Dir. Paul Feig, Script. Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
Plot: Remaking the 1984 classic (and proving nothing is sacred anymore), but with an all-female team.
Ghostbusters: A word that for so long was synonymous with one of the all-time classic comedies, forever associated with the legendary Bill Murray, the brainchild of Dan Aykroyd and the late great Harold Ramis, impossible to think of in a melody other than one sung by Ray Parker Jr. But instead of that, the events of 2016 have turned that word into one of the most controversial in the entirety of cinema – rarely has a film attracted so much attention and conversation in the weeks and months leading up to its release. Its certainly received its fair share of criticism; Ghostbusters has been attacked from all sides in the lead-up to its release, what with the film’s trailer clinching the not-so-desired title of ‘Most Disliked YouTube Trailer’ and enough Twitter hate to scare a primary cast member off of the social media platform. If that wasn’t enough, Ghostbusters is not just a gamble on the nostalgia of cinemagoers and if a female-driven action movie sells tickets (why that should be a question is utterly bewildering), but a $144m bet by a troubled Sony Pictures Entertainment, desperate for a breakout hit after an almost continuous stream of big-budget flops and North Korean hackers, meaning they have achieved the rare feat of having both Capitalism and Communism working against them.
And before I dive into Ghostbusters head-first, I really want to make it clear where I stand on the casting choices – I don’t care, because nobody should care about women being cast in a movie in the 21st Century. But I can’t deny that its a massive topic in the present climate, and with the deadly, militant criticism the film’s trailer received (regardless of the rife sexist undertones in that dislike bar, that trailer was objectively unfunny) you may be expecting a TWIM-trademarked, slow-cook hog roast, less ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ than ‘into the gates of Hell’. But, and I’m delighted to say it if only it will put a stop to the comment-warriors who haven’t even seen the film, Ghostbusters is fine. In fact, Ghostbusters leans by about a fingernail towards being good, rather than in the other direction. I’m not saying this is in any way a terrific movie, the adrenalin-shot that Summer 2016 needs as desperately as Jordan Belfort in the Sahara Desert, because it isn’t. But it’s certainly not bad, and even if this film only generates relative apathy amongst cinemagoers, mediocrity would be a damn sight better than the toxic wasteland this movie is surfacing in.
Now, for those of you who are concerned that the female cast is detrimental to the film, a couple of things: 1. Hit the big X button at the top right of your browser, delete your internet history and, if possible, delete yourself; 2. The cast is the best thing about the new Ghostbusters film. I know! And, to be completely frank, a cast with Melissa McCarthy involved doesn’t usually inspire me. As much as Melissa McCarthy is the go-to female comedian in Hollywood right now by a long stretch, I still don’t quite get why that is: not just because she becomes literally intolerable after 5 minutes of screen time, but the fact that the star vehicles made for her don’t make a ton of money, and her only proper successes have come when she’s flanked by other big names, like in Spy, The Heat and Bridesmaids. Of course, if you know your female-driven comedies, those are all Paul Feig pictures, and Sony’s decision to get Feig on board really is the obvious choice. Feig is the only director who has ever made Melissa McCarthy stifle any sort of laugh within me, and in casting Bridesmaids star Kristen Wiig also reunites her with the director of what is still Wiig’s calling card five years on. Wiig is admittedly the weakest of the four though; her character is definitely meant to be the straight (wo)man of the group, but Wiig seemingly interprets that as meaning she can’t have any idiosyncracies. As a result, she blends into the lowlight in most scenes – her main gag, in which she finds Chris Hemsworth extremely attractive, is also pretty uninspired and doesn’t feel like it belongs.
The rest, however, do very solid jobs: McCarthy is more restrained than usual, and while her snappy, profanity-laced turns in other Feig joints have some value to them, McCarthy finds there is truth in the phrase ‘less is more’. The other two members of the new Ghostbusters team will probably only be familiar to SNL-aficionados; Leslie Jones plays a subway worker spooked by a ghost sighting, and she comes across as really genuine, as well as having a kick-ass bite and sass to her. But the real star is Kate McKinnon – it is undisputedly Kate McKinnon. As the neurotic yet brilliant Jillian Holtzmann, rarely has there been a more hilarious character to watch. McKinnon crashes into this film, by far her biggest-budget work ever, like an atom bomb. McKinnon’s performance is this oddly beautiful mash-up of Sigourney Weaver tenacity (which is even more emphasised in the end-credits), Jeff Goldblum line delivery and Jim Carrey eyebrows. She steals every scene she’s in, has probably the film’s best overall moment all to herself as well as the best lines. Let’s also not forget Chris Hemsworth either, who is lovably ditzy throughout
As well as that, the entire team feels like a team – Feig takes a lot of what made Bridesmaids work so well and re-channels it here. While some of the banter doesn’t land, there’s a definite sense of camaraderie between the four. I don’t know exactly why or how he manages it, but Paul Feig just has this way of making his comedies worthwhile – I honestly couldn’t say, although I find some of his movies (like Spy, which I did enjoy, but a 90+ RT score?) overrated, that Feig has made a bad film in his whole career. Feig’s camera movement is solid, although a little less kinetic than you might expect, and he does a good job of making the film, and the characters, feel grounded and genuine. However, with a $144m price-tag that had to be sliced by Sony’s new chief Tom Rothman, the CG should have been drastically better. I’m not sure if Feig wanted his spectres to look like kids TV shows, but if he was then the SFX department have pulled a blinder. Most of the action sequences feel far too digitised, canvassed on green and blue screens and as sanitary as the Aperture Science testing facility. Even in the climactic sequences, with the entire of New York under threat, Ghostbusters feels like a PS2 game; at not one moment did I feel like the team was under any threat.
That lack of threat can also be attributed to a patchy screenplay from Katie Dippold and Feig himself, one of their weaker ones. Despite the humour, there’s no escaping what is a pretty thin plot, with a remarkably weak villain, an obsessive nerd in the Jamie Foxx as Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 vein, an occultist promising ‘The Fourth Cataclysm’ as jarringly as the Ood announced one in a 2006 episode of Doctor Who. If you want, you can divide the Ghostbusters script into two distinct sections – set-up, and actual plot, because it takes a relatively sluggish hour for the story to really get going, and then the film starts hurtling towards its conclusion to compensate. The other colossal issue is that this new Ghostbusters never feels remotely like it’ll break out of the admittedly long shadow cast by the old one, and while the cameos are totally fine and often provide some of the best moments in the film, I got the sense that Feig and Dippold sometimes relied on them. The fact that the last line before the end credits and Fall Out Boy’s deplorable attempt at a song/piece of music/general work of art is uttered by Ernie Hudson and not one of the new Ghostbusters is a rather telling fact indeed. Thing is, as much as I don’t feel like bringing up the original film is a good thing, Feig’s Ghostbusters hasn’t got anything on the original, which is a high bar to jump over granted, but I don’t see the world thinking of this film being the definitive Ghostbusters once the dust has settled on it.
To be honest, the best word for the whole enterprise is probably ‘functional’. And that’s not a negative thing whatsoever – for Sony anyway, this new Ghostbusters film has done pretty much everything they would have wanted. It’s introduced a good, new group of actors who I wouldn’t mind revisiting, got the world talking (although not for the right reasons), and had a decent enough opening weekend in the U.S. ($48m, although it did lose out to the second week run of The Secret Life Of Pets) to probably justify a sequel. But at the same time, Ghostbusters can’t be judged as an all-out success, as much as I hoped it would be for the sake of a cast and crew who will have had to thicken their skins promoting this film. The most accurate thing I can say on whether rebooting this franchise was the right move is something that I know will come across as infuriatingly vague – only time will tell. There’s definitely far worse films about a four-strong team trying to save New York from an otherworldly danger.
BEST WATCHED: It’s one of those worth seeing so you can have an opinion on it. If it doesn’t bother you, its worth a watch when it makes home video.
If you’ve already seen the film, eagle-eyed viewer, you may have noticed in the opening credits the logo of Ghost Corps – a new subsidiary of Sony chaired by original Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman, dedicated to making more Ghostbusters movies: the rumour is Sony fancy their own cinematic universe. The opening figures, while not incredible, are probably enough for Sony to justify a second movie with the female cast, and then there’s the rumour of a parallel Ghostbusters movie, which is a whole lot more interesting. The Russo Brothers, the men behind Civil War and to be behind Avengers: Infinity War, are apparently set to direct, with Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt looking to co-star. The existence of this movie hasn’t been confirmed by Sony yet, but that’s one hell of a roster if it turns out to be legitimate.