For the sake of full disclosure, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984) was my favorite movie when I was a wee Justin many decades ago. I watched it incessantly (to the point where all of its musical cues and the intonations of the actors’ voices were seared into my gray matter), owned the toys and watched the Saturday morning cartoon. I adored it. With that being said, my tastes have — thankfully — evolved over the years, and when I revisited Reitman’s original earlier this week, I found that much of that luster had worn off. Much of what wowed me as a 5-year-old feels rote at age 33, since the film feels like a precursor to many needlessly loud and special effects-heavy blockbusters I now see and rarely enjoy.
I mention this for a couple reasons. First, Paul Feig’s (Spy) reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise is most notable for casting women — Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — as its leads. This, in a fit of arrested development, has caused some men on the internet to wail and gnash their teeth, claiming their childhoods have been ruined. I don’t want to get into the silliness of this too much, but it does remind of what James M. Cain said when asked about what Hollywood did to one of his novels: “They haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf.”
So, with Retiman’s Ghostbusters still intact and everyone’s childhood in one piece, how is Feig’s reimagining? It’s a mixed bag. This Ghostbusters, in a lot of ways, is a culmination of what Reitman’s original hinted at three decades ago — and not in a specifically satisfying way, either. Where Reitman’s sci-fi action comedy featured its fair share of explosions and New York City being laid to waste, Feig’s Ghostbusters ratchets this up to 2016 levels, complete with grenade-wielding Ghostbusters and slo-mo action scenes. But, at the same time, Feig’s version lacks an amount of scope. There’s nothing (at least from a pop culture standpoint) as iconic as, say, a giant marshmallow man traipsing through midtown Manhattan. And this film seems to know it, playing off numerous repeated references to the original film, speeding quickly past “loving homage” and quickly into”fan service.” If anything in this movie ruined my childhood, it’s Dan Aykroyd’s grating cameo.
The film’s script, written by Feig and Katie Dippold (The Heat), stalls out often, taking pains to build up explanations and origins of every aspect of the script. The original film was just about some scientists who found ghosts, built (offscreen) stuff to catch them and then went from there. Here, the movie just languishes as they build things and test things and explain why they own jumpsuits. Feig’s strength as a director (if he has one) is not efficiency or — with a 120-minute running time — the ability to get out of his own way. So much of the film seems pointless (every time Chris Hemsworth’s ditzy receptionist pops up the film suffers) and most of the humor feels jokey, leaning heavily on pop culture references that have been tired for decades. It’s 2016, and this supposedly forward-thinking movie is riffing on the most obvious lines from The Exorcist (1973) and Scarface (1983).
In the movie’s defense, the leads are good — especially McCarthy, who’s finally given a role that doesn’t involve her being a white-trash rube or a bumbling goof. In fact, it’s refreshing to find a comedy featuring characters who are functioning adults. Unfortunately, the rest of the film does the cast few favors. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor.