The new Ghostbusters may be a reboot of the classic 1984 comedy, but be under no illusions, it’s far from a complete analogue. Rather, director Paul Feig has worked to recapture the wit and charm of the original in a new light while still attempting to honor what made the first so entertaining. And despite the insurmountable odds rebooting a beloved classic presents, the resulting ecto-plasm-covered caper is one of the most genuinely affable films of the summer.
Bottom to top, the central conceits of Ghostbusters remain intact: four paranormal investigators, played by SNL alum and proven comedic talent, become incidental protectors of New York City as a rash of supernatural happenings point to something much more insidious. The film is directed by a proven comedic talent – Feig, who shares writing credit with Katie Dippold – and the story is played out through a prism of meta-textual satire, situational improv and slapstick gags. Where the movie differs is in a selection of novelty changes that allow it to begin creating its own identity, but is held back by a profusal to service its namesake.
The biggest change, depending on who you ask, is the casting of women instead of men in the leading roles. Melissa McCarthy and Kirsten Wiig play former supernatural study-partners, Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert, who’ve since grown apart. While working towards a prestigious lecturing job, Erin is approached with a ghostly investigation opportunity, which she tries to brush off on Abby so as to not soil her reputation. Therein she finds Abby’s assistant, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and the three make their first encounter together. Not long thereafter, they’re joined by Leslie Jones‘ Patty Tolan, a New York City history aficionado, and Chris Hemsworth‘s Kevin, their especially dull secretary, who round out the team as the ghoulish sightings begin to get worse.
The humor here is occasionally similar to the original, with lots of gross-out ecto-plasm and panicky use of proton packs to capture the film’s brightly coloured, cartoony apparitions. Though each brings a distinct comedic angle with their character, it’s McKinnon and surprisingly, Hemsworth, who bring the most laughs. McKinnon delights as an eccentric, aloof scientist who finds time for a dance routine while she’s banging and tapping away. Hemsworth, on the other hand, may have just stumbled onto a career as a comedic character actor. The Thor-actor’s Kevin is an absolute oddity as he handles some of the strangest material and holds his own in back-and-forths with McCarthy and Wiig. Jones‘ character is the only one that feels like a failing of the group. While the rest have backstories or immediate skills, Patty’s personal history is never referenced and her skill, though bona-fide, is vastly underused. Surrounded by characters and wider narrative humour that wants to subvert expectations, she’s a disappointing stereotype.
On the surface this whole gender-flip can be easily seen as a cheap gimmick, but the reality is a lot less cynical. Because though the new Ghostbusters are women, the film barely goes out of its way to acknowledge that fact. The only time where the change of gender is used for any real substance is an extended joke in which Wiig‘s Erin finds Kevin attractive. But that in itself is turned on its head with the group covering for her awkward interactions, making the trope of someone – usually female – being cast in pulp fantasy and sci-fi to simply look good the punchline. These women are simply our new Ghostbusters – take ’em or leave ’em.
And it’s a relief they cast who they did, because the story is on slightly less steady ground. The reheated plot and ceaseless nods do a serviceable job. Many references, like the Stay Puft marshmallow man, are fun and don’t bog the piece down any. The original cast’s cameos are all fun without bogging the film down any either. But the story suffers from pacing issues as it slowly comes together for the first half. Some subplots feel rushed and under-developed, like the villain, who’s been successfully hidden by the otherwise terrible marketing thus far. Due in part to the under-developed big bad, the final act just sort of blasts forward toward the fluorescent CGI-smathered conclusion, not really allowing any time to gather thoughts.
The haphazard plotting of the film is what really let’s it down, culminating in a last half hour that has a meandering air to it that feels like it was stapled together in editing from a hodge-podge of different ideas. There’s no thematic or narrative weight to the big battle and there are at least two instances where a subplot was either cut out or strangely ignored. It’s a shame as the four women here and their secretary are clearly enjoying themselves so much, and it’s thanks to them that the movie doesn’t suddenly plummet in those final minutes.
And, really, they are what make Ghostbusters so enjoyable – these four women that are not only capable comedic forces in their own right, but are also clearly having a ball here. Their excitement, their charisma really elevates the movie and makes it all the more fun to watch. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they’re helped along by cameos of the original cast members, each casting a guiding eye in their own way. There’s a moment, towards the end – this isn’t a spoiler – in which Jones has an idea that helps in their final showdown. “You’re a genius!,” McCarthy proclaims. “I’m a Ghostbuster,” Jones replies. Yes, you are. And you’re dam good at it.