Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is a film for anyone who ever watched the first Ghostbusters and thought, “I wish they got to use their guns more.” It’s bigger, brighter, and louder—the sort of movie that features the Ghostbusters shooting ghosts in slow motion set to the iconic theme song. It’s also incredibly funny. The only problem is that all the jokes and action don’t leave much room for the story.
Most of Ghostbusters centers on two scientists, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). The two are old friends, bonded by a love and interest in ghosts, who long ago went their separate ways. A chance encounter then drives them back together and, with the help of mad genius Jill Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and street-smart Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) the new Ghostbusters have to save New York City from a ghost invasion.
The connection between Erin and Abby is the emotional core of the film. Not just because they’re the leads, but because their relationship is by far the most developed. Holtzmann and Patty are definitely the funniest ones in the group but they don’t have much to do dramatically. (That said, McKinnon is the film’s MVP, taking a role that has almost no meat and making the character an instant comedic icon.) Beyond that, most of the characters are thin. While it’s forgivable in some cases, such as Chris Hemsworth’s genius turn as dimwit Kevin, there’s one really big one that hurts the movie considerably.
That would be film’s villain, Rowan. Played by Neil Casey, the character is nearly a non-entity. We know he doesn’t like people and is trying to open a portal to another dimension. How he figured out to do this is fuzzy (he’s a genius, we’re told), his motivations aren’t particularly believable (he was mistreated as a child) and the plan itself doesn’t really make much sense (bring ghosts back to kill people). Rowan is a character literally placing obstacles in the way for the Ghostbusters. He does some cool things, especially toward the end, but he’s never a true threat, so there’s no tension.
The story itself feels incredibly condensed. Things start well enough: characters are built, plots are set in motion, but the whole business of catching ghosts feels like it comes incredibly easy. In fact, once the team busts their first ghost, it feels like maybe 30 minutes of the plot have been cut out and we’re right near the end of the movie. That’s how quickly things happen.
Remember the montage in the first movie where we see the Ghostbusters learning to do their job? This movie doesn’t have that type of scene. What there is instead is a bunch of tech jargon and gadgetry all throughout the movie. Most of the gadgets are incredibly cool but the proton packs seem to have a bigger arc than many of the characters.
And yet, after all that, the movie is simply fun. You’d think saying the movie’s story and main villain aren’t very good would really be damning but everything else Feig and his cast are doing is electric and makes up for it. The cataclysmic escalation of the third act must be seen to be believed. Set pieces before that are dripping with humor and beautiful effects. And the 3D! This is a movie you have to see in 3D, as Feig has the slime and proton charges exploding off the edges of the frame. It’s a visceral delight.
But Ghostbusters is a primarily comedy and that’s where it works best. From the first lines of Feig and Katie Dippold’s script, the jokes don’t ever stop. It’s not just humor derived from the world of the movie either. There’s plenty of the random, irreverent jokes that Feig does so well to go along with the traditional, dry and sarcastic humor you’d expect from the franchise. The laughs are just one of the many ways these characters carve their own Ghostbuster niche.
And somehow the film does all of this as it pays almost constant tribute to the original movie. At times this is done tastefully, other times it borders on cheesy. But the consistent nostalgia adds a warmth to the movie, as well as several twists and surprises. They’re just another thing to counterbalance the flaws.
And there are definitely flaws. In the next few weeks when someone says they don’t like Ghostbusters, I won’t fight it. I get it. But for me, it comes down to this. Ghostbusters is funny. Ghostbusters is exciting. Ghostbusters may not have a great story or villain, but takes a pile of proton packs, ectoplasm, and nostalgia and transforms it into a hugely epic action comedy. Paul Feig and his team have made a new Ghostbusters for today’s audiences, whether you end up being one of those audience members or not.
Ghostbusters opens this Friday, July 15.
This review originally ran on July 11.