*Some minor, vague spoilers included*
The original 1984 Ghostbusters is an icon of 80s culture. With its smart sense of humor, innovative concept, and visual effects that, somehow, still hold up, it’s no wonder that Ghostbusters became the highest-grossing comedy of the 1980s. There was one sequel which, while pretty inventive in regards to plot, lacked much of the humor found in the original, leaving many fans dissatisfied. Though a third film in the series was often planned, it was a project that was ultimately not to be, as it fell through one time after another after another after another.
Now we finally have a third Ghostbusters film, though not a third in the same series. Like many franchises that have laid dormant for an extended period of time, this 2016 film is a reboot, with an all-new cast of characters starting from scratch. This has, of course, lead to many fans of the original films feeling disheartened that they never got the third film they waited so long for, but this new Ghostbusters does manage to hold its own, even if the ghosts of its past prevent it from reaching the same heights of the originator.
The new film reimagines the Ghostbusters as a team of female paranormal patrol officers. The two at the center of the story are Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), while the two other members of the quartet are Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones).
Yates and Gilbert were once best friends and colleagues. Both of them believed in the supernatural and became scientists on the subject. Somewhere along the line, Gilbert left paranormal research behind her. Though that didn’t stop Yates from releasing the book they both wrote on the subject some time later. Gilbert is immediately discredited upon the book’s release, and confronts Yates about her actions. This leads Gilbert to becoming an inadvertent tagalong with Yates and her new colleague Holtzmann, as they investigate a supernatural happening. They successfully document the presence of an apparition, reaffirming Gilbert’s belief in the supernatural, which leads to her being fired as a university professor. So she decides to join Yates and Holtzmann on their new ghostbusting endeavors.
The group is later joined by Tolan, the everywoman of the team, and hire a handsome but impossibly buffoonish receptionist in Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth). The four women have fluctuating success at capturing ghosts as they develop new equipment for the job, but a much larger threat looms over the city of New York as a madman is developing a means to intensify paranormal activity across the city, in hopes of opening a portal and unleashing an army of ghosts on New York.
The plot is a bit basic, but it has some fun with its nature as a reboot and focuses a lot more on the Ghostbusters getting to know their craft than the original film did. Perhaps the best addition to the reboot is the cast itself, with McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon and Jones all having strong chemistry, helping keep the film afloat even in its shakier moments.
On the downside of things, the writing is largely inconsistent. Though some scenes are definitely funny, others don’t quite hit the mark. The film goes from hysterical to mediocre all too often, and this is only magnified by the film’s rocky pacing as a whole.
Too many unimportant scenes feel dragged out, while a number of key plot and character moments go by all too quickly. The central relationship of the film is the friendship between Yates and Gilbert, but it often feels like that central element is lost in favor of the aforementioned inconsistent jokes.
Yet another aspect of the film that’s full of highs and lows are the callbacks to the original 1984 Ghostbusters film. There are some moments in the film that purposefully mimic the events of the first film, and that’s understandable for the most part, but the film’s third act maybe feels a little too familiar to anyone who’s seen the original film.
These callbacks also take the form of cameos by most of the cast of the 1984 film, who play new roles in bit parts. While the cameos of Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts are small enough as to be fun and not distracting, Bill Murray’s small-but-relatively-larger role comes off as a disappointment. Murray’s character’s first scene works well enough, but the film later brings him back for a second go, almost hyping him to be an important character in the story, before unceremoniously writing him off. It may have actually been interesting to see Murray in an important role in this reboot that’s wildly different from his main character of the original, so the fact that nothing comes of it makes the character’s return appearance feel misleading and entirely pointless. It just deviates from the plot when his first appearance would have sufficed for a cameo.
Another disappointing aspect of the film are the visual effects. Now, the effects aren’t exactly ugly to look at, but much of the CG looks a little bit behind the times. The final, big bad ghost works well enough. But many of the standard ghosts the titular busters face don’t exactly look like what you would expect from a big budget movie like this in 2016. There is a brief visual created with traditional, hand drawn animation in one instance, which is probably the effect that stood out most for me (interpret that how you will).
As a whole, the 2016 Ghostbuster reboot is a little bit of a mixed bag. It isn’t bad per se, as the cast proves capable of carrying the franchise – should it be allowed to continue – and when it is funny, it works. But the writing and pacing aren’t always there, the visual effects leave a lot to be desired, and the ghost of the original is constantly looming overhead, and not always for the better.