Ghostbusters nails the true spirit of the series by making bold changes

That Ghostbusters trailer, then. I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t expecting anything as exciting as that. It’s not that I wasn’t on-board already, you understand. I’m a lifelong Ghost Head. Like so many of us, I’ve been through the decades-long rollercoaster of hope and disappointment that has come with the various pitches, scripts, near-greenlights and cancellations of Ghostbusters 3, not to mention the still-felt loss of Harold Ramis. And after all of that, Paul Feig’s angle just felt like the right path to me. A spiritual successor, built on a fundamental point of difference in order to avoid too-direct comparisons and stand on its own two (eight?) feet.

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We’re long past the point where a direct sequel would work, even if all four original ‘Busters were still with us. The last thing I’d want is a sad, two-hour procession of ‘I’m too old for this shit/slime’ jokes, a la Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The original films and team just mean too much to me to watch them dragged through the mud of aged redundancy, jokes at their own expense told through a gaping hole in the fourth wall, smashed by awareness of the sequel’s long-delayed nature. So after years hanging onto hope by my fingernails, I had to grow up, take a mature look around, and admit that I no longer wanted Ghostbusters 3. But something that could re-capture the unique cocktail of Great Things that makes Ghostbusters so special? Yes. That. That I could get behind.

And now I’m really behind it. Because it really does feel like this movie gets it.

I’ll admit, the trailer initially managed to hook me in the most calculated way. The slow, piano version of the Ghostbusters theme. The shot of the fire station. The simple, but effectively reverential text reference to Spengler, Venkman, Stantz and Zeddemore. Of course I was going to tingle. But I’ve seen enough film trailers and reboots to know when I’m being pandered to. I know when someone’s trying to manipulate me, even when it’s working. I wasn’t going to dive in wholeheartedly until I’d been pleased by the new stuff.

And then I was. Entirely.

The main thing that works for me? This new Ghostbusters seems to understand the balance. The wonder of the original films is that they straddle genres with complete legitimacy. The horror threat is potent and grounded, and its inexorable escalation is portrayed with a genuinely ominous sense of doom. But despite that, Ghostbusters is also one of the best comedies of its decade. And it makes those two, seemingly discordant, halves blend for exactly the same reason it’s so warmly funny in the first place. It’s all about organic, natural, character-driven laughs.

Nothing is forced, or contrived, or gimmicky. Everything comes from personalities interacting with each other. Yes, there’s an epic, otherworldly situation going on, but the entire thing is grounded by the fact that the people responding to it are reacting like real people. And I’m seeing a lot of that in the new Ghostbusters. Yes, we’re only getting it in snapshot one-liners at the moment – because that’s the kind of thing that works in trailers – but the tone is already there.

And I have no reason to think that won’t continue throughout the rest of the film. Paul Feig’s track record with off-kilter, character-driven ensemble comedies like Bridesmaids makes him entirely qualified, and the familiar, Feig-friendly names in the cast reassure me that creative dynamics would be strong from the off. The chemistry between Ramis, Murray, Ackroyd and Hudson was of course fundamental to making the original Ghostbusters work, but with numerous appearances together, and a whole lot of Saturday Night Live experience between them, the new cast has every chance of recreating that.

And then, of course, there’s the look and feel of the whole thing, which similarly understands how Ghostbusters works. Those ghosts are just spot-on, for instance, exhibiting that same sense of unsettling ethereality and chunky, slightly cartoonish weight – always a wonderful visual distillation of what the films were about tonally.

The hardware design is great as well. It understands that part of Ghostbusters’ appeal is that its heroes aren’t superheroes, or a big-budget, government sanctioned task force. They’re amateurish nerds, working in a ramshackle way, with the best they can cobble together. If anything, the new GB takes that hook further than the original films. ECTO-1 looks more like a crap car with bits stuck on it than ever. The proton gear looks like something your weird, paranoid, survivalist uncle would cobble together in his shed to screw with government radio waves. We’ve always been told that proton packs are dangerous, but they always looked pretty slick, despite Egon apparently bashing them together in a matter of days. Here though, they look loud, hazardous, and liable to set you on fire at any moment.

And fundamentally, there’s the inventive way that the new Ghostbusters looks to scale things up. That moment when Times Square seems to become possessed by the ghost of its past, 1970s self? That’s your new ‘Titanic finally arrives in New York’ moment there. A typically witty, typically arresting, typically Ghostbusters image with as much scope for shock and awe as it has for wry jokes.

Though for all the resonance on show, I’m just as excited about what isn’t the same. Take, as a big example, that line about a man-made device amplifying paranormal activity. It sounds like we’re going to have a legitimate, human antagonist this time around, with an earthly agenda. That should mean a more direct foil for character-driven tension and intrigue, and a neat avoidance of the remake syndrome that plagues Ghostbusters 2. As much as I love that first sequel, there’s no denying that plot-wise it’s a beat-for-beat remake of the original, and by nature of what I was talking about at the top of this article, that’s exactly what this new Ghostbusters needs to avoid being.

But in terms of what it does need to be, I currently think it nails it. It feels totally in tune with the originals, and 100% respectful and sympathetic. But by also being its own thing, and avoiding ironic winks and nods, it feels exciting and fresh at the same time. And funny. And cool. And spectacular. And human. And there are no six words that better sum up Ghostbusters than that.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.