[All photos by Hopper Stone, courtesy Sony Pictures]
Written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig
Directed by Paul Feig
I can’t say I’ve ever actually had butterflies in my stomach when sitting down to see a movie for the first time, but as the Sony and Columbia logos hit the screen for the new Ghostbusters, I must admit I was indeed nervous. There were big things at stake, here: the movie has become something more than itself, a referendum of sorts on reboots, diversity, even the idea that women can be funny. I won’t go into the details — you’re on the Internet; you know already. But it was understood that if this movie turned out to be a lemon, that was going to be it for any sort of revivification or women-centered action movies.
Fortunately, I am happy to say that the movie is in fact a hoot from beginning to end. The chemistry from the four main players works really well, complementing each other as the originals did (albeit in different ways). The story is funny, the danger palpable. The movie is clearly the work of people who love the originals, and it shows.
Without getting into spoiler territory, here is a quick rundown of the plot: Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is an ultra-serious teacher at prestigious Columbia University, this close to tenure when she discovers to her horror that the paranormal book she wrote with ex-friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced. She hunts down Yates at a run-down excuse for a technical college where she and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) have set up a paranormal studies department. Receiving word that a ghost has broken loose in a historic home turned museum, the three rush there and discover an actual ghost. Their jubilant reaction finds its way onto the internet, unfortunately, which results in all three losing their positions and going into business for themselves.
After taking on the almost supernaturally dim receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) and having a few false starts with their equipment, they meet Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker who discovers strange doings in the subway lines beneath the city. Together, they go to work to capture real undead specimens for study, and incidentally kick butt along the way.
The movie is somewhat different in tone from the originals: the first Ghostbusters was a sort of humorous adventure. The sequel was less a follow-up and more what the original would have been if the cartoon had come first. The new Ghostbusters, however, is more of a straight-ahead comedy. The jokes start immediately and keep going, with more hits than misses. Dippold and Feig love playing with audience expectations, and do so frequently. The action sequences do work rather well, even if there were perhaps not enough of them for everyone’s taste. Still, the big climactic battle includes them fighting not only the traditional Big Enemy but going into a battle royale against a small army of New York ghosts. This is a very exciting sequence, and just when you think it’s finished, a new wrinkle gets added.
The characters, as noted before, are for the most part well-drawn: Erin is a super-serious ambitious academic trying to put her embarrassing past behind her but never quite able to leave it alone. Abby is the true believer, the Ray of the group, if you will. Jillian is a mad scientist, the inventor of all the gadgets. She’s also a bit of a nut, frankly. I can see where she wouldn’t be to everybody’s taste, but frankly she was my favorite of the four. Patty is tough and smart, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city. Only Kevin suffers from being chronically underdeveloped, though one cannot help but be given to wonder if this is entirely deliberate in accordance with the movie’s script-flipping sensibility.
There are other familiar elements: the dark secrets hidden in the history of the city, the government proving a major antagonist (though in a way markedly different from the originals). There are also cameos: so many cameos. Keep your eyes peeled: there are all the expected ones, and a few unexpected as well that elicited gasps of surprise and delight from the audience. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, so I will say no more except that Bill Murray’s bit is the most perfect thing ever.
Very little to complain about here: Kevin’s character of course, the plausibility of some of the situations, a few continuity questions. But nothing so jarring as to take you out of the story. The main villain (Neil Casey) seems a bit implausible, but he is genuinely creepy and brings a real air of menace to his role. There is a sudden lurch from night to day toward the end, and a couple of “why-didn’t-they-just-do-such-and-so?” kinds of moments, but no real show stoppers. It is unabashedly feminist, yes, but doesn’t fall into preachiness (even if Kevin is, again, a bit exaggerated in the vacuity department).
Overall it is an extremely fun film. There is a thin tightrope being walked here in keeping to the spirit of the originals but making it very much their own. By and large, I have to say that Feig and company have managed it. Talking it over with fellow ghostheads afterwards (we were the ones in the full uniforms and packs — yes, I’m one of those), the overall consensus was one of relief, and looking forward to the next steps the franchise might take. It is a good film, lovingly paying homage to what came before while going off in a new direction. I’m seriously considering going back later to catch the 3-D version.
So, that’s it, basically. If you don’t go in with an axe to grind, it is genuinely fun. It is entirely appropriate for the kids, though younger ones may be scared by some of the nastier apparitions. You know your kids best. I like to think that this will bring back that summer of ’84, with kids running around with homemade proton packs blasting “ghosts” just like so many of us did back then.
Oh, and one more thing: the closing credits? Watch them all the way through. Trust me.
Kelly Luck was not compensated by Sony in any way for this review. However, if they’re offering, she’d like a pony and a tie-in video game that doesn’t suck. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.