It’s nearly impossible to discuss Paul Feig’s female-led reboot of Ghostbusters without acknowledging the elephant in the room, so let’s go ahead and get it out of the way. For the better part of the past year, a particularly nasty faction of sexist, misogynistic trolls have devoted countless hours of their lives to insulting, denouncing and degrading the filmmakers, the cast, and pretty much anyone with even the slightest ancillary connection to this project – and all of this without viewing a single frame of footage.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe that disliking the 2016 version of Ghostbusters automatically lumps you into this particular category, because Feig’s film is certainly not without its flaws – I know this, because I’ve actually seen it, unlike the vocal minority of mouth-breathing basement dwellers who think rape and death threats are a reasonable method of communicating their displeasure. But when your entire argument has a distinctly anti-female slant – “girls can’t be scientists” or “girls can’t be funny” or any variation of “girls can’t do what men do” – then you’ve already told me everything I need to know about yourself and the validity of your opinion.
Bad news, Ghost Bros: Ghostbusters is not the cinematic apocalypse you’ve predicted. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, an amusing and entertaining summer popcorn movie that displays an overwhelming reverence for its source material. The generous helpings of fan service are doled out at regular intervals, making it clear that everyone involved in this franchise reboot – including the surviving members of the original cast – are true fans of the original 1984 comedy. But while this updated version may follow a similar template as its predecessor – paranormal investigators use experimental equipment to combat a growing supernatural threat in New York City – the devil is in the details.
Physics professor Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is on the verge of being granted tenure at Columbia University, until a book she co-authored about the paranormal suddenly resurfaces. Fearing damage to her professional reputation, she tracks down her former childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and demands an explanation, but Erin’s anger subsides when she, Abby and eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) stumble upon a real-life haunting. The video evidence they upload to YouTube goes viral, but not in a good way – Erin loses her job, Abby loses her workshop, and everyone thinks the footage is fabricated.
Determined to prove the existence of ghosts and clear their names, the trio get a bit of help from Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of New York City – not to mention an uncle who owns a funeral home and is willing to lend one of his vehicles to the team. As sightings of spectres begin to increase, the ladies hire a hunky and hilariously dim-witted secretary (Chris Hemsworth) to man the phones (no pun intended) while they set out to rid their city of its otherworldly occupants.
After a solid opening sequence featuring Silicon Valley‘s Zach Woods giving guided tours of a historic mansion, Ghostbusters spends the next 20 minutes slogging through exposition and character introductions, never really finding its groove until the ladies encounter their first free-floating phantasm in a scene which echoes the “library ghost” from the original film. But the laughs come frequently in the second act, with Hemsworth stealing scene after scene in the funniest performance of his career, and McKinnon fully committing to her character’s incredibly bizarre quirks, mannerisms and delivery – she’s easily the best part of this film, and I would gladly buy another ticket just for her contributions.
The remainder of Ghostbusters is something of a mixed bag, with a barely-developed villain (Neil Casey) who never progresses beyond “mustache twirling” territory, and who feels like he exists in a completely different reality from the rest of the characters. It comes as no surprise that he’s largely responsible for the sudden uptick in ghost-related incidents, but his motivations and methodology are only given the briefest of explanations.
We also need to talk about the climax, where the team strap on their latest equipment to square off against an army of spirits and apparitions in a hugely overblown action sequence. While the action is well-choreographed and the visual effects are absolutely spectacular, the whole thing is just too big and too long, as if Ghostbusters is trying to complete some kind of “summer blockbuster checklist.” Just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean that you should, and the enormous battle waged by our heroines is actually a detriment to the film as a whole.
Is this modern-day update better than the original film? Of course not, and I don’t think anyone – even the filmmakers – expected that to happen. Feig has taken the basic premise and drastically shifted the tone, exchanging the wry humor of the 1984 version for a more heightened reality that often borders on slapstick, but still feels like the Ghostbusters universe that we recognize. The cast is great (especially McKinnon), the visuals are stunning, and the film is consistently entertaining despite its noticeable issues. It’s far from becoming an instant classic like its namesake, but I’d much rather watch these ladies fight off more phantoms than sit through Ghostbusters II again.