My early skepticism surrounding 2016’s Ghostbusters revamp had nothing to do with female heroes or sad YouTube hatred. Simply put, cadaver-cold trailers and DOA clips did nothing but pander to branded appeal and adopt low-hanging punchlines. No wow-factor, revitalized excitement, or semblance of scripted ambition. Did we really need one more ’80s reboot in our lives?
As it turns out, the answer is yes – when it’s Paul Feig at the helm, we do.
Just like how weak trailers for Spy and The Heat led perceptions astray, Ghostbusters cohesively clicks together in ways that two-minute teasers could never properly represent. Feig’s updated take on New York City’s paranormal infestation takes estrogen-fueled digs at piggish masculinity, to hilarious effect, without ever becoming a girl’s-club exclusive. Why I lost faith in Feig I have no idea, especially with all those Doritos-crusted internet troll-boys he had to prove stupendously wrong.
This is a restart for Ghostbusters, in a universe where the ’84 comedy never existed. There never was a Peter Venkman or a Ray Stantz. Only Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), two scientists who dedicated their lives to researching ghosts – until Erin took a prestigious Columbia University teaching position. Now, years later, fate reunites the two college friends when Erin finds their (once-buried) co-authored book available for purchase online (Ghosts From Our Past: Both Literally And Figuratively). This leads to a chance meet-up, the introduction of Abby’s brainy and eccentric new partner, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and the roster-filling entrance of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker who knows NYC better than a subway map. These are your new Ghostbusters, ladies and gentlemen.
Well, not really “new.” More like “fan-servicing Ghostbusters with a few new toys.” Feig and co-scribe Katie Dippold juice-up their gender-swapped reboot with loads of nostalgic comfort. Their converted hearse vehicle, that “No Ghosts” logo, Slimer, grey jumpsuits, cast cameos, a Harold Ramis statue, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – and those are just the most surface-value nods. You can’t help but feel like Feig’s reboot is more a digital rehash of recycled highlights, even though it takes place in a wholly new cinematic universe. There’s a missed opportunity here to explore uncharted Ghostbuster waters instead of just repurposing old ideas, which does lessen the impact of Feig’s all-star lady ‘busters.
That said, Feig responds dutifully to those jilted windbags who emerged from the darkest sectors of internet misogyny Hell. McCarthy’s Yates brushes off hateful YouTube commenters with dignity, while the film’s “macho” villain is taken down at one point by a plasma shot to the ‘nads (subtlety vs. earned aggression). Women are shown to be capable, comedic and fast-acting in the face of inexplicable spiritual phenomenons, even if they aren’t screaming “I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR” from atop the Empire State Building. Weaknesses of man are preyed upon by Feig’s swift cinematic justices. Simply put, these girls deserve to be covered in the same gross ectoplasms as their male counterparts – and their badges are earned.
How are they earned? Through training montages, female companionship and the power of Patty. Some arcs are explored with less depth than others – Gilbert’s constant reminders about being undervalued and misrepresented (*cough* *cough*) – but camaraderie reigns supreme despite the group’s constant disbelief in their abilities (seriously, how meta is this movie?). Case in point: Yates erratically wrestles a proton blaster as it whips around like a firehose (easy McCarthy laughs), but there’s a larger sense of jovial fun as her teammates watch on, narrating this ridiculous sideshow.
Yet when the evil Rowan (a social outcast played by Neil Casey) turns Times Square into a haunted battleground of warriors past (gangsters, pioneers, cowboys, etc.), the Ghostbusters become action mavens who don’t just stand there shooting beams of light – McKinnon whips out dueling pistols and starts gunning through apparitions with a cowboy’s swagger (after licking her weapons, because my god is her weirdness an enchanting work of performance art). These Ghostbusters tangle fist-to-face with the undead, punching through floating thugs while taking their licks in the process. Dare I say these ‘busters have more balls than Ivan Reitman’s original team? *pokes bear*
Jillian Holtzmann will quickly be defined as a “love her or hate her” character, but boy did I fall in love with McKinnon’s robotic quirkiness. From awkwardly long gazes (aka eye-f*#king) to precisely timed sass-attacks, McKinnon is an ambiguously devious mad scientist who sells every ounce of slapstick, Marx-ist (as in the Marx brothers) comedy. Whether she’s dancing dangerously around the laboratory or crunching potato chips at inopportune moments, Holtzmann’s other-planetary zaniness never goes unnoticed, or unappreciated. Everyone has their schtick – Patty and her renegade ruggedness, Wiig and her schoolgirl crush on office secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), McCarthy and her physical brand of humor – but no one comes close to phasing McKinnon’s proton-lasso hold on the funnybone of Ghostbusters.
Well, maybe except for Kevin. No, scratch that. Definitely except for Kevin. Hemsworth’s easy charm belies a pure comedic talent, even if he’s just a dumbfounded, little-puppy-dog secretary who gets by on
dashing Adonis-like looks. This is a character who competes in competitive hide-and-seek tournaments, and continues to spit-take sips of coffee because he can’t remember how much he hates it. Stupidity has never been so chiseled – or hilarious – but somehow, against all odds, Hemsworth never wears out his ditzy, re-appropriated welcome.
And while Hemsworth may be embarrassingly stud-worthy, he’s still not the most visually appealing gift Ghostbusters has to offer. Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman and Sony’s animation team dance a magnificently ocular tango hand-in-hand, brandishing robust 3D scene-work that utilizes framing just as much as shadow-box depth. Scattered scares hurdle towards the screen, but three-dimensional technology is more frequently used to capture objects escaping the camera’s gaze (like Patty’s necklace dangling below the black screen barriers and out of sight). It’s a unique – and worthy – interpretation of 3D filmmaking, made more notable by dazzling photon beams and period-spanning ghouls decked-out in vibrant, gassy detail. Demonic Macy’s parade balloons flash razor-sharp teeth, while a Shocker-inspired convict pulsates with glowing energy – though nothing beats Holtzmann’s upgraded plasma armory.
So yeah, where visuals (massive-scale destruction of NYC cityscapes) and do-dads are concerned, Ghostbusters overcharges its creative juices (Ghostchipper vacuum/Photon Glove aka Photon Brass Knuckles) – except for that ear-polluting Fall Out Boy featuring Missy Elliot theme cover. First Waka Flocka Flame featuring Good Charlotte (“Game On,” Pixels song), and now this? It’s the equivalent of an old, out-of-touch studio executive going, “This is what the hip kids are listening to these days, right?” Cue white noise…
Does Ghostbusters reinvent a beloved “classic” in wholly new, invigorating ways? Hardly. Does it bomb like rabid, foamy-mouthed haters want it to? Never. Do moviegoers have a fun-filled, dashingly captivating blockbuster that kicks ghost-butt and scores one for the ladies? Like a vibrant, off-the-wall carnival attraction from the underworld, except with a lot less terror, and way more middle fingers to all the nay-sayers out there. This isn’t a monumental Ghostbuster redux, but a reimagining worth its weight in gooey slime nonetheless.
Dude bustin’ makes me feel good, but lady bustin’ is pretty damn good too.
Wait. Hold on. There’s got to be a better way to say that…
To the disappointment of trolls everywhere, bustin' still makes me feel good with Paul Feig's team of female ghost fighters.