By far one of the more controversial titles to be released this year – if not THE most – the 2016 incarnation of ‘Ghostbusters’ arrives with an air of unjustified hate preceding it. Reboots of classic films always have their naysayers and the 1984 original being so highly regarded amongst cinephiles warrants a certain amount of audience caution, but the outright scathing word this remake attracted went far beyond the normal boundaries of what one was expecting. Despite the fact that director Paul Feig has an enviable track record as a filmmaker (his features ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘The Heat’ and ‘Spy’ were all critical and commercial successes) and his quartet of leading ladies – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones – are some of the brightest in the comedy field working today, the notion that the beloved ‘Ghostbusters’ of the past would be recast as women proved enough for the vocal fanboys of the world wide web to condemn the project before it even had a chance to verify its own worth.
Personally, I was never a passenger on the hate bandwagon so I was more than open to the all-female embodiment, and now that it’s here it’s quite a relief to admit the final project is far from the underwhelming mess the early promos and misguided buzz would have you believe; in fact, it’s actually quite infectious and a whole lot more fun than it has any right to be. It’s clear that everyone involved holds a lot of respect for the original, and it’s through that honour and affection that this film works as well as it does with original director Ivan Reitman on board as a producer and the majority of the surviving cast members popping up for a series of amusing yet forced cameos; the late Harold Ramis (Dr. Egon Spengler in the original), to which this film is dedicated to, even receives a sly visual nod.
As for this film itself, the plot line doesn’t exactly do itself any favours by being wholly unoriginal but when it’s performed so vigorously it’s an easy flaw to overlook. After growing apart due to their opposing views on the paranormal, straight-laced university teacher Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and experimental scientist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) are brought back together when a book the two wrote about the existence of ghosts years prior resurfaces, much to Erin’s dismay. Answering a strange call from a local curator who believes his museum is haunted, Erin, Abby and Abby’s eccentric co-worker Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) investigate, leading them to discover that ghosts are not only real but quite malevolent too. When these spirits start to run amuck in New York City, the trio find unlikely help in subway worker – and unofficial NYC tour guide – Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and, together, the Ghostbusters are formed.
In a tactic that could potentially come as a surprise to viewers, McCarthy and Wiig essentially play the straight-women here, leaving the live-wire work to McKinnon and Jones. McCarthy’s usual shtick is thrown by the wayside and it’s her honest chemistry with Wiig that keeps the film as grounded as it can when the more outlandish moments take place. Jones, who comes off far more tolerable and less-stereotypical than she appeared in the trailers, has a likeable screen presence that she keeps in check and McKinnon, undoubtedly the current stand-out performer on sketch TV series ‘Saturday Night Live’, has an absolute star-making performance on her hands here as she exercises her unique brand of quirkiness. Perhaps the brightest bit of casting though is that of Chris Hemsworth who maintains his Australian accent and does away with his authoritative action persona. As Kevin, the Ghostbusters’ bimbo secretary, he earns more than his share of laughs as he demonstrates his difficulty with answering phones, his reasoning for only wearing spectacle rims, and the conversation regarding his confusingly named dog is by far one of funniest exchanges heard on screen this year.
With its committed cast and vibrant CGI (the film utilises the 3D technology to the best effect of any major blockbuster in the last year) helping to pick up the slack from a basic story and an underwhelming villain, ‘Ghostbusters’, against all odds, emerges as one of the year’s biggest surprises. Headstrong haters are unlikely to budge on their narrow-minded views but general audiences looking to enjoy a night out with a silly, entertaining throwback to tentpole pictures of the 80’s and 90’s should enjoy what this new generation of ghost hunters have to offer.
My rating: 3.5/5
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong
Classification: PG (Mild Supernatural Themes and Coarse Language, Some Scenes May Scare Young Children)
Review by Peter Gray