Back in the 1980s, New York City held a privileged place in the public imagination. It was the epitome of physical and moral decay. Crumbling buildings presided over garbage-strewn streets. Yes, the masters of the financial universe had it pretty sweet on Park Avenue, but if those respectable, be-suited titans made the mistake of riding the subway, they were likely to be the victim of a crime. Not the romanticized mafia crime of one of Scorcese’s goodfellas, but a good old fashioned stab-you-in-the-ribs-with-a-rusty-screwdriver mugging by a junkie. Paradoxically, that made the affection shown by Venkman, Ray, Egon, and Winston feel all the more genuine. When Ernie Hudson announces, “I love this town,” we believed it. The original Ghostbusters was a love letter to a dirty hooker.
The Grey Lady has since cleaned up and found Jesus (figuratively). It’s a cleaner and safer city these days, and that makes it a better place to live, but, oddly enough, a worse location for a Ghostbusters re-boot. The NYC of the 2016 Ghostbusters re-make is spotless, tame, and bland. About the worst thing you can say about NYC in this version is that the rent is too damn high. The lack of affordable real estate is a genuine hardship for the residents of NYC, but it doesn’t make for good moviemaking.
To their credit, the filmmakers tried to make the city a relatable character. Many of the ghosts in this version are actually tied to the history of the city, which was a nice touch. In the end, though, this Ghostbusters felt like it could have been set in Anycity, USA. And maybe it should have been. I realize I’m dancing with heresy here, but a Ghostbusters set in Detroit or Baltimore probably would have captured more of the old magic.