Hollywood has a nasty habit of trampling on the memories of our youth by remaking some of the classics of yesteryear, and in most cases stuffing them up beyond belief. They may justify this by saying that the remake opens an otherwise forgotten film up to a brand new audience. The latest classic to get the remake treatment is the Ivan Reitman 1984 cult classic Ghostbusters, which undergoes a transformation with a female ensemble cast front and centre. But despite the misogynist naysayers who have been venting their spleen on social media since the film was announced, it works up to a point.
The new look Ghostbusters comprise Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) an academic whose past as a ghost hunter comes back to haunt her just as she is about to gain tenure at Columbia University; Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), her former childhood friend who has continued her pursuit of paranormal activity; and Jillian Holtzmann (SNL’s Kate McKinnon), a scientist with a talent for creating useful apparatus and high tech weaponry. They join forces to battle the spectral phenomena haunting New York, and form the nucleus of the Ghostbusters. Eventually they are joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a history buff and former railroad employee who has her own experience of seeing a frightening ghost, and is keen to kick some supernatural butt, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the somewhat simple and bespectacled himbo who becomes their receptionist.
Their first investigation takes them to the historic Aldridge mansion which seems to be haunted. A second incident sees them tackle a spectral figure that haunts a historic theatre where a rock concert is being staged. The nerdy Rowan (Neil Casey), a misanthropic loser angry at the world for perceived slights, is assembling a collection of ghosts using Erin and Abby’s book as a reference tool. He is planning to unleash a horde of poltergeists on the city. Despite their early successes though, the city’s mayor (a wasted Andy Garcia), who is aware of the threats posed by the undead, is anxious to avoid widespread panic and is happy to see the team branded as frauds.
While not the complete disaster that the social media trolls have speculated, the film is passable enough entertainment. Special effects have come a long way in the thirty years since the original Ghostbusters, and here the climax overdoses on CGI created ghosts, spectral figures and light shows.
The producers have tried to appease the fanboys angry at this remake by enticing several of the surviving original cast members to contribute cameos – thus we get a typically droll Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver popping up in small roles to prove that the film has their seal of approval. Or else they got paid a shipload of money to appear.
Written by comic Katie Dippold (MADtv), this new take on Ghostbusters works as a sort of origins story while loosely following the narrative arc of the original. And there are a few sly homages to the original film as well, such as a brief reprise of the familiar theme song from Ray Parker jr, the iconic firehouse, the converted hearse, plenty of green slime, and of course the familiar logo, etc.
Director Paul Feig has in the past managed to get the best out of McCarthy in their previous collaborations (Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy), but here she seems uncharacteristically demure. It is left to the rest of the cast to do most of the heavy lifting with the funny stuff. Wiig has a nicely deadpan approach to the silly stuff here that works well, and she offers a contrast to the over the top mugging of McCarthy. I actually enjoyed McKinnon, who delivers comic gold. She brought vitality and a sassy attitude to her role, and was one of the best things here with a scene stealing performance. And showing a surprising affinity for comedy, the hunky Hemsworth has fun as Kevin, and there are a few sly jokes at his expense. He also provides some eye candy for Erin who drools over him. Jones brings a boisterous energy and aggressive style to her role as Patty. The principal cast actually develop a nice chemistry and energy that lifts the material.
Like the original the film makes New York a character itself with some iconic locations nicely photographed by Robert Yeoman (although Boston stands in for New York). And Yeoman actually makes some of the 3D effects work, with images that leap off the screen.
This estrogen-fuelled new take on Ghostbusters works well for those unfamiliar with the original, and is much better than Ghostbusters 2, the disappointing 1989 sequel which lazily repeated much of the good jokes from the first film. However, Ghostbusters is a little too long and the pacing is a little uneven and the pace occasionally flags. But the ending leaves the way open for a sequel to kickstart a potential new franchise should the film do well at the box office.
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
Release Date: 14 July, 2016
Rating: PG – Mild supernatural themes and coarse language, some scenes may scare young children
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television