After what seems like years of discussion, the new Ghostbusters finally opened this past weekend, and everyone sane can breath a sigh of relief. Here is a movie that didn’t destroy or dishonor our collective memories of the 1984 classic, and is a chimera of brand new and very old.
The new Ghostbusters is entertaining because it features familiar movie thrills like proton packs, swirling vortices, and slimy Slimers. Accordingly, as a supernatural light-hearted film, most of the kinetic action cues are taken from either the original film, or occasionally, from 1989’s Ghostbusters II. But the comedy of the new Ghostbusters is where most of its originality shines. This is a film that is funniest when not emulating its ridiculously popular antecedent. And for that reason, potential sequels to this new Ghostbusters are poised to be better.
Even in the age of innumerable sequels, the notion that the first installment in a series is the “best” still tends to be a common opinion. But the “reboot” game (however you feel like defining it) has changed some of those rules.
Do you consider X-Men (2000) to the “first” X-Men movie or maybe X-Men: First Class (2011)? When thousands of us saw The Dark Knight in 2008, we weren’t thinking of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman as being “part 1,” but rather, the direct precedent, Batman Begins. And with those particular films, most will agree, the sequel The Dark Knight is better than Batman Begins in almost every single way. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that the pressure to prove the new franchise’s viability had disappeared. Christopher Nolan proved he could do an awesome Batman movie, so when it was time to do a sequel, that sequel was fantastic.
But Ghostbusters is a comedy, not a dark-gritty melodrama. The corresponding pressure on a possible sequel to this Ghostbusters is correlatively off, which means said sequel will be even better and funnier than this one. When Patty (Leslie Jones) walks by the room full of mannequins and says “room full of nightmares,” the movie’s particular voice felt altered from the original film. Ditto for Hotlzman (Kate McKinnon) licking her proton guns.
Any of the scenes in the new film that detracted from this new vibe were mostly the scenes designed to give us some kind of fan-service shout-out to the original.
True, in the post-credits sequence Patty gets a signal that has something to do with Zuul, but it would almost be totally fine if the next film dropped that idea entirely. Or better yet, made it into a joke. Can you imagine Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) saying to Patty, “What was that Zuul thing?” And having Patty say, “Oh, I think it was just some new restaurant that opened in Bushwick.” Boom, fan service done! The rest of the movie could be its own thing.
While it’s true that certain aspects of these characters are loosely derived from the original ‘busters, this situation is also roughly analogous with Lucy Liu playing her own version of Dr. Watson in the CBS Sherlock Holmes adaptation Elementary. At no point in that series did the character need to do anything other than be partners with Sherlock Holmes. Everything else in terms of what the character was before was totally out the window.
The same is true here. Erin is not “the Ray” of the group and Holtzman is not “the Egon.” They are their own characters, with their own humorous voices and tendencies. Screenwriters Katie Dippold and Paul Feig have bent-over backwards to pay tribute to the original film through a variety of references and through visual iconography. But, with a sequel, they don’t have to at all.
Unlike other big franchises where there’s a wealth of great material to draw from, Ghostbusters is mostly just a really neat idea. The sequel to this successful reboot won’t need to be beholden to cumbersome well of canon. The creative team on a Ghostbusters sequel can approach the new movie with shrugged shoulders because, honestly, what’s the big deal?
The faithful fans have been relatively satiated, the actors are comfortable in their roles, and the proton packs are charged. Now, the audience are ready to believe in a series of charming sequels that can make ‘bustin feel really good.