Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Charles Dance, Michael K. Williams, Chris Hemsworth
Runtime: 116 Minutes
If there’s one thing that director Paul Feig knows how to handle, it’s the balance of funny people and funny screenwriting into a golden capsule of observational giggles. He’s been around for a long time now but it took the pairing of his efforts with both Kristen Wiig and practical muse Melissa McCarthy in the 2011 hit Bridesmaids to really show Hollywood what he was capable of conjuring. The leap from the Saturday Night Live circuit to blockbuster fame is a tough one to manage but much of what he has produced since then has stuck the landing quite beautifully. Escalating his efforts in the realms of the cinematic to the action-comedy spectrum, last year’s Spy was an unqualified triumph that proved his worth on a larger scale than the skittish styling’s of his earlier pictures. Now, with a multimillion dollar production behind him, he’s set to take on the big leagues with a studio-mandated reboot of the much loved Ghostbusters franchise.
Let’s get this out of the way first though; 1984’s Ghostbusters is a stone cold classic, but it’s also a lightning in a bottle picture that came about at the right time, with the right people, never to be reproduced in quite the same way again. So to that end, it seems impossible for any feature – remake or not – to follow in the footsteps of such perfect circumstances. It’s highly regarded status amongst audiences was bound to throw a shadow upon this renditions successes, with or without the highly controversial decision to retool the line-up with an entirely new all-female cast. In an age of “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) bashing and a genuine disdain for the tides of change in an age of fan base entitlement, this could have proven to be the perfunctory efforts of studio cash grabbing in the worst possible way.
So to say then that Ghostbusters is good just shouldn’t cut it; it’s practically a goddamn miracle. In the face of all the woes and cries thrown against it by a sordid and soured fanbase, Ghostbusters being as enjoyable as it is is a triumph in itself – if not, as stated before, the sum of the parts that made the original film such an uncommon work.
Much of the spirit that kept the original film going is on show here in subtly new ways. From the focus on practical effects enhanced through digital wizardry in places, to the improvisation of spontaneous lines to tickle the audience’s funny bones, what it replicates in the right regard it does with the same feeling of satisfaction. The effects themselves, for the most part, are spectacular – bar a ropey looking gargoyle phantom - particularly in a third act throw down in time square where this new generation of Ghostbusters gets to kickass in as modern a way as possible.
As for the new cast, barely a foot has been stepped wrong when judging these performers with their characters. Kristen Wigg is as always a delightful bag of nerves and ticks as the defector leader of the group in Erin Gilbert’s physicist with an attachment to the deceased. Melissa McCarthy continues to storm the board as her childhood friend Abby Yates who reels her back into the paranormal world. Leslie Jones as the street-smart Patty Tolan integrates better into the group than Ernie Hudson’s token black ever did in the original, and feels like a busier character than the supposed racial accusations would have her become. Meanwhile, relative newcomer Kate McKinnon walks away with virtually the entire movie as livewire engineer Jillian Holtzmann, oozing chemistry and charisma like ectoplasmic slime with every frame she’s in. Meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth delivers a brilliantly dim-witted performance as Kevin Beckman, the hunkiest receptionist ever - he wears an empty pair of eye frames because the lenses got in the way.
Everyone works well together and the comedy comes fast from all manner of broad and sly directions. It very much plays to the best aspects of Feig’s comedy styling’s and should hold up on multiple viewings quite nicely – even though the restrictions of its family-friendly rating don’t allow him to push quite as hard as his previous efforts. The story itself sets a particularly human enemy at the heart of its conflict in Neil Casey’s Rowan. Though not the most compelling or well fleshed out of villains, his motivation is clear and sets the stage for the spectacle of the final act rather nicely with a strong core to its structure.
Where things fall short are in the moments where the film appears to lack restraint, both in regard to its general pacing and its numerous call-backs to the original film. There are moments where the audience might get lost in the faux-techno jargon of exposition that takes up one too many scenes at a time. The film’s editing and occasional flatness in scale do crop around at times which doesn't exactly help this issue. Whilst the references to the 1984 classic come in too many forms to count and mostly serve as a knowing distraction more than anything else, even with its glut of cameo appearances it feels as though we’re being drawn into all too familiar territory in the face of its similar plot structure. This being said, there are a few golden moments that manage to poke fun at the internet outcry regarding the film’s production.
While it does stick rather too close to its origins and heritage at times, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters proves too fun a time to levy many major criticisms at beyond its general lack of totally new ideas, though it offers many twisted versions of old ones. This is a retread where it doesn’t feel like a chore to see the same sites again, and the new characters are strong enough in their own right to sit happily alongside the original with peaceful co-existence. Despite its weaknesses, it’s a loving and fun tribute that does nothing to tarnish the legacy of the title it holds.