in Review

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call

It is a pretentious, emotionally entitled idea that a sequel, prequel, reboot, or remake can diminish your love for the original. Whatever that thing was still exists, unchanged (unless we’re talking Star Wars) and freely available to you. You know this, because I know this, it’s obvious. But it doesn’t feel true, does it? That idea that corporate money-chasers are taking something you care about and trying to cash in on your nostalgia hurts. What’s worse is that Hollywood is targeting exactly the wrong era and demographic for this practice of reviving films.

The Eighties were a weird, wonderful time for Hollywood movies. Many of the most creative, most “how did this get made” stories we love came from that era or as a direct response to it in the Nineties. And in the past few years, that decade has been absolutely stripmined for remakes. We’ve gotten new versions of Total Recall, Conan The Barbarian, RoboCop, Vacation, Red Dawn, Clash of the Titans, The Karate Kid, Footloose, and pretty much every horror movie, to name a few. That’s a lot of remakes! The problem for the Hollywood studios pushing these remakes is the fans of those movies had one advantage that prior decades of cinema-goers didn’t have: home video.

If you loved a movie like Ghostbusters, you owned it on VHS. You watched it over and over. You grew up with it. I know I did. And then there were way more channels on TV, and the stations had to always be showing something, so every once in awhile, you’d get to see Ghostbusters on TV. And then you bought it on DVD. And then you downloaded it. And then you bought the Blu Ray. And then you saw it was on a streaming service. Ghostbusters isn’t a warm, fuzzy memory for you or me, it’s been a part of our lives. It never went away.

That’s at least part of why the backlash against the new Ghostbusters reboot has been so severe. A remake is just totally unnecessary, it’s an attempt to fill a need that doesn’t exist. As for why it’s been so much angrier and louder this time than those other Eighties remakes, well, I think it’s fair to say sexism is a part of it. How much of that was manufactured by marketers to get people defending the movie is hard to say. It’s a lot of misplaced rage, because honestly this isn’t a movie deserving of such passion. I think this Ghostbusters is a fine comedy movie, but it’s not even the best one this year.

Writer/director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold set this story in a world much like our own, except there was never a Ghostbusters movie or TV series or anything. So, it’s like the zombie movie rule where nobody knows what a zombie is or even the word “zombie,” except for “ghostbusters.” We start with Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), who used to want to prove the existence of ghosts, but has settled for a career in more conventional academia. However, she ends up getting brought on a ghost hunt with her old friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and her new partner Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). They eventually start a ghost hunting business, hire a ditzy secretary (Chris Hemsworth) and a fourth member (Leslie Jones) and end up saving New York City.

Yeah, the overall story beats end up being pretty similar to the original film. You can map each of the characters to ones from the original, but it doesn’t feel like the actors are trying to recreate performances. Erin may be the Venkman of the new team, but she ends up having a very different motivation and of course Wiig’s style of comedy is quite different from Bill Murray’s. I wish the movie had more confidence being itself, I was most pulled out when they forced references like showing the creation of the Ghostbuster logo or having lines like “Who you gonna call?” or “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” dropped into conversation like they’re normal things to say. The biggest departure is that the third act tries to become an action movie and kind of stops being funny. It actually introduces some weird consistency issues if you’re not too caught up enjoying the Avengers-style action and includes some imagery that seem designed to incense even more outrage from the haters… It is what it is, right Nancy?

Will this movie be up for a Mildly Pleased Award come New Years? Almost certainly. Will I still be thinking about it well into 2017 and beyond? Probably not. It was an OK comedy. I laughed and I did not get mad. As far as remakes go, honestly this is one of the least offensive ways to do it. There is a chance that this will lead to more female-led comedy and action films, which is good, and this cast is being embraced as role models for young girls, which is very good. If it gets a sequel, I bet it will be a better movie for being that much further out of the original’s shadow. After all, it may be impossible to beat the original Ghostbusters, but Ghostbusters II? Now there’s a film that could maybe actually use a second shot.