You will all be aware of the controversy surrounding Paul Feig’s (Spy, Bridesmaids) reboot/reimagining/rehash of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 Ghostbusters. In our age of the internet, where trolls can shout abuse from the sidelines with impunity, and folks can get their backs up at the smallest imagined slight, the trailer for this movie became the most disliked in Youtube history. I admit that I myself, was less than enthusiastic when I saw it, and feared the worst. So is 2016’s Ghostbusters a film too far for Feig, or has he done his usual trick of releasing a truly abysmal trailer to get everyone’s expectations low, before unleashing a pretty decent flick on the world, as was the case with Spy, Heat and Bridesmaids?
As the film starts, some of those fears come bubbling up to the surface. As with the original, the ghosts don’t take too long to show up, and we are treated to a harsh neon-green glow which permeates all the supernatural elements of the next two hours. This is a bit of a shortcoming, as the effects do have a very brash feel to them that I had worried about when I saw the trailers. As the film goes on, you do get used to it, but this effect makes it feel much like a film of its time, rather than a future classic.
This technical shortcoming out of the way early doors, we can now turn to the story. We are introduced to the ever excellent Kirsten Wiig (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Bridesmaids), playing Dr Erin Gilbert, a serious particle physicist trying to get on in academia. After the opening credit’s ghostly reveal, she is confronted by Ed Begley Jr (This is Spinal Tap, St Elsewhere) brandishing a book she had written years ago with regards to ghosts. Wanting rid of this evidence of an earlier, less academically respectable life, is the kick the story needs for her to meet up with her co-author, old friend, and person peddling the book, Abby Yates, brought to life by Melissa McCarthy (Heat, Spy). Abby has never given up on her research into the paranormal, and is now aided by Kate McKinnon (Sisters, Ted 2) as Jillian Holtzmann, all round engineering genius, and slightly creepy, but-in-a-nice-way, lady.
After getting kicked out of their respective jobs for espousing on Youtube their belief in ghosts after their first encounter, they set-up above a Chinese restaurant, and add Leslie Jones (Trainwreck, House Arrest) as Patty Tolan, subway worker and local history buff, and Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Rush), as Kevin, eye-candy and dumb him-bo, to their roster. Now it’s time to bust some ghosts.
Their antagonist is the last piece of the puzzle, and we are introduced to Rowan North, a character whose one dimension is ably embodied by Neil Casey (Adult Beginners, Fort Tilden). Unfortunately for Casey, and through no fault of his performance, here is where another shortcoming of the movie comes to light, and it’s merely one element of a much wider problem this film has, which I will try to put aside now, so we can move on to giving Ghostbusters a fair crack of the whip.
The problem is that this film isn’t the 1984 Ghostbusters. Most frustrating is that when it remembers that, it’s a really enjoyable ride. To give an example of this shortcoming in action let’s take the case of the villain of the piece. Some things, like ghostly-possession of characters we have invested in, and wanting to bring destruction to the world, are very similar to the original, however because the villains were supernatural in nature in 1984, it was easier to roll with their motivations. As a result of Rowan North being human, it just seems petty, and one dimensional, so you don’t get the same feeling of the good guys being small pieces on much larger chess-board that they have no business being on in the first place.
These comparisons pepper the rest of the film as well, and are brought into very stark relief whenever a nod is made to the original. It’s no secret that there are cameos from the original cast in here, but only Bill Murray actually has anything to do. If Feig had limited the call backs to this one appearance, we would have smiled, remembered the good old days, and moved on, but we are gifted with little tastes of the original throughout which keep reminding you that as good of a summer blockbuster as this is, it’s not as good as the original that inspired it.
Which, as I’ve said, is frustrating, as there really is a pretty damn good summer pop-corn movie in there. Bar the overly neon effects, the action is inventive and fun, and Feig shows he’s maturing in his handling of action shots. The cast are all on form here, and the chemistry between Wiig and McCarthy is as fun as it always is. Unfortunately, Jones isn’t given too much to do, but what she gets she handles well, and any shortcomings in her character are due to the script, not her abilities as an actress. Hemsworth is also on good form, and shows no fear in portraying Kevin as so challenged in the mental faculty department, you wonder how the character even makes it out the door. The real revelation in the cast is McKinnon. The trailers made it look like her character would make your teeth itch from being quirky for quirky’s sake, however once you actually see how she interacts and lends idiosyncrasies to dialogue, as well as action, you’ll come to appreciate every time she’s on the screen.
If you can just put out of your head the origins of Ghostbusters, and go to the cinema with an open mind, you really will have a blast. Yes this film has cameos that will age it almost instantly, and yes there are terrible plot-holes, and yes there is such a plethora of ghost-busting weapons introduced in the final third that it starts to feel a bit like a computer game, but, and it’s a big but, there is some real heart in there too. The cast are always watchable, and their chemistry is very enjoyable too. There are laughs, just enough peril to make for a decent family night out, and as summer Hollywood juggernauts go, there have been few that will raise as many smiles as this does.
I believe Feig and his entire cast are obviously huge fans of the original films, and do a pretty good job reinventing the concept for the 21st century. However, in trying to honour the memory of Ivan Reitman’s originals, they just can’t seem to lay the ghosts of those two films to rest.
- great cast
- good action
- an action-comedy block-buster not matched for a while
- the revelation that is Kate McKinnon
- not being able to let its source rest in peace
- some ropey special effects
- a weak antagonist