On paper the all-female remake of Ghostbusters looked as close to a sure thing as humanly possible, ticking all the boxes on the checklist of any potential smash hit rehash. The decision to change the genders of the main quartet was a nice way of refreshing the template of the original without having to overhaul it completely, while the choice of Paul Feig as director was a masterstroke – a filmmaker with a proven track record of hilarious female led action-comedies in The Heat and Spy. Better yet was the casting of the core group, with two of the premier comedic actresses on the planet in Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy leading the way and two standouts from Saturday Night Live Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones primed for big screen breakouts. This was a new version of a favourite that gave reason to be optimistic.
The internet trolls disagreed of course. The fans in despair over yet another movie studio attempting to reboot a beloved franchise at least had a point – audiences have long grown weary to the cash grabbing antics of producers resurrecting past successes – but the attacks on the cast for simply being the wrong gender were as illogical as the complaints Mad Max Fury Road creators received for their film being too overtly feminist. Strangely enough keyboard misogynists aren’t normally the demographic aimed for by George Miller films and poltergeist comedies, so rather than steer audiences away these comments instead gave many a bigger reason to genuinely want the film to be as successful as it’s pedigree suggested it could be.
Unfortunately the end result isn’t what was hoped. Wiig plays Erin, a physicist at Columbia University reluctantly reunited with old friend Abby, a paranormal researcher and fellow physicist played by Feig favourite McCarthy. Together with McKinnon’s engineer Holtzmann and Jones’ subway attendant Patty, the group quickly run through the familiar set-ups of the original to become the heroes of the title. Sprinkled with expected cameos as well as an appearance from the legless green blob himself Slimer, the film speeds through a solid first half before a third act onslaught of ghostly apparitions threatens to devour the city of New York. It’s here that the movie loses its way, going for an explosive, CGI dominated finale that bluntly reaches for a similar climax to the first movie’s iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man devastation.
This could have been such a great movie. For the first time in a long while McCarthy dials down her trademark outrageousness to great results and Wiig is as subtly brilliant as always, but the cast all struggle in service to a script that clearly lacks both laughs and a decent plot. Even as the leads of the film McCarthy and Wiig are strangely underused, while Leslie Jones does what she can in a role so underwritten her character unfortunately becomes as unnecessary as Ernie Hudson’s infamously rewritten Winston in the original. Even McKinnon, a genuine star on SNL and an electric screen presence in general can’t help but appear desperate, her Holtzmann a barrel of quirks and eccentricities that Feig never seems entirely sure what to do with. She’s an attention magnet in every scene she’s in, a livewire that you can’t take your eyes off – which only emphasizes how inept the script really is. Her energy feels completely out of place.
Feig is known for his ability to harness the improvisational talents of his casts to hilarious effect, but here he struggles to create a cohesive ensemble the way he has in his previous hits. The editing feels forced at various stages, offering hints of a sparkling chemistry between the stars in some scenes while squeezing in awkward moments of disconnected interaction in others. The reliance on effects quickly becomes a hindrance too, stripping scenes of any possible scares. The 1984 smash wasn’t known for its special effects, but balanced computer graphics with practical effects to at least create an ominous atmosphere, particularly in its superior first act. Here any chilling vibes are dissipated as soon as the first ghost appears, and by the time the chaotic third act arrives the screen all but melts into a blur of messy CGI.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its merits. It breezes by entertainingly enough, and no matter how bad the script may be this is still a collection of infinitely talented comedy actresses worth watching in any capacity. McCarthy and Wiig in particular are on another level at this stage in their careers, and can draw a laugh out of even the weakest material. Chris Hemsworth is the surprise of the movie too, playing the ditzy receptionist with a clueless nonchalance to hilarious effect. While not great, in general the first act shows plenty of promise – it’s a fun entry to the franchise that introduces each character nicely and rides on the obvious likeability of its stars.
In retrospect the disappointing reception it received upon release is a little confusing when considering the fact that the original is nowhere near as brilliant as its legacy suggests. There is a reverence attached to the first movie that can only be explained by nostalgia, a fanaticism that doesn’t quite fit the product. It was a great idea and a solid script decently packaged in a charming blend of enthusiasm and one-liners, but the term “classic” is perhaps too loosely applied. Watching it again now leaves you with the sense that in comparison the 2016 Ghostbusters does just fine. It’s an occasionally funny, casually enjoyable new incarnation of the franchise that can only get better from here.
With ridiculous expectations hanging from it like a noose, this was always going to struggle. Thankfully the end result is decent, only a notch or two under the movie it’s attempting to reboot and vastly better than the brutal reaction it’s received from some audiences. In fact the only notable thing lacking here is the person given just a cameo – the presence of the legend himself, Bill Murray. His is simply a genius impossible to replace.