Anticipation is a double-edged sword.
On one side, you have the stomach-swooping thrill that comes from building excitement; on the other, the ever-present possibility of disappointment.
And so after years of debate surrounding 2016’s Ghostbusters — tackling every topic from its creative team to its corporate obligations to its obsessive fans — I regret to inform you that the film is only okay.
The reboot — starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon — strains so hard to prove it’s having a good time that its seams don’t just show but start to tear apart under the pressure. Still, the situation isn’t always so dire. When the movie is at its best, it’s scrappy, eager to please, and — thanks to some superb comedic acting — deliciously strange.
It’s just a shame that the expectations for Ghostbusters have become so warped and bloated over the years that this reboot hardly gets a chance to catch its breath and be the loosely hilarious movie it could have been.
So without further ado, here’s the good, the bad, and the wonderfully weird of 2016’s Ghostbusters.
Good: The cast (and one actor in particular) is stellar
Let’s get this out of the way now: Director Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids) and his casting department absolutely nailed it when they found the actors for this movie. The dynamic among Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones is reminiscent of that of the four original Ghostbusters (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson) without direct mimicry, and each actor gets a chance to put her own comedic twists on her character.
As Columbia physics professor Erin Gilbert, Wiig plays a tentative nerd whose enthusiasm for the paranormal is an embarrassment, until it isn’t. McCarthy’s Abby — Erin’s childhood friend and an unabashed ghost enthusiast — balances Erin’s twitchy energy with grounded confidence that gets shit done. As Patty, Jones brings a pragmatic shrug to the whole operation, even as she can’t help her curiosity. There’s not one line of Patty’s dialogue that’s not better for having Jones say it.
Surprisingly, Chris Hemsworth (yes, Thor) has a bigger part than expected as the Ghostbusters’ earnestly bumbling secretary, Kevin, and he clearly relishes the chance to do something overtly silly.
Still: The revelation of Ghostbusters will have to be McKinnon’s Dr. Jillian "Holtz" Holtzmann, who not only steals every scene she’s in but chews it up with a liquid smirk and spits it out for parts.
This isn’t necessarily a surprise; McKinnon has so thoroughly dominated her seasons of Saturday Night Live that it’s disappointing when a sketch rolls out without one of her signature rambling weirdos. But when she uses those skills to bring Holtz to life, she’s a shockwave personified. It’s more fun guessing what kind of gadget Holtz will scurry out of her experimentation corner with next than trying to figure out what’s up with those ghosts.
Which brings us to:
The bad: The movie is weighed down by trying to be in too many places at once
As has been documented time and time again, a Ghostbusters sequel or reboot of some kind has been in the works, then out of the works, then back in the works almost a dozen times since 1989’s Ghostbusters II.
There is a ton riding on this specific movie doing well financially and comedically. And if it’s not a success, then, yes, there will absolutely be fans and executives alike who will point to four women taking the parts four men originated as the reason for its failure.
This Ghostbusters reboot has been the subject of such intense scrutiny and preemptive criticism that it’s almost impossible to watch the movie without thinking about the long road it took to get onscreen. The end result sags under that weight.
Despite the fact that it stars an incredibly skilled cast and is helmed by Feig, one of the best comedic directors currently working, this Ghostbusters has trouble shedding the skin of its predecessors to become something all its own, even though it’s a full reboot that ostensibly has nothing to do with the original story.
The movie lurches from point A to point B like it half wants to take the scenic route and let the performers loose and half wants to just make it to the finish line in one piece.
Call it the Avengers: Age of Ultron problem. In that overstuffed superhero cluster, it wasn’t hard to tell that the studio (Marvel) had different ideas from the creative team (chiefly writer and director Joss Whedon). The compromise was to throw as much as possible into the same pot and hope the character beats would keep the film from sinking — which, for the most part, they did.
The same holds true for Ghostbusters, which knows it has to get to the action, bust some ghosts, and save the day from some creep (Neil Casey, doing the best with the thin "bullied kid wants revenge" part he’s got).
But the movie is undeniably more fun when Erin, Abby, Patty, and Holtz are playing with proton guns and giving Kevin shit — or when they slow down long enough to see a ghost and let us feel the chills on the back of our necks.
The deliciously weird: the ghosts
Caveat: I am a notoriously jumpy moviegoer who spent most of Scream 4 with my head in my hands. But if my packed theater was anything to go by, I wasn’t the only one who was surprised at how much this Ghostbusters relishes the thrill of letting an open door creak open s-l-o-w-l-y, otherworldly light pulsing with a sinister and inviting glow just behind it.
Sure, these neon apparitions look more like they crawled out of an Xbox than the sewers of New York City, but it’s fun to watch an electric blue corpse swoop through the subway or an acid-green winged beast crash a metal show. After all, if ghosts found a way to break out of the afterlife and into our world in 2016, chances are they would look something like a video game.
As with 1984’s Ghostbusters, the spirits eventually take on weirder and weirder forms, to the point where our heroines are smashing their way through pirates, Puritans, and, yes, Slimers. And while those fights — not to mention the movie — feel like something of a free-for-all, there’s no denying the fun of watching a new generation of Ghostbusters slay their own demons.
Ghostbusters hits theaters nationwide on July 15.