Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey
The film at the centre of this year’s most ridiculous “controversy,” Paul Feig’s all-female remake of Ghostbusters, has been released and, surprise surprise, not only has the world continued to turn and everyone’s childhood remained intact, Feig and his quartet of talented comediennes have produced a really fun movie.
Ghostbusters, directed by Ivan Reitman, is a much loved movie and an icon of 1980s culture, so attempting to remake it was always going to be tricky. But unlike a sequel which seeks to recreate the original, trying to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, a remake has license to reimagine, to do something different. So while this remake shows a great deal of reverence to the original film – including multiple cameos from its cast members – it also understands that this is 2016 and the world, and film comedy, has changed since 1984. So what we get is a Ghostbusters film for today. It is a Paul Feig comedy, cut from the same cloth as Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, making it a jokier film than the original.
While retaining the underlying premise and tone, co-writers Feig and Katie Dippold reinvent the narrative and characters. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a professor of particle physics at Columbia University, needs to bury an embarrassing book on the paranormal she co-authored in a previous life before it ruins her shot at tenure. She tracks down her former friend Abbie Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who, with her new research partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), continues to investigate the supernatural. To convince Abbie to stop selling the book, Erin agrees to accompany them as they investigate a reported ghost sighting at the Aldrich Mansion. Sure enough, they encounter a ghost and Erin’s passions are reignited. The trio is soon joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a subway ticket seller with an encyclopaedic knowledge of New York who can recount every weird and wonderful thing that’s ever happened in the city, and the four of them set about trying to get to the bottom of the city’s recent escalation in paranormal events.
The decision to swap the protagonists’ genders in this remake is obviously the film’s primary innovation, and one which was greeted with disappointing hostility by a small but vocal collection of keyboard warriors who felt there was something intrinsically male about busting ghosts. If there is a silver lining to this reaction it is that it came early enough for Feig and Dippold to incorporate it into the screenplay. After Abbie posts video of one of their early encounters with a ghost on YouTube, she draws everyone’s attention to the disparaging comments section, singling out “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.” The characters’ need to prove themselves as legitimate, which would always have been a theme in a story about people discovering the paranormal, here takes on an extra layer of significance.
All four stars get their moments to shine, and while it is the established Wiig and McCarthy who carry the film’s emotional arc with the mending of their friendship, it is the relative newcomers Jones and, in particular, McKinnon who bring most of the laughs, with Chris Hemsworth also stealing a few scenes as their incredibly handsome but dumber-than-humanly-possible secretary Kevin. It is fantastic to see a broad appeal comedy blockbuster focussing on female leads with agency, who get to be not just funny, but smart. Where in the original the ghostbusters effectively became paranormal pest control, this film never loses sight of the fact they are scientists whose primary aim is research, and in doing so it features some of the best movie pseudo-science and techno-babble you’ll hear. And if men going to the film are confronted by the experience of watching a blockbuster with no realistic or relatable characters of their gender, an experience all too familiar to female viewers, then that is no bad thing either.
Not just a comedy, Ghostbusters is also an impressive spectacle. The digital effects are top notch. The ghosts, which come in all different shapes and sizes, look fantastic. For a director without a real background in effects movies, Feig largely uses the CGI very well, though things do get a bit out of hand in the third act. It is also one of the better uses of 3D in recent years, with the ghosts appearing to break out of the top and bottom of the frame as well as coming towards you. There are plenty of jump scares designed to keep you on the edge of your seat – it is a horror comedy after all – but Feig never oversteps the mark for what is a family movie.
Will this remake have the same cultural resonance that the original did? Of course not. But it doesn’t need to. Reitman’s film will always be the definitive Ghostbusters. What this film needed to be was different and fun, and it is both.
Review by Duncan McLean
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