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At the risk of disappointing Internet commentators who believe their childhood innocence is in jeopardy, the all-female Ghostbusters reboot isn’t a sacrilegious sellout. In fact, not only is this franchise restarter entertaining, its divisive new cast is easily the best thing about it. That felt good to write.
If, like me, you weren’t a huge fan of the trailers (don’t even get me started on that appalling new theme song), take comfort in knowing they saved the best stuff for the feature presentation. Also: don’t trust trailers, like, ever. While this shiny new version isn’t the instant classic the 1984 original was, it’s miles ahead of Ghostbusters II.
As I said, the new cast is generally great. Essentially the Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd of the new quartet, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play a pair of New York academics whose belief in the paranormal leads to career suicide and a subsequent rift. After a legit haunting, the former bestie colleagues team up with a goofy gadget maker (SNL’s Kate McKinnon) and a tough subway worker (SNL’s Leslie Jones) and set up shop above a Chinese restaurant. Don’t worry, guys, they also hire a highly incompetent beefcake (Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist.
The upshot is about as silly-funny as you could hope for in a $150+ million blockbuster that’s also fun for the entire family. While director Paul Feig’s previous trinity of R-rated comedies (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy) showcased his leading ladies’ profane-laced knack for sending up male-dominated subgenres, Ghostbusters is far gentler, so don’t go in expecting any fellating spectres. The ’80s were clearly a grittier time.
And therein lies my biggest grievance. Feig, McCarthy, and Wiig already gave us three wonderfully crude comedies, so seeing them defanged for the sake of mass appeal is a bit of a letdown. Even if you take away the gauche ’80s humour, the original Ghostbusters had a scrappy blue-collar charm that feels absent here. By the time we get to the reboot’s ghost-busting climax, we’re no longer watching a comedy, just your standard display of dollars turned into CGI spectacle. There are, however, a lot of overdone Slimer bits. We get it, he likes to pig out.
On the subject of cameos, there are many. Ranging from requisite (Murray, Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts) to ridiculous (Ozzy Osbourne yelling “Sharon!” like it’s 2002), none of them are as tastefully subtle as the Harold Ramis bust that makes a brief appearance in a university corridor. There are also 800 or so references to previous one-liners, locations, and story beats, but I would’ve been fine with just a handful of homages. The new Ghostbusters works best when it’s just doing its own thing and not pandering to the legacy of the franchise. On the other hand, it does a fine job of giving the “meta” finger to all the Internet man-babies who could’ve easily inspired the film’s main villain, a guy who basically wants to end the world because nobody likes him.
I’ll always wonder how an R-rated version of the film would’ve played out. Perhaps Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg would’ve made something even nuttier? While this Ghostbusters plays it fairly safe (hey, it worked for The Force Awakens), the new cast is on point and I’m down for the sequel that’s obviously hinted at after the end credits. And for all you haters, be thankful this isn’t an Adam Sandler and Kevin James joint. That would be something worth protesting.
Ghostbusters slimes 2D and (unnecessary) 3D screens this Friday. Don’t be discouraged by the so-so trailer below.