feared it would be like. I feared it would be near-unwatchable like such self-aware twee reboots as Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows or the Nora Ephron Betwitched…movies I literally couldn’t get through.
Of course, on top of that you had all the controversy regarding the movie itself…before the movie even came out. An all-female cast was going to murder the childhoods of red-blooded American males everywhere; the vagina once again ruining everything.
These types of hate-campaigns are actually rather successful in the sense that they wear people like me out…to the point where watching the movie (or TV show, or reading the comic) itself seems like an emotionally exhausting task.
But now three years have passed…and I thought it was time to finally give the flick a shot.
And my general reaction was (short version)…it was perfectly fine. It was enjoyable. It would have produced a sequel and whole raft of extra ancillary products and tie-ins no problem.
One of the arguments against the film (before it even came out, mind you) was that the original 1984 Ghostbusters was such a classic, it should never have been “remade.” Now I’m going to have to pull that argument a bit apart and examine its individual bite-sized pieces…
No, there is never going to be another 1984 Ghostbusters. Do you know why? Well, part of it was the unique blend of talent between its director and cast. But another big factor was that…IT CAME OUT IN 1984!
The original Ghostbusters was released when I was a child. I not only encountered it in my highly-impressionable youth, but it was a succinct and brilliant creature of its time.
So no: the Paul Feig Ghostbusters was never going to replace or surpass that…for me. Or my generation.
To young people encountering the 2016 film in the time during and following its release…it could be “their” Ghostbusters. Because. It also is a creature of its time. And that includes, yes…featuring females in the lead roles.
Now let’s get into the movie itself. Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a scientist who once co-authored an unpublished book on real-life ghosts with her friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Gilbert, fearing mainstream establishment stigma, had distanced herself from her more Fortean interests—but her hand is forced when Yates impulsively decides to self-pub the book anyway. The two scientists basically drummed out of their jobs, they decide to go into the ghost-busting (sorry) business for themselves (with Yates’ associate Jillian Holtzmann in tow).
Meanwhile, a creepy angry occultist dude, Rowan North, decides to bring about the Apocalypse, with New York City as its tourist-trap epicenter. Hijinks ensue.
One of the things that I think really hurt audience reception to the movie is featuring Wiig as the theoretical “star/protagonist” a la Bill Murray. I’m not saying that was the intention of the filmmakers…but the marketing really made it seem as if each character in the 2016 version was an analogue of the ones from the original.
And while Erin Gilbert really grows as a person throughout the course of the movie, and has some really good scenes…she’s no Murray-esque focal figure.
Actually, the character with that type of personality is McCarthy’s Yates…who is to me the best part of the movie…just extremely funny, energetic, and a much better analogue to Murray; but I would argue potential moviegoers probably pigeonholed her (based a lot simply on physical appearance) more as Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz.
Then you have Kate McKinnon’s excellent Holtzmann, who—though ostensibly their Egon Spengler—had an enormously appealing and interesting character design that could have anchored the entire rebooted franchise. Even Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan steals the spotlight every time she is on screen.
Not dumping on Wiig, but…she just wasn’t that compelling to me as the focal character. But because the start of the movie focuses on her…its a bit of a weak opening.
But the pace really picks up after the first third and is incredibly amiable and funny. And visually, the movie is stunning and offers its own memorable paranormal imagery and special effects—especially the climatic scene in Times Square with what looks like possessed antique Thanksgiving balloons (as well as a few spoilers that you can probably guess).
The only other criticism I might give the 2016 Ghostbusters…and it’s not really so much a criticism as just an observation…is how on-the-nose the plot is in relation to the controversy surrounding the film itself. Rowan North is conceived of and played totally like a homicidal incel who hates society and women in particular. Which makes the part where he (SPOILERS) possesses the Ghostbusters’ ditzy male receptionist Kevin Beckman (played by Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) a complete nerdy wish-fulfilling act.
This plot-point doesn’t ruin the film for me…but I’d be lying if its seemingly meta quality didn’t distract me a bit. (Then of course there is Murray’s cameo as a skeptic wearing a fedora…)
So those are my basic thoughts on the Ghostbusters reboot. It’s a shame to me that all the poo-poo surrounding the film’s announcement probably scared the studio off from making a sequel…but I feel the main actresses are all fantastically talented and will be fine.
And then we’ll have that “Ghostbusters 2020” with the original cast…which will no doubt be a great opportunity to quip, without any sense of irony whatsoever, that “the Boys are back in town.” Thank God for men pushing 70 “saving” my childhood—a childhood where it was largely frowned upon for me to identify with anything other than the protagonist’s possessed girlfriend or the receptionist.