I have a professional dislike of people who express strong negative opinions about movies they haven’t seen, so for this reason – and a few more besides – it bothers me that Ghostbusters is arriving in cinemas prematurely bathed in slime.
I’m referring, of course, to the unusual advance publicity the movie has received from a small but vocal group of men for whom the mere idea of remaking Ivan Reitman’s hit 1984 gothic comedy with women in the central roles is profoundly upsetting. Sacrilegious. Emasculating. Childhood-ruining.
For almost two years now, those most upset about the plan to reboot Ghostbusters have expressed their displeasure online with a degree of specificity and force that stood out from the reflexive “Meh” that usually greets news of touted Hollywood remakes. Though there was plenty of that too, this reaction was different. It was personal. It was violent. It was why you should never, ever read the comments.
Now that Ghostbusters is out in cinemas, audiences are able to decide for themselves whether it’s a terrifying revisionist feminazi nightmare, or if it’s more a relatable action comedy that pays affectionate homage to its source material, while rebooting a popular and lucrative franchise for a new generation.
I’m going with the latter.
The pop culture protectionism of the aforementioned naysayers (dubbed “Ghostbros”) clearly isn’t shared by those who have a legitimate right to claim ownership of the 1984 film – its director and surviving stars. Reitman is executive producer of the new film, and Bill Murray (whose infamous refusal to participate in a decades-long push to get a third Ghostbusters movie into cinemas, is the very reason Sony looked elsewhere to mount a ‘fresh’ reboot), Sigourney Weaver, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts all make appearances. The late Harold Ramis – to whom the film is dedicated - also gets a momentary tribute.
Paul Feig’s film includes multiple nods to Reitman’s original, in establishing the origins of New York City’s ragtag paranormal clean-up crew, but they exist in a world that appears to have no collective memory of any 1984 showdown atop the Shandor Building between the original Ghostbusters and Gozer the Gozerian (nor does it recall their return in 1989 to face off against a sentient painting and his subterranean River of Mood Slime - but then, Ghostbusters II was pretty forgettable).
As in 1984, successful Ghostbusting still requires a combination of book and street smarts when ancient apparitions start popping up all over Manhattan. So the 2016 team – Kristen Wiig’s physicist Erin, Melissa McCarthy’s scientist Abby, Leslie Jones’ history buff Patty, and Kate McKinnon’s gadget geek Jillian – make use of their quirks and expertise, to try and foil a plan to tap the earth’s magnetic energy to release the walking dead.
There’s an easy reverie between the four, with Wiig and McCarthy’s frosty past paranormal publishers-turned-frenemies being the hook that leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters. McKinnon almost steals the show in a memorable turn that channels both Tank Girl and Harpo Marx, and Jones get the better one-liners as an easily-spooked civilian who joins the team despite her better judgement.
There’s a few lags between the gags, though, and while two key characters get to play to the back row in memorable ‘possessed by ghosts’ scenes, disappointingly Wiig – the most seasoned improv artist in the cast – isn’t one of them. But whatever. “Potato/tomato”. These are really minor quibbles in film that’s witty and self-aware, with impressive effects and fun use of gimmicky ‘gotcha’ 3-D.
Director Feig was co-writing the script of the new film as he fielded death threats from the misogynistic malcontents of Twitter. No surprise then, the spooky spectre of sexism rears its head in the finished film, with a couple of well-placed jokes at the trolls’ expense. Make what you will of the sallow-faced villain who laughs off the ladies, or the fact that in another scene, the gals delight in pointing their particle throwers square at one menacing ghoul’s goolies. Elsewhere, there’s a lengthy gag about the gals’ objectification of their secretary, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), who is bad at his job but easy on the eyes. The cheeky digs are aligned with the film’s breezy vibe. If none of the olden day spooks seem to care about the gender of the quartet trying to contain them, why should you?