The Ghostbusters Reboot Is Better Than The Original

You read that headline and gasped, didn’t you? I know, it came as a surprise to me, too. When I sat down in the theater on Friday, I expected a cute movie with lots of nods to the originals that would call upon my 80′s kid nostalgia in an attempt to win me over. Ultimately, I was braced for disappointment. Ghostbusters is a classic, after all, and the Melissa McCarthy/Paul Feig dream team isn’t for everyone. Their humor is hit-or-miss for me, so I accepted the very real possibility that, despite how much I wanted to like the new Ghostbusters, my initial impression of the trailer and the entire reboot concept would prevail.

For two hours (that passed far too quickly), I was gleefully proven wrong at every turn. The movie is funny, with more gags per minute than its predecessors. The production design is more exciting, the ghosts scarier (though nothing will ever top the horror of Winston’s phantom train encounter in the sequel). Ghostbusters‘s plot is, in essence, the exact same as the plots of the first two movies: a ragtag band of heroes that nobody takes seriously must save Manhattan from a siege of ghosts, and also there’s some kind of vortex. But this installment adds much-needed fixes to holes audiences have politely overlooked for thirty-odd years.

For example, the lack of a clear antagonist. While all the movies are, at heart, about bustin’ some ghosts, the first two featured villains who were either long-dead (only in the second movie did the villain actually appear on screen) or pasty bureaucrats. The reboot gives us an antagonist who shares the bleak motivations of Ivo Shandor, architect of the doomed apartment building in the first movie. Rowan North, played with twitchy perfection by Neil Casey, is connecting the dots on ley lines around the city, intending to open a portal to a ghost dimension in the basement of the hotel where he works. Though Shandor’s goals and North’s are ostensibly the same, North proves a more effective–and memorable–villain because he actually gets screen time, and the audience sees his evil plan acted out, rather than half-sketched in some jail-cell banter. When the villain isn’t dead and off-screen, or on-screen but confined to a few scenes of evil leering from a painting, watching him get his comeuppance is far more satisfying.

The mechanics of ghostbusting make more sense in the reboot, as well. By the mid-point of the first film, the storage unit where the ‘busters dumped their ghosts was filling up, and it took two to four members of the team to capture each ghost. In the reboot, the aim is to contain just one, for proof of the paranormal. Extraneous ghosts are disposed of with new weapons like proton pistols, grenades, and even a hand-held wood chipper. Without the need to indefinitely contain each spirit, the action sequences are bigger and more dramatic. The extended climax is so reminiscent of a FPS video game that you can imagine where the save points would be.

Of course, no movie can stand on the strength of its action sequences alone. When the cast was first announced, it was tempting to assign the role of Egon to Kate McKinnon’s wild-haired Holtzmann, or to equate Leslie Jones’s Patty with Winston Zeddemore based on race alone. Though Holtzmann and Egon share a common archetype, McKinnon wisely doesn’t confine herself to mimicking Harold Ramis’s performance. While Ernie Hudson was relegated to the role of the guy who occasionally asked questions as a way to spur more spoken exposition from the white characters, Patty comes in with enthusiasm for the work and a speciality of her own: she’s a brilliant historian whose knowledge of the city is integral to the plot.

As for McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, they’re as far from Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as could be. And that’s a good thing. Murray’s Peter Venkman was a creepy, wannabe-womanizer. Aykroyd’s Ray constantly proved himself a liability. It would have been easy enough to build a new Venkman from McCarthy’s weirdo performance in Bridesmaids, but the script doesn’t push her to act in such broad comedic strokes. Her short-tempered, long-suffering Abby is more interested in exterminating ghosts and getting a decent cup of soup than she is in romancing clients. As the ambitious but clueless Erin, Wiig shares straight man duties with McCarthy, and her buttoned-up attitude is as far from the affable Ray as could be.

Some have claimed that Chris Hemsworth’s sexy secretary Kevin is misandry on par with the misogyny of the originals, but while Wiig’s Erin has a cringe-worthy crush on him, no one ends up actually bedding him. Contrast that with Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett, a smart, independent woman who is relentlessly pursued by Venkman and Rick Moranis’s Louis, and later ends up in bed with both of them (albeit possessed during her encounter with the latter). Even the ghosts in the original movie didn’t escape sexual objectification; in a scene that was always embarrassing to watch with your parents, one comely spook gives Ray a spectral blow job. You’d be hard pressed to find sex in the reboot at all, aside from Holtzmann’s aggressive charm. There are no clumsy romantic subplots, no Magic Mike-style ghosts. For all the allegations of estrogen ruining the franchise, there’s less romance in the female-led reboot than in the male-driven originals.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking the script spends its time trying to prove to us that girls can be ghostbusters. Apart from a few sly asides, the misogynist complaints from seething fanboys are largely ignored. Ghostbusters makes no attempt to win them back into the franchise, but it also doesn’t play up the rah-rah feminism angle it could have relied on. Before audiences even had a chance to see the movie, critical fans wanted to reduce the new characters to “just women”, while enthusiastic feminists exalted them as “yay, women!” Yet somehow, torn between these two extremes, Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold deliver fully fleshed-out characters with their own goals, motivations, and conflicts. These ladies aren’t anyone’s banner. They’re here to bust ghosts, crack wise, and build dangerous nuclear toys. Proving any kind of sociopolitical viewpoint is a fourth-place priority at best.

So, what about all the nods to the originals I was relying on to get me through what I expected would be just an okay-ish movie? There were tons of them! And they were all fun. At no time did they feel as though they were being used as a crutch; their presence felt more celebratory than nostalgic. Every time an original cast member appeared on screen, it felt as though we were being given their blessing to enjoy the movie, even though it isn’t the classic version. And I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it more than the originals.

So, what happens now? Now that I’ve seen the new Ghostbusters, found it funny and smart, and gotten myself in such a blasphemous position? Well, not much, really. I can still watch the original movies, and they’ll still fall flat for me in the same ways they’ve always fallen flat. But that’s never made me stop loving them before. My childhood is still intact. No one has confiscated my DVDs and banned me from ever watching the originals. Accepting that the new Ghostbusters is superior in several respects does nothing to tarnish the originals. In fact, it frees them. Now that we’ve seen that the originals could be improved upon, we can love them for what they are–flawed, dated, but ultimately fun comedies–and not the sacred cows of nerd culture they’ve become in the twenty-first century.

29 thoughts on “The Ghostbusters Reboot Is Better Than The Original

  1. Hmmm. I was actually wanting this to be good, but then I saw the trailer and it was … not even a little funny. So I should ignore said trailer and see it, anyway?

    Also, I hate Kristin Wiig. Like, can’t stand her, have never found her funny in anything and think she’s one of the worst actresses/comediennes to ever exist in the history of actresses and comediennes. She ruins pretty much everything she touches. So that she’s in it makes me want to see it that much less. Especially because I’ve hated things she was in where the other actors have been amazing in everything else I’ve seen them in (including Melissa McCarthy, who was the ONLY good thing about Bridesmaids).

    I’m torn. Really, really, really torn. And not because I have an issue with remakes. I long ago reconciled the remake thing — they were doing and redoing stage plays for centuries. Why not movies and TV shows?

    1. It’s difficult for me to be totally objective, because comedy is subjective (for example, I love Wiig and Bridesmaids is one of my favorite movies), but I’ve seen a lot of reviews from people who thought the movie ranged from “meh” to “pretty good” — in fact, Jenny’s is the first I’ve seen that has glowing praise, which is exciting because I felt the same to a lesser degree — but all of them added that the trailer showed the worst parts of the movie and that it was better than shown. Sony really messed up the marketing for this film, which is such a shame.

      Anyway, I suspect you won’t love the movie if you hate Wiig, because while she’s only 1/4 of the main cast (1/5 if you count Hemsworth, and you really should because he’s adorable), she has a lot of classic Wiig-isms, albeit toned down a LOT. You might be pleasantly surprised, of course, because there’s a lot of good to the film — namely Kate McKinnon, who is quite literal perfection — but I’d recommend waiting to rent it or see it at a cheaper theater. That way you’ll either be pleasantly surprised or won’t feel bad about spending >$10. (Then again, those ghosts are pretty, and maybe seeing them on a smaller screen wouldn’t be as effective. This is a really unhelpful comment, I know, but it’s such an odd film in so, SO many ways, both good and bad, that it’s extremely difficult to determine how much you’ll like it.)

      1. I’m actually seeing nothing but praise for it. But then again, everyone loved Bridesmaids and I hated it, so there’s that. lol I didn’t even like Chris O’Dowd in that and I love him in everything else he’s in.

        We have a theater here that offers really cheap weekday pricing, so we usually go on weeknights. It won’t be quite so expensive for us, so I won’t feel quite so bad if we end up going and I don’t like it.

    2. I feel ya. I’m also…not a fan…of Kristen Wiig’s comedy/acting (That’s the nicest way I can put it), and I haven’t been from the minute she first appeared on SNL. I felt like I was the only person who didn’t like Bridesmaids. But my twitter feed has been lit up with people who loved the other three performances, especially Jones’ and McKinnon’s, so I’m hoping that the rest of the gang will be enough to balance out of the Wiig-iness. And I loved The Heat, which was a Paul Feig film that wasn’t Bridesmaids, so I’m going to see it tonight — Kristen Wiig or no Kristen Wiig — and I’m actually pretty excited!

      1. My fiance and I laughed from start to finish at The Heat. That was a fantastic movie.

        I felt like Bridesmaids was trying way too hard to be the female version of The Hangover and it just didn’t work. I loved McCarthy in it, but that was about all.

      2. You know, I really struggled to find something to even say about Kristen Wiig in this review, and I love her. She was easily the least memorable performance in the movie, so maybe it won’t be too bad, because you won’t remember her later?

  2. JENNY! I love you for writing this, because it is very much in the minority. Admittedly I never grew up with Ghostbusters and saw this movie on a (misguided?) feminist crusade, because if this tanks the odds of us seeing another female-helmed ensemble action flick goes down by like 75%, but I thought it was a lot of fun, and very charming. I agree with you on basically everything, except the kinda disappointing climax — that vortex thing got a little cheesy, with it’s Disney’s-Hercules-esque jump to save Abby — but the cast is exceedingly lovable and that forgave a lot of sins (including some plot holes and jokes that fell flat, which is to be expected in a line-o-rama film like this one). It’s a movie that rides heavily on its charisma, and either people buy into that or they don’t.

    Anyway, I agree, and thank you for being That Person. We need more of That Person.

  3. Re “Proving any kind of sociopolitical viewpoint is a fourth-place priority at best”: I actually think creating an well-rounded cast of women characters with their own motivations and interests makes a much more feminist point than an on-the-nose text about how women can do anything/etc. It’s classic show don’t tell. :D

    1. ” It’s classic show don’t tell.”

      This. Absolutely. I think the misogynistic backlash we’re seeing now was in part due to the rah-rah feminism of the 90s. Like…I understand there are a lot of garbagey things men love and hold up as, as Jenny put, a nerdy sacred cow, but I’ve always hated that. We don’t need some sassy ‘girls can do this too!’ crap. As women, we already know we can do everything men can. The only people who need that message sold to them are misogynists, and I’d rather just ignore them. Women want to see themselves as interesting characters who don’t exist as either virgin or whore stereotypes.

    2. I actually think creating an well-rounded cast of women characters with their own motivations and interests makes a much more feminist point…

      YES!! I finally saw this movie yesterday, and I really love that the characters “just happen” to be women — exactly the way the original movie just happened to be about men, without having to make some Big Point about maleness. Women exist, we have interests, we do things … and none of it has to make any kind of statement.

  4. I would say it’s just as good as the original (but for different reasons), but perhaps perhaps less memorable. And yeah, it’s WAAAAY better than the original.

  5. I watch the original Ghostbusters every year; I love the dialog — “Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!” — and I wasn’t planning on seeing this version because some things don’t need a reboot, they’re classics. But your review of the film has made me want to see it now. I hope I end up liking both the way you do.

    1. It’s definitely worth it! This is a “reboot” the way the new Star Wars movie was – the pacing and plot beats felt very similar to the original, and it did tell the same basic story, but it’s NOT just a remake. There are lots of nods to the original Ghostbusters movie/cast, but I (who have only seen the original once or twice and that was a long time ago) got some and missed some and it didn’t feel like it made a difference to my overall understanding of the movie. You’d probably get more out of those if you re-watch Ghostbusters every year :-)

      1. Yeah, it’s a Halloween tradition every year for me to watch Ghostbusters. Maybe I’ll switch it up this year and watch the new one instead!

  6. The original Ghostbusters is my favorite movie, but I couldn’t believe how people acted like it’s a sacred text in the face of the reboot news. The remake is so fun and I like how these four GBs have a different chemistry than the original mix (the fourth ghostbuster joining the crew much sooner, for one). I’ll be seeing it again. :)

  7. One thing that really impressed me– especially given what the MRAs in my timelines predicted– was that they didn’t do any of the fat comedy you expect from a Melissa McCarthy movie. I remember when the trailer came out hearing a bunch of guys saying that they were taking a classic and ripping it off to fill with fat jokes and feminism. But there was not one single fat joke in the movie (at least my friends and I couldn’t think of one as we stood around in the parking lot after.) They took a group of brilliant comedians and wrote good comedy instead of mocking their body types for lols.

  8. Formal protest: several words….


  9. I take issue with your statement that Winston Zeddmore in the original just asks questions for the white guys to answer. The one asking the most questions and acting like he didn’t have a clue what was going on was Venkman. Zeddmore gets one of the most golden lines of the movie, “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say YES.” And he’s also the one who makes the connection to the end times in the car with Ray.

    1. See, I watched the original last night, and I noticed that in most of his scenes, he’s saying something to spur dialogue between the other three. Not like he’s a part of the conversation. It would go:

      Somebody: “Declaration of thing.”
      Winston: “What do you mean, thing?”
      [conversation between the other three, ending in something about a new thing]
      Winston: “So new thing is actually this other thing?”

      Winston has some great lines, but I always thought his role was larger than it is. I know that Ernie Hudson had issues with the way the role got trimmed down, I just always thought it was a vanity thing, because hey, he has a lot of screen time. Now I’m kind of like, “Okay, Mr. Hudson, I see your point now.”

      1. yeah, but his role got trimmed down because it was originally written for Eddie Murphy, who passed. If you keep that in mind, a lot of the lines Zeddemore says have a very Murphy-esque vibe to them. Which was what Murphy was known for at the time, whip fast sassy one liners (ie: Trading Places, 48hrs, Beverly hills Cop). Just like Venkman’s role was written for John Belushi and you can see a bit of that in how Murray plays the character.

  10. I also super-loved this movie! I didn’t care for the end-boss form though…anyone else feelin’ me on that one?
    Also, I thought of McCarthy as Ackroyd’s reboot and Wiig as Murray’s. McCarthy was the enthusiastic believer, and Wiig was the one trying to maintain respectability and took longer to come around (again). Wiig also had the man-izing role like Murray had a woman-izing one, though I thought Wiig was – as you said Jenny – more cringey and less supposed-to-be-charming.

  11. Took me a little while to get into it, but about a quarter of the way through I was sold :) I absolutely loved it, and I thought the final fight scene was pretty rad (Kate McKinnon and those guns, Lord take me now). I haven’t seen the original film since I was a kid so it was interesting to read your opinion with more of an original Ghostbusters context.

  12. Oddly, I’ve only stumbled across one anti-new ghostbuster film that was actually MRA-inspired. The rest of the reviews I’ve seen have ranged from “this is bad” to “meh, wait until it’s a rental.” Most people agree the actors are fine, so I haven’t seen a real hate for the fact they are women so much as hate for the fact that they completely attempted to ignore the originals, and that they were a bit disrespectful with the cameos of the previous ghostbusters? I understand the action sequences were better than in the original, but that a lot of the movie felt like a cash-grab inspired interference from Sony. I’ve heard a few reviewers say they would be interested in seeing the extended edition just to see if that clears up some of the strange jumps and cuts that don’t flow well. I have been on the fence about seeing this movie myself since a lot of the critics that I do follow have been so negative to so ambivalent about it. Also, the trailer was a bit weak, and I didn’t approve of a lot of the reactions on either side of the argument overall, from the fans, some of the actors, and Sony during all of this nonsense.

  13. So glad to see this! Ive never actually watched the other Ghostbusters and though I loved The Heat and Spy I can’t get through Bridesmaids. But I was dragged to the new Ghostbusters anyway a honestly loved it. As far as movies go I thought it was nearly perfect. And among family and friends in known as the one who hates movies…no quarter given.

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