The original was better in every way. There. Now that that’s out of the way, Ghostbusters (2016) is not terrible. The cast is good and fun to watch and there are some genuine laughs to be had. There are also enough callbacks to the original to make any viewer who knows the source material sigh with nostalgia. The problem is the weak story. The first half of the film is promising, with likeable characters and reasonable goals, but then the movie descends into a cluttered mess in the second half, with a rushed plot, under developed villain, and nothing to root for.
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) has a prestigious teaching position at Columbia University and is being considered for tenure. Unfortunately, her past as a believer in the paranormal is coming back to haunt her when she discovers a book she wrote on the subject is being sold online by her co-author and estranged friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). When Erin confronts Abby, who has set up a lab for studying the paranormal with her new partner Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), the argument is interrupted by the opportunity to face a real ghost together, which they do, rekindling Erin’s belief in ghosts and spurring the creation of a new joint venture to study the paranormal. Unfortunately, more ghosts are being spotted around New York City. Subway booth operator Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) sees one materialize after running into an odd man who appears to be leaving strange devices in areas where ghosts are sighted. Being the only experts in their field, it’s up to Erin, Abby, and their crew to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.
The strongest and best part of the film is the casting. All of the women have great comedic timing and a good handle on their characters so that they all feel distinct. Kristen Wiig especially impresses as the main lead and the only character with a sympathetic background, giving audiences something to latch onto. The weakest link, however, is Chris Hemsworth, who plays the group’s ditzy receptionist, Kevin. While he has his part in the humor, he just doesn’t have the comedic chops to hang with the ladies.
The weakest and worst part of the film is the structure of the story, with particular elements of the plot being outright headscratchers. The first half of the film starts off well enough, establishing characters and histories, and there’s plenty of funny dialog and a handful of funny bits to set the mood. About one-third of the way into the movie, however, audiences will begin to realize that the film is less concerned with the plot and more concerned with the characters, because they don’t appear to be accomplishing much. And when they actually bust their first ghost, which typically would be a turning point in the story, the women don’t really know what to do with it and end up missing an opportunity to study it, negating the impact of busting the ghost in the first place. This is the point where the film loses its direction and the audience.
The rest of the movie is a shoehorning of other elements that just don’t seem that important. For instance, Andy Garcia plays the mayor and Cecily Strong plays his aide. While the mayor’s office in the original movie didn’t believe in ghosts and, therefore, had a problem with the Ghostbusters, the mayor’s office in this film does believe in ghosts, but has a problem with the Ghostbusters because they’re too public about what they do. What? So there’s this weird element where the mayor privately supports the Ghostbusters, but publicly ridicules them and tries to stop them. This is a wholly unnecessary and unnatural subplot, not to mention unfunny. If you’re going to confuse the audience, then at least do it for laughs.
There are also gaps in the logic of the film which can only be attributed to director Paul Feig’s vision if the leaked SONY emails are to be believed. It’s unclear how the ghosts manifest themselves, what their powers are, and how they can be defeated. The film trains the audience to believe that the ghosts can only be captured by the Ghostbusters’ technology, but by the end of the film audiences are watching ghosts get destroyed by proton grenades, proton pistols, and even a proton fist, with none of the ghosts being captured. There’s also a confusing moment when some ghosts appear as giant Macy’s parade balloons – not balloons that were possessed, but actual ghost balloons – which is never explained. Moreover, these ghost balloons can be defeated by convention means, like a knife, instead of using ghostbusting equipment. Finally, the movie feels like it makes up powers for the main villain without any rhyme or reason. He can possess bodies, but relies on their actual knowledge and physical abilities to perform tasks, like riding a motorcycle or lifting heavy objects. But later he’s able to fly while in these possessed bodies and also command other people around him (see the part about the dance number in the email I linked to – that exists!). Too many questions in audiences’ minds severely mitigates the enjoyment in the third act.
Comparisons to the original are inevitable, and the 1984 version is easily the superior version in every way. While the original was a comedy, it didn’t have the kind of deliberate jokes and bits the way the 2016 version – and really all modern comedies – does. It was also straightforward, easy to follow, and didn’t bog itself down with explaining too much. How did they build a containment unit for ghosts? How did they build proton packs? Who cares?! Finally, the 1984 film also felt much bigger, with the Ghostbusters being integrated into the ethos of New York City. By the end, audiences didn’t feel like the Ghostbusters were fighting the villain alone – they had the support of the entire city and the national guard. And when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man started stepping on churches, it was a disaster that affected everyone. When it was over, you felt like you had really been part of a big zany adventure with far reaching effects.
No amount of dance choreography is going to lift this reboot to those heights.