Paul Feig’s relaunch of “Ghostbusters” was slimed by controversy from the get-go. Depending on whom you asked it was either Hollywood at its money-grabbing and creativity-bankrupt worst, a feminist broadsides of some sort; or some much-needed nostalgia subversion.
Truth be told, it’s a little of each. It’s also what your average summertime megaplex fodder is supposed to be: a couple of hours of stupid fun. Relax, geeks: The Seventh Seal of the Cinematic Apocalypse hasn’t been opened. That’s what the holiday season is for.
For decades, die-hard fans have been holding for one more sequel to the 1984 original; its stars dragged their heels and occasionally bounced around ideas, and the death of Harold Ramis in 2014 seems to close that chapter for good.
Instead, Feig (“Bridesmaids”), co-writer Katie Dippold, and executive producer Ivan Reitman (who produced and directed the original and its sequel) have put a lot of effort into making the reboot both a homage and sequel-in-spirit to the original. All of the original cast except Rick Moranis make cameo appearances (yep, even Ramis).
The characters are riffs on the original team, the plot follows the same formula, and the goofball tone is similar. The results are mixed: sometimes it strikes a nostalgic chord, sometimes it tries too hard to earn our affection. Most of the time it’s a freewheeling goofball romp, something like sugar-addled kid fans re-enacting one of their favorite movies in front of a camcorder, but with a $150 million budget and better production values.
The set-up is thus: Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a Columbia physics professor whose tenure track is derailed when a former colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), re-releases the a book they co-authored about the existence of the paranormal. Whereas Erin turned her back on such pseudoscience, Abby has continued her research, albeit with nothing to show for it except for a basement lab that she shares with a slightly unhinged techie, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), in what appears to be the world’s sketchiest junior college.
The band gets back together after an undeniably supernatural encounter, and they quickly expand their ranks to include exuberant MTA employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), whose knowledge of the city proves invaluable; and receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), whose intellect is inversely proportional to his good looks. Their investigations of increasing spectral activity throughout New York City put them at cross-purposes with an image obsessed mayor (Andy Garcia) while on the trail of schlubby madman Rowan North (Neil Casey), who’s bent on breaking through to the other side (and not in a Jim Morrison kind of way).
It’s actually that last bit that keeps this Ghostbusters from standing entirely on its own. Rowan is too thinly drawn as a character, especially for villain, to flesh out the plot or provide much conflict and his goal is minimalist at best. C’mon – even Peter MacNicol was given more to work with in Ghostbusters II.
Yet even though there’s more jeopardy involved outside the movie than within it, it’s still a fun ride thanks largely to casting. The team really clicks – not surprisingly since they’ve worked together in various iterations on film and as Saturday Night Live alumna – and they, Feig, and Dippold keep the pace moving and the jokes flying. There are even a couple of good scares.
Would it have been nice to have had a Ghostbusters III? Of course; we never got that coda, and sadly too much time has passed for that to happen. Is worth freaking out over the casting? Only if your masculinity and your childhood memories are that damn delicate. Will there be a sequel? Probably. Deal with it, trolls.