We can relax. Ghostbusters 2016 is here, and the world is still turning. The 1984 original remains untarnished, childhoods aren’t ruined, the feminists haven’t taken over, volcanoes haven’t erupted, and dogs and cats still live separately. For all the Internet ‘mass hysteria’, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters turns out to be harmless fun, and just a movie after all.
That isn’t to say it’s a great movie. For a pure comedy (which this is) it isn’t nearly funny enough; and it’s nowhere near as effortlessly genius as the original. And despite some encouraging early reviews, this wont turn the tide of what has been a dismal summer blockbuster season. If you are one of those offended by the very thought of Ghostbusters rebooted, and hate what you’ve seen of it so far, you wont be swayed.
The mostly female cast are a winning team. Wiig, McCarthy, Jones and McKinnon are all enjoyable to watch and their characters are, by and large, instantly likeable in a goofball kind of way. That especially goes for Wiig’s charmingly dorky and uptight (yet still attractive) protagonist Erin Gilbert, and also for McCarthy’s Abby Yates and Jones’ Patty Tolman. Anyone fearing those two in particular would be shrill, screeching, ball-busters will be pleasantly surprised to find they are amiable, chilled, smart and conscionable. They care about each other and what they are doing, imbuing the film with enough heart to offset the rather unconvincing tone (more on that later). McKinnon’s irreverent engineer Jillian Holtzmann over-eggs the wacky eccentric persona and treads a fine line between ‘funny cool’ and ‘funny dislikeable’, but for some she might steal the film. Chris Hemsworth is a hoot as the dim-witted hunk receptionist Kevin, and although they go a little too far with it (he’s implausibly cretinous), he raises the most laughs. It’s a clear kick in the nuts to years of eye-candy movie bimbos, and that’s fine, girls; you earned that. Even that is handled lovingly; the ladies end up being rather maternal and protective toward Kevin, which is rather cute.
Another plus is the film’s attempt to stand on its own and be its own thing. This isn’t a straight up gender-reversed remake of what we’ve seen before, and it works best when following its own path. It’s playful and inventive (the genesis of the logo and the company title for example, are cleverly addressed) and has a freshness that many remakes lack. It wants to be original, yet feels slightly held back. The ghosts and action scenes might be cartoony and unbelievable, but Feig runs with that and simply has fun. His centrepiece: a massive ghostly-brawl in Times Square where an newly released army of the dead squares up against our tooled-up heroines, delivers some spectacular supernatural ass-kickery.
On the negative side, the humour is decidedly blunt round the edges; lacking the sharp, sardonic bite of the original and resulting is a low laughter count. It’s surprisingly tame too. Furthermore in its attempt to reference and homage its illustrious predecessor (perhaps to try and appease the detractors), it almost becomes beholden to it with endless nods, forced catchphrases, and a parade of truly awful cameo appearances that stop the film in its tracks. The worst of these, sadly, comes from a lifeless Bill Murray who meanders in and out of the movie in one of the film’s flattest and least comfortable scenes. And here we come to the films main weakness; it never feels authentic. The original film felt grounded in its own semi-reality, populated by real (if exaggerated) personalities allowing you to suspend disbelief even when the film was at its most silly. At no point in the reboot does anyone or anything feel genuine. Nor is it ever in the least bit scary; something the original managed to blend effortlessly with its humour. Feig doesn’t even try to go down that road, and is content for his supernatural creations to be little more than special effects cannon fodder for the girls. It’s a little on the nose too with its agenda; with troll-feeding jabs at YouTube critics, haters, racists and misogynists. The movie is better than that; a bit of subtlety might have been welcome here.
So in the end Ghostbusters 2016 is a not-terrible, not-great movie that can stand on its own merits as a piece of lightweight, but inclusive, entertainment. The chirpy credits and post-credits teaser also set up a sequel, which now doesn’t seem like an entirely unwelcome prospect, provided they take the stabilisers off. They do that, and I’ll happily wanna give these girls another call.