Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Director: Paul Fieg

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

Everyone calm the shit down. And by everyone, I mean the vocal minority who have been treating this franchise reboot like some kind of personal affront on their own childhood, as if a movie and their actual childhood could possibly be the same thing.  Reboots and remakes are nothing new and, I think it’s pretty safe to say, they’re clearly here to stay. Basically, get over it. This is modern Hollywood.

Paul Feig’s reinterpretation of Ghostbusters has a lot going for it; chiefly the band of funny women that hold it all together.

Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a professor on the cusp of tenure who is mortified to discover her former buddy Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has published a book in both their names about the paranormal; a book which will likely discredit her. Approaching Abby to get the offending article pulled from circulation draws Erin back into a world of supernatural investigation. Abby and her loony nuclear engineer partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) race off to a local mansion that’s experiencing a few bumps in the night. Erin finds herself along for the ride.

Ghostly activities in New York start to increase. An electrified spectre in the subway tunnels unite the trio with Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Supply and demand – that ol’ cornerstone of the American dream -means that pretty soon the four of them are in business together. In a room above a Chinese restaurant. With a comically dumb receptionist in the form of beefcake Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).

This kooky bunch of pest controllers (with a difference) are the film’s happy little core and Feig keeps things moving at a pleasant if not overly urgent pace, allowing much of the fun to be accrued watching funny women being funny together. That the core team are all women is totally immaterial within the sphere of the film; something that ought to have applied to their real world reception also. Though Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold seem only too aware of the sea of negativity awaiting their little movie, throwing in a couple of spirited potshots at the expense of their detractors for good measure.

But Ghostbusters doesn’t get derailed by gender politics (though the treatment of Hemsworth as the film’s blonde bimbo is a hoot). Instead it makes most of its hay from character interaction and a broad, crowd-pleasing sense of humour that crosses boarders. In short, the same spirit of happy, silly, slapstick mischief that worked in the 80’s is rekindled here.

Each of the four leading women get their time to shine, though surprisingly it is Melissa McCarthy – so often using up all the oxygen – who seems most muted, here playing the relative ‘straight man’. To her credit she does this with ease, but it’s a minor shame that the material doesn’t allow her a couple more out-of-the-box moments. Wiig is as charmingly silly as ever; her Erin is ostensibly the audience’s in road for this movie, while Jones and McKinnon do much to make their presence known and nearly all of it is good. McKinnon especially shines for her iteration of the nutty goofball.

And it is funny. At one point I even found a little spit-take style laugh escaped my lips; something that might’ve proved embarrassing and awkward had a majority of the viewers around me not been more preoccupied with laughing themselves. Granted, the film takes a little time to get cooking, but once it’s there this is summer blockbuster material as it’s meant to be made; fairly brainless, warmly entertaining fare with it’s eye fixed firmly on providing an audience with some feel good escapism. However, Ghostbusters circa 2016 is not without its caveats.

Feig does little to really announce himself from behind the camera; there’s little in the way of cinematic invention occurring here (and if you’re going to openly compare yourself to Jaws you may as well try to up the ante), and the main story – once we get there – feels somewhat conspicuously underdeveloped.

Having said that, that the film’s central villain is a sad little man who feels bitter and isolated by society does echo with the times, recalling the kind of character assessments we’ve seen arise following any number of domestic terror incidents plaguing America in recent months/years. Ghostbusters doesn’t go any further than this with the idea, but it does feel like a truthful reflection of a country’s escalating fear and pity for the unstable individual perhaps too swiftly ignored by society at large.

So there is some attempt to address modern social politics via the window of entertainment. But more commonly this film exists to be brisk, throwaway fun. Perhaps surprisingly, it stumbles hardest when openly trying to placate those who’d rather just watch the 80’s films again. Cameos from the original team are awkward, ham-fisted affairs that distract and even temporarily derail the film as opposed to moments adding anything of value (see also the inexplicable brief appearance of Ozzy Osborne; possibly the film’s comedic nadir). One might argue that this signifies that Feig and his team have in fact really succeeded. They don’t need to put his film on crutches; it can easily support itself.

A sequel has already been green lit. Good. There’s enough chemistry and naturally gifted talent here to see these 21st century Ghostbusters  through at least one more adventure. Hopefully this film’s post-credits sting, which suggests heavily that an old foe is soon to be resurrected, turns out to be a misnomer. As already intimated, Feig’s version of this beloved franchise is doing just fine on its own. Though a little less lumpen product placement next time would be welcome.

Score:  3.5

 

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