It’s astonishing that Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot (the “all female” “Ghostbusters” reboot) has received so much scorn and criticism over the past few months. Sexist Internet trolls and nerds complaining about how their childhood is going to be ruined (these two categories of unbearable human being often intersect) isn’t new but the fact that people are actively trying to degrade and destroy a female led studio comedy is baffling.
A comedy they haven’t seen.
Let me say that again: a movie they haven’t seen. All they have to go on are trailers and the knowledge that the four leads are female. And yet, there are entire Subreddits devoted to hating the movie, trolls flooding IMDB with negative reviews, trolls accusing critics of being paid to write positive reviews. It’s all so ridiculous…and infuriating…and sad.
Fortunately, having seen the movie now, I can forget about this noise because “Ghostbusters” is a blast. The plot is minimal and straightforward and, while not a carbon copy of the Ivan Reitman original, it hits familiar narrative beats. There aren’t any major surprises and it doesn’t take many risks (unless you consider a female led comedy risky, which it isn’t) but it’s damned entertaining, primarily due to the central foursome.
Feig has assembled a spectacular group of comedians, some established some not so established. All four play tough, intelligent and funny characters that are treated with respect. Leading the Ghostbusters are scientists/childhood friends Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Then there’s tech guru Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and New York transportation employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Wiig and McCarthy are in top form as usual (doing variations on what they’ve done before) but it’s newcomers McKinnon and Jones (both current SNL cast members) that steal the show. They play the more oddball members of the group and often times, when the movie hits a lull, a one liner or silly reaction from either of them keeps everything moving. They provide a welcome freshness and vitality, both to this movie and the studio comedy in general.
Another actor worth mentioning is Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbuster’s handsome but incredibly stupid secretary Kevin. Simply put, Hemsworth is superb—playing Kevin straight-faced, reminiscent of a young Leslie Nielsen.
Feig and co screenwriter Katie Dippold wisely keep the focus on the characters and more importantly, they let these gifted comedians do their thing. Most scenes unfold at an unhurried pace without any unnecessary razzle-dazzle. The best scenes are usually the simplest-- the foursome in a room together trading witty dialogue with one another. They all get a chance to be the clown or the straight woman and each bring something different to the equation, making for a diverse and cohesive unit. Their group chemistry is effortless (dare I say perfect?) and the driving force of the film. Yes, there are cool gadgets and weapons, CGI ghosts, green slime and plenty of ghost busting but without this strong core intact, “Ghostbusters” would amount to very little.
Aside from the occasional gag that falls flat the picture’s biggest flaw is the fan service. There are a lot of callbacks to the original that tend to feel forced, interrupting the film’s comedic flow and tempo in the process. Additionally, none of the cameos are particularly funny or memorable. Fan service is an unfortunate but unavoidable aspect of commercial remakes or long after the fact sequels. When callbacks help move the story forward or add dimension to characters they’re useful. But here, the fan service holds the film back somewhat.
Tonally, this new “Ghostbusters” is different from the original. The original is as much a thriller (and partially horror) as it is a comedy. The humor usually comes out of the intensity of the situations. The ghosts are scary and it feels like New York is in legitimate danger. On the other hand, the remake is a more straightforward comedy. There are more jokes and they come at a quicker speed. The conversational scenes are freewheeling and clearly improvised. There’s no sense of danger and the ghosts aren’t frightening. As a result, the action heavy finale lacks urgency.
That being said, because the movie is funny and the characters are fun to be around, it ends up being more of a strength than a weakness. Despite the callbacks, the remake sets out to form its own identity separate from the original.
At my preview screening, the non-critic crowd let out cheers and applause during the film and at the end. Most of the time this type of reaction means very little (preview screening crowds are usually enthusiastic) but in light of all the unfair contempt “Ghostbusters” has received it felt substantial and welcome. It felt good that this movie was being given a fair chance and being warmly embraced.
And it should be warmly embraced.