One of my fondest memories is going to see the original Ghostbusters in the theater July 4th weekend in 1984. Not for the movie, which I loved and still do to this day, but because it’s the only time I can recall that my entire family went to a movie theater together. At the time I had six siblings and even in 1984 nine people was cost prohibitive to take to a movie regularly. So it may be that fond memory that colors my affection for Ghostbusters. Or it may be that I’ve seen it dozens of times. As a kid I memorized the movie and we used to act the scenes out, cardboard proton packs in hand, as we ran around fighting our own spooky specters in the house.
So you can be forgiven for thinking I would be a vocal opponent to the remake. After all a new version of the story must destroy those cherished moments from childhood because that is how memories work right? New experiences erase the old ones. Basic sciencing there. Oh wait, that’s not how memory works at all. In fact, not only is my childhood still intact, after watching director Paul Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold’s (The Heat, Parks & Rec) new take on Ghostbusters, I can’t wait to see this movie capture the imaginations of so many kids in 2016 the way the original did my brothers and sisters and I in 1984.
When the teaser trailer first dropped like a ton of marshmallow goo on the streets of New York City I defended it. No, it wasn’t great but I liked the tone and it looked like a Ghostbusters movie should look to med. The second trailer and a clear look at the ghost design got me more enthused. As a big fan of Paul Feig’s other movies with Melissa McCarthy I also know that the trailers rarely match the finished product. Bridesmaids, The Heat, and the underrated Spy are some of the best comedies of recent years and hold up to repeat viewings. With that track record Feig and company more than earned the benefit of the doubt and they delivered.
Using the original Ivan Reitman film as a template, this re-imagined Ghostbusters wastes no time introducing the story and relationships of the main characters. Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is a new professor of particle physics at Columbia University. Years earlier she had written a book on the paranormal with fellow scientist and childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) but the two have since parted ways. Circumstances force the two of them back together, along with Abby’s eccentric current partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The three of them, along with Metro worker/amateur historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), set about proving to the rest of the world that ghosts not only exist but can be captured.
To be blunt this is the most cohesive Ghostbusters movie we have had yet. Whereas the original film meandered and didn’t really start getting in to the Zuul/Gozer plot line until the mid point here the villain is part of the story from the start. At each of the hauntings the women investigate they find a strange device that is harnessing and amplifying psychic energy. Who is building these devices and for what purpose drives the story through the entire running time.
Perhaps the oddest addition to this mix of women is Chris Hemsworth as their receptionist, Kevin. He’s the dimmest of dim bulb beefcakes to ever inhabit the screen. Every scene with him is a delight and Hemsworth plays the lovable doofus completely straight adding to the hilarity. Not to single out Hemsworth, each of the cast members is given a chance to shine. McCarthy and Wiig have an easy repartee and Leslie Jones has a bigger role than I feared she would. In that regard she is a big improvement over the Winston Zeddmore character Ernie Hudson filled. She’s not a scientist but she is courageous and brings a knowledge of New York City history that proves invaluable to solving the mystery and stopping the big bad. As expected, Kate Mckinnon steals the show as Holtzmann. Filling the Egon roll that Harold Ramis portrayed in the original she is the genius behind the Ghostbusters equipment and also the closest corollary to the sardonic, dry Venkman so memorably played by Bill Murray originally. Holtzmann is, in a word, delightful and her aloof reactions to the supernatural terrors never stops being funny.
Another improvement over the original are the ghost busting sequences. While I wouldn’t call this an action movie for the first time we really get to see what the weapons can do to the undead. In the finale it is a joy to watch the Ghostbusters tear a ghost army apart with their proton packs and other instruments of destruction. The ghosts themselves seem to be a mix of computer and practical make up effects and their look perfectly capture the slightly cartoony design aesthetic of the earlier films.
Most of the original cast return for cameos in different roles and admittedly some work better than others. I could have done without them but for the most part they are entertaining if shoe horned in. What I really like about this movie is while there are scenes that are reminiscent of the original, there is no out and out mimicry. None of the iconic dialogue is repeated here. The closest is Dan Aykroyd uttering “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts.” as a put upon cab driver. Which isn’t even from the movie, it’s from Ray Parker’s them song. In that respect there are no instant t-shirt worthy slogans like “He slimed me.” or “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown!” For that we have the original movie and it isn’t going anywhere.
Ghostbusters is a worthy addition to the franchise and a hell of a lot of fun. Its funny, spooky, exciting, and a great movie to take the family. In some ways it surpasses the original and after the ridiculous backlash against casting all women as the titular heroes passes I think it’s going to find a lot of fans. Hopefully enough to get us the sequel hinted at in an after credits stinger. On that note, be sure to stick around through the credits for what is probably the best returning cameo and a quick series of vignettes showing what happened after the events of the movie.
NOTE: I didn’t see Ghostbusters in 3D IMAX but I’ve read reviews that say it is absolutely the way to go if you have it showing in your area.