VOD film review: Ghostbusters (2016)
James R | On 27, Nov 2016
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Imagine, for a second, that you’d never seen a film called Ghostbusters. Then, one day in 2016, you happened to stumble across a comedy about paranormal investigators in New York. And you giggled, whooped and grinned your way through it, thanks to its hugely likeable cast, funny jokes and enjoyably naff special effects. Now imagine that you have already seen the 1984 film of the same name. What you realise? It doesn’t make one jot of difference.
Paul Feig’s reboot, starring four women instead of men (yes, women do exist), was met with a wall of hate online, before it had even been released – as if somehow, the act of remaking a film would stop the original from existing, as though every DVD and cinema ticket came with a free match and some lighter fluid to burn your copy of Ivan Reitman’s film. Feig does tip his hat to his ancestor, with some brief cameos and musical stings, but fans being precious about the first film are hopelessly misguided: Ghostbusters is so busy doing its own thing that it simply doesn’t care about bothering with the franchise’s past. And, to cap it off, it’s really rather good.
Gone are Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray. In their place? Four new characters, who are just as bumbling, intelligent and charming. Kristen Wiig plays Erin, a scientist who’s trying to get tenure at her university, something not helped by the existence of a book she wrote when young (Ghosts from the Past: Literally and Figuratively). Co-wrote, to be exact, with Abby (Melissa McCarthy), who’s peddling the paperback on Amazon, while still investigating the paranormal at a far less reputable institution. But when a haunted mansion throws up an actual spirit, and another appears in New York’s train tunnels, Abby and Erin find themselves unwittingly reunited, helped by Subway employee Patty (Leslie Jones).
They’re a fantastically written bunch, each with their own distinct identity, and you can tell that the script (co-written with Parks and Rec’s Katie Dippold) is penned with these performers in mind: Wiig is a dab-hand at switching between buttoned-up calm and outspoken hilarity, while Leslie Jones (a Saturday Night Live veteran) fires off one-liners at an energetic pace, and McCarthy, wonderfully, gets more to do than slapstick comedy and jumps at the chance to be the eccentric, yet passionately devoted, brainiac. But the star of the ensemble is undoubtedly Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann, the team’s engineering nut, who can make you snort with just a facial expression. She does way more than just that. Licking guns, staring suggestively at her colleagues, munching on Pringles (“You try saying no to these salty parabolas”) and wearing the hell out of some gorgeously steampunk goggles, she’s witty, confident, whip-smart and unapologetically weird – the kind of inspired comic creation destined to live on in memes and fan fantasies for years.
Together, they click beautifully, breezily tossing back and forth banter that feels natural – and, moreover, there’s a satisfying feel of camaraderie in them coming together to defeat the spooky apparitions rising out of New York’s past. One early handheld sequence sees Erin and Abby hug with joy after getting covered in slime. It takes a lot of effort to spark that kind of winning charisma, but you wouldn’t be able to tell.
The ghosts themselves are equally well-pitched, opting for just the right balance of shiny gloss and intentionally shoddy visuals that has made the BBC’s modern Doctor Who so endearing; kids around the age of 12 and up can watch it without fear of being terrified (and maybe even be inspired by a tentpole movie with female heroes in it). Throw in Chris Hemsworth as a dumb secretary called Kevin and you have a franchise flick that manages to balance spectacle, action and family-friendly cheesiness. The fact that it’s stuffed with so many jokes is a bonus. (“Can I bring my cat to work?” Kevin asks. “I have a pretty severe cat allergy,” Erin replies. “No, he’s a dog. His name’s Mike Hat.”) The result isn’t a remake or reboot designed to please, annoy or surprise fans. It’s just a well-made slice of entertainment that does exactly what it should: entertain. And if it does end up inspiring its own string of Ghostbusters sequels, it makes one thing clear: we all know exactly who to call.