In 1984, a comedy about working class exterminators came out and took the whole world by storm. The gag was that these jump-suited, slime-covered schlubs weren’t catching cockroaches, they were catching ghosts. It was a remarkably humanizing take on a remarkably fantastical idea, and thanks to an exceptional cast, innovative visual effects and an impossibly witty screenplay, it now ranks among the best comedies – and in some cases, even among the best movies – ever made.
So remaking and/or rebooting Ghostbusters was always going to be a tricky proposition. The original film is so dearly beloved that many of its fans would probably marry it if they could. So in a culture that is deeply, deeply mired in its own nostalgia, the temptation must have been powerful to simply placate the existing audience, and give them the exact same thing they’ve already seen before.
Instead, writer/director Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold have opted to keep the fundamental concept in place but allow it grow in new directions. These new “Ghostbusters” represent a different generation of the working class, well-educated but underemployed, pursuing their dreams at the cost of their dignity. They can’t afford the firehouse from the original movie because they don’t already own property that they can mortgage off to pay for that, unlike certain “other” ghostbusters. Also, their unapologetically geeky obsessions make them damn near unemployable. I know a lot of people who can relate.
The new Ghostbusters are Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), all of whom are invested in paranormal science and all of whom – eventually – lose their jobs because of it. With nothing else to do but explore their passions, they start their own scientific research group to prove the existence of ghosts, swiftly enlisting an expert in New York City history named Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), and a dingbat receptionist named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).
The Ghostbusters have developed technology that ropes up ghosts, and can even reduce them to a harmless ectoplasmic goo, but capturing them isn’t as easy as it was in the previous films. If that were the case, then they could prove to the whole world that the supernatural was real. It’s a big part of why the team remains on the fringe for most of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, saving the day before being immediately discredited, time and time again. They are perpetual underdogs, clearly overqualified to be heroes but never actually accepted, especially by their many YouTube commenters.
Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has a lot going for it. The cast is exceptionally funny, and the design of the ghosts and ghostbusting equipment is impressive and colorful, evoking the TV series The Real Ghostbusters even more than the original films. The world of the supernatural here is broad and full of possibilities, and it features ghosts that are more unusual and demonic than most of the spooks from the earlier films. The way these Ghostbusters do battle with the paranormal is also more action-oriented, and more dynamic to watch. It’s a movie that just looks cool, damn it.
Sadly, the new Ghostbusters doesn’t seem to be quite as funny as the original, but to be fair, MOST movies aren’t as funny as the original Ghostbusters. Your mileage might vary, but I suspect we could all rattle off a handful of respectable comedy classics that aren’t as funny as the first Ghostbusters. The issue isn’t whether Paul Feig’s film is exactly as good or even better than the original (or its sequel, or its animated spin-offs). The issue is whether this film is sufficiently entertaining and interesting enough to warrant making it in the first place, and the answer is most definitely yes, it is. (And for the record, it’s a damn sight better than Ghostbusters II and at least two of those shows.)
The new Ghostbusters is a smart and exciting comedy, and a solid new entry into the classic series. Paul Feig’s film changes just enough about the original concept to make his Ghostbusters feel new, but its heart is the same. It is still a film about blue collar heroes, doing great things because that’s just what they do, whether or not they get any respect for it. It’s a film for anybody who has ever been marginalized for pursuing their passions, and been told that they were making a mistake for doing so. And that’s pretty wonderful.
Top Photo: Columbia Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.