Harsh Texture

Ghostbusters (2016)

The victim of a concentrated smear campaign during its release, the Ghostbusters remake is fine entertainment, very eager to please and extremely deferential to the source material. The film does pull away from its roots in some notable ways though. Through the eyes of its new protagonists its world is less realistic and less forgiving than previous entries.

Academic Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) has spent years trying to distance herself from her studies of the paranormal. However after her theories are proven right and she’s kicked out of her university, she teams with her former colleague Melissa McCarthy) and new collaborators (Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth) to fight against the ghosts invading New York City.

Eddie Murphy was originally intentioned to play Winston Steadmore in the first Ghostbusters film. Murphy declined and veteran, journeyman actor Ernie Hudson replaced him as Winston in a greatly scaled back role.

I wonder what Ghostbusters would’ve looked like with both Murphy and Murray, two of the best comedic actors yet produced. The Ghostbusters we received was a surprisingly earthy film. It shared the mentality of 70s cinema, grounded itself in a cinema verite approach to pair along with the special effects. Portions of the film could border on pseudo-documentary with sympathetic glimpses of blue collar New York City, its political class, religious leaders, the upper crust on Central Park West. Would any of that survived with Murphy in the lead? Or would the film be a rapid-fire series of barbs and reaction shots, unmoored from reality.

The 2016 remakequel of Ghostbusters points to a possible answer. Melissa McCarthy is at this point a superstar, having her in the picture guarantees at least a $100 million gross. Kristen Wiig should be at the same level even if Hollywood hasn’t figured out her niche yet. Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are both up-and-coming, but Ghostbusters affords them almost as much screen time as the established leads. In the final product this is a film that indulges the comedic stylings of each actress fully. The comedy comes at a torrid pace when any pairing of the Ghostbusters are on screen.

Unlike the first Ghostbusters film, there is no attempt at grounding the picture. We know from the first scene that this is a comedic film in a comedic world. Zach Woods handles all the dialog in the opening sequence by himself, as a tour guide pointing out the “anti-Irish walls” of a 19th century mansion.

Seemingly every subsequent role comes with a comedic bent. Even typically serious actors like Andy Garcia or Michael K Williams provide their share of punchlines. The only attempt at a “straight man” here is a reliably droll Charles Dance and his character arc is through after two scenes. The best and biggest surprise here is the casting of Chris Hemsworth as the him-bo Ghostbusters secretary Kevin. Of all of the major MCU actors, Hemsworth is the most willing to play against type. Unafraid to be the butt of jokes or limit his screen time to a supporting role.

In the end Ghostbusters is great entertainment. The design of the ghosts is the best in the series. The design and animation of the ghostbusting equipment is the best in the series. Nary fifteen minutes of screen time will pass without a guest appearance from one of the original cast members or a loving, overt call back to the first film (no Ghostbusters II love, sorry). The new cast has an easy rapport and play off each other wonderfully. Paul Feig’s direction is crisp and edits the film for maximum comedic effect.

Its a difficult enterprise to hate, but hated it has been. For all its deference to the original film and its fan base, news of the remake drew an astonishing amount of scorn. The real issue was transparently the gender reversal at play. Four capable female leads and an airhead male receptionist swapped out the four male leads and their female receptionist. Sight unseen, Ghostbusters was ranked in the 3’s on IMDB.

Perhaps adding fuel to the fire was a subtle realignment of the moral center of the Ghostbusters universe. The previous films were at their cores celebrations of the male dweeb. Outside of the four leads the role of “audience surrogate” through these worlds were handled by RIck Moranis and Peter MacNicol respectively, both of which so socially inept as to merit ostracism. Despite their transgressions against alpha female Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), by the end of the films they are forgiven and embraced by the Ghostbusters and celebrate alongside them in the triumphant closing montages.

Neil Casey is offered no such generosity. He is a “creep” through and through and the unapologetic villain. The sole source of the malevolent spirits wreaking havoc across New York, Ghostbusters sees fit to dispatch his corporeal form halfway through the film. Its an interesting shift that seems to align with the new point of view of its cast.

Published: Nov. 25, 2018, 4:01 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 25, 2018, 4:01 p.m.