Ghostbusters (2016) review by Calum Maclean
Directed by Paul Fieg
Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Fieg
Cast – Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia, Matt Walsh, Neil Casey, Ed Begley Jr, Zach Woods
The first trailer for this reboot of the 1984 original was the most disliked in the history of YouTube. A lot, though not all, of the vitriol directed at the film seemed to be fuelled by sexism and a disdain for a female led interpretation of the Ghostbusters story. There were also many legitimate concerns, mainly addressing the unnecessary nature of a reboot, and the fear that a beloved film with an enduring legacy would be tarnished by association. The quality of the marketing campaign did much to enhance this criticism with clunky editing and an off kilter pace that smothered any humour, and left most, including me, expecting a trainwreck.
What a pleasant surprise then that I was laughing from literally the first lines. There is actually plenty to enjoy in this comedy, from the cast, effects, and a script with plenty of witty dialogue. However there are weaknesses, elements that don’t come together, and an unfortunate reliance upon the original that actually works against the momentum of the new story.
Once again the plot concerns three down on their luck academics; in this version Dr Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is on the cusp of a tenured position at Columbia University until a book on the paranormal she co-authored years earlier with Dr Abby Yates (McCarthy) resurfaces, bringing her back into contact with her old friend and her colleague the eccentric Dr Lillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). After an encounter with a genuine spirit, the three set up a team which grows to include subway worker Patty Tolan (Jones) and dim witted receptionist Kevin (Hemsworth) as they attempt to prevent an impending apocalypse and legitimise their new career path.
The main strength of the film is the cast. Wiig and McCarthy have an established chemistry from Bridesmaids which informs their scenes together, and Jones brings great energy, delivering some of the funniest lines and providing more character than was afforded to Ernie Hudson in the original. In my opinion the standouts are Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth assumes the “dumb blonde” stereotype and displays a gift for comedy that carries him through some of the more unbelievable moments of stupidity, while McKinnon takes what is an underwritten character and produces a charismatic performance with an offbeat delivery and some hilarious reaction shots. There are moments in both their performances where they teeter over into ridiculousness, but by and large they are the comedic highlights.
There are also good improvements in the film’s action, with the CGI ghosts and updated technology giving the ghostbusting scenes a thrilling urgency, and McKinnon having a particularly kick ass moment during the climax. The villain is fairly forgettable as a character, though he does seem to embody some of the more venomous qualities of the film’s online trolls, and the final battle does descend into a bit of a special effects mess but the established relationships between the four leads keep you engaged throughout.
There are problems, inherent in any reboot, but especially in one with such reverence for the source material. Where the film is at its strongest, particularly during the first half, is when it is going its own way, but that momentum is too often halted to pay respect to the 84 film. This is most glaring in the overuse of cameos from the entire surviving cast, with the exception of Rick Moranis, that only remind you of what you’re not watching. There also numerous references, visual reminders and plot echoes from the original that distract from the strengths of the new, though some are more subtly effective like the touching nod to the late Harold Ramis. These flaws are quite frustrating, though understandable given the intense fan pressure, but could be a guideline should any sequels be planned in future. I hope they are, I’d like to see this talented cast take on a more unique plot of their own now that they’ve set up their own universe and paid more than necessary homage.
If you go into Ghostbusters with an open mind, I believe you will have a lot of fun. There are plenty of laughs, some good scares, action, and a great cast. If you don’t like it, the original still exists so everyone is a winner.
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