Before I start on my review of Ghostbusters (2016), let me talk about how I review movies. I’ve been accused of liking everything that comes out and that is not a fair assessment. The Transformers movies for instance are trash, ruined by extraneous love stories.
When I watch a movie I try to enjoy it based on what it is trying to be. If I watch an action movie I am not judging its plot but more the explosions and set pieces. If I see a spy movie, then I don’t compare it to a Bond flick (James Bond is a terrible spy) but look at the convoluted telling of who did what.
This gets harder with a remake, particularly one based on a property from my childhood. There is a lot of nostalgia to overcome to come up with a fair assessment of how good a film like the 2016 Ghostbusters movie really is. So with that caveat out of the way, let us look at a fun, visually thrilling, and mostly humorous film about friendship, being taken seriously and fighting ghosts.
Review: Ghostbusters (2016)
As expected of a remake the plot follows many of the contours of the original. Again we have four ghostbusters, three academics and one everyman (or woman). Again the team is drummed out of academia and forced into the private sector. And yet again the authorities try to silence them.
There are many differences however. Erin Gilbert (played by Kristen Wiig), the Ray Stantz equivalent, and Abby Yates (played by Melissa McCarthy), our Peter Venkman equivalent, begin as estranged friends. Together they conducted pioneering work in the field of ghost and related paranormal activity but Erin, after decades of ridicule, decided to seek legitimacy.
A haunting at a historic home causes the manager to contact Erin, making her aware that her book is back in print without her permission. She confronts Abby and her lab assistant Jillian Holtzmann (played by Kate McKinnon) and they are off to examine the ghost. They film and get slimed by the ghost. The video footage goes viral. They lose their jobs (Erin due to besmirching the school’s reputation and Abby by accidentally reminding the incompetent dean that her department exists by asking for money).
The banter between the characters works well. The dialogue is snappy and the jokes generally are funny. I found some of the humor spoiled by the previews but not much. In particular the more elaborate jokes still worked like poking fun at the insanity of New York City housing prices.
They try to rent the original movie’s fire house but find it costs 21 grand a month. Instead they get a place above a Chinese restaurant.
That leads to their first hire and my first real problem with the movie. The Janine Melnitz replacement is Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth. I think Hemsworth plays the role well but I dislike how strangely they wrote him and other side characters. Everything Kevin does is strange. He can’t answer phones, he is blind to social norms, and is generally clueless about how human society works. He seems to be the worst employee ever. For a while I considered the possibility he was an extraterrestrial.
But it is not just Kevin. They cast the mayor as hapless idiot. His spokeswoman seems drunk. The chinese food delivery guy seems to work for a shop that is either actively carrying a grudge for Abby or is so incompetent that it should be out of business. I understand these characters are supposed to be caricatures like the EPA asshole in the first movie. But they seem far too implausible. It ruins my suspension of disbelief. I have an easier time believing in the ghosts.
As for the main characters, Holtzmann also comes off as a little strange. We never really any decent explanation of her background and motivations. Her end movie confession doesn’t have any backing elsewhere in the film and fails to redeem her in my eyes.
This flaw thankfully does not extend to the rest of the core cast. Leslie Jones‘s everywoman Patty Tolan may be a bit stereotypical but at least she seems to be a real person. She has family, good motivation, and a number of good lines.
The villain, also gets some decent characterization. Rowan North, played by Neil Casey, is a small white man who thinks the world owes him one. He is priming the city’s ley lines using the same technology as the team, releasing ghosts and preparing to create a portal to the afterlife. Then he and his new friends will harass (i.e. torment) humanity. He can’t see that the people whose work he is basing his plans on (i.e. Abby and Erin’s book) are equally if not more oppressed. He just wants his revenge.
This isn’t the only bit of social commentary. The film shows how women suffer lots of abuse and disrespect. Erin is reminded that men often simply focus on their looks. The film warns us not to read the comments, comments no dissimilar to the hyperbole we see in real life. Even Kevin tries to take credit for saving the day in the end, ignoring how the women did all of the work.
The rest of the film is great. I really liked the third act twist. The heroines appear to triumph but they only play into the villain’s plans. After that the story becomes bit predictable if still fun. Rowan returns after his death as a ghost, possesses a few people, activates his doomsday device, leads authorities in rousing dance, and finally turns into a giant monster. The team rigs a way to send ghosts back to the other side, enact a last-minute rescue and the end result does not leave New York in ruins for a change. The end credit scenes are also rather enjoyable.
I also have to say that the look of the film is really excellent. The devices have a worn cobbled together look that sells the hand-made nature of the ghost fighting and summoning equipment. Creepy mirror/windows filled with angry ghosts pressing in decorate the villain’s lair.
On the negative side, there are some plot holes like where the team’s money comes from or how Homeland Security tries to take over yet never seems to call in any experts. I tired of the banter by the end.
On the other hand I enjoyed the cameos of the original cast, as well as the other callbacks to the original film.
Overall I found the film really fun. Too bad it suffered from all of the controversy.