A sharp cast and fantastic production design elevate the new Ghostbusters

The online frenzy surrounding the new Ghostbusters movie can make it difficult to discuss without seeming like you’re taking a political stance. To be against the movie is to align yourself with the worst types of folks on the internet, but to be for the movie is to be for an endless cycle of remakes.  The prospect of a major summer tentpole/franchise starter led by four women is certainly a fantastic thing, but did Ghostbusters need to updated? Not to say that the original Ghostbusters is some sort of sacred cow; it’s a decently fun movie with its share of memorable moments, but far from flawless. The cast and crew of the reboot all have fantastic track records, but it was hard to not be a bit dismissive after the less-than-inspiring first trailer and the absolutely awful Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliot update to Ray Parker Jr’s theme. Thankfully, misogynist trolls be damned, the new Ghostbusters is a success, at times hilarious and with a surprisingly fresh look that distinguishes itself from its predecessors and most anything else currently in cinemas.

The movie gets off to a bit of a rocky start, as Kristen Wiig’s Columbia-tenure-hopeful Erin Gilbert and Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates take a while to really pop. They have a nice chemistry together, but everything has a bit of a box-checking quality to it at the start, and the humour skews weirdly scatological. However, once the cast starts fleshing out to include Kate McKinnon’s engineer Holtzmann, Leslie Jones’ subway employee Patty, and Chris Hemsworth’s hunky secretary Kevin, the movie puts itself together remarkably quickly. Jones proves herself here much more than SNL has ever given her the chance to, but Hemsworth and especially McKinnon steal the movie. Kevin is among the dumbest characters to ever grace the screen, but Hemsworth has an aw-shucks quality about him thats incredibly endearing, and the jokes given to his character hit the hardest. Holtzmann’s mad scientist schtick could easily have been over-the-top cartoony, but McKinnon walks the fine line between creating a weirdo who creates laughs out of thin air while still being distinctly human. McKinnon has consistently been the absolute star of SNL over the past two years, and any questions about her being able to stretch one of her characters to a feature-length performance are definitively answered by her work here.

The movie real takes off and becomes something special around the halfway mark (if I were to name a turning point, it’d be the first scene in the Mayor’s office, played by a fantastically funny Andy Garcia and flanked by yet another great SNL player, Cecily Strong). The movie, like the original, truly inhabits New York City, not simply using it as a backdrop for any major metropolis (its no coincidence that both casts draw heavily from the deep hometown SNL bench). What really sells it all is the shockingly good production design. There are some clunkers around, notably the Fall Out Boy theme and a weirdly low-key metal concert, but the ghost design is exquisite, despite it being one of my major problems with the original trailer. Everything glows cartoony colours, with a Casper-esque kind of vibe that keeps it from ever being really creepy, but that I found incredibly absorbing nonetheless. The ghost scenes are, if anything, highly reminiscent of the experience of those Disneyland-style haunted mansions that aren’t really scary, but take your imagination on a wild journey for twenty minutes. It feels distinct from what the previous Ghostbusters did, even if it does reference it a bit (the final act is a neat spin on the original), and even feels utterly distinct from blockbusters as a whole. It was the last thing I expected going in, but the new Ghostbuster’s greatest asset may be its ability to really build a world, which bodes well for its franchise hopes.

The movie does rely unfortunately heavily on references to the original, most of which are pretty funny but the sheer volume of which threaten to keep it from finding its own identity. Most surviving original cast members get a cameo, which range from working spectacularly (Dan Aykroyd, slipping into a small role naturally) to clunking around (Bill Murray, chewing scenery with no laughs). Despite this, the new Ghostbusters is able to stand on its own two feet, and side-by-side quality-wise with the original. The main villain of the film can be read at times as a rejoinder to the trolls, spouting the odd gender-based insult in an otherwise fairly egalitarian film. It’s a bit on the nose at times, but its apt, and just as the Ghostbusters get one up on him, the film gets one up on the real life trolls by just being an involving, funny, and overall incredibly enjoyable summer movie.

B+

Here are your new Ghostbusters, action ready

Ghostbusters (2016)
Dir. Paul Feig
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, and Kate McKinnon
Rotten Tomatoes (73%)

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A sharp cast and fantastic production design elevate the new Ghostbusters

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