Directed by Paul Feig
Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig
Starring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams and Chris Hemsworth with appearances by Ed Bagley Jr., Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Bill Murray and Slimer
Runtime: 116 minutes
Seldom, if ever, has a film faced as big of an uphill struggle as Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters. Originally planned to be a sequel to the 1989 second installment Ghostbusters 2 and to be written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman. Bill Murray famously didn’t want to do Ghostbusters 3 because he thought everyone in the principal cast was too old to be running around doing that kind of thing. Then Ramis suddenly died and despite Aykroyd and Reitman saying they were still looking to move forward and make it a tribute to Ramis, Murray would have nothing to do with it. Then Paul Feig became involved, Aykroyd and Reitman stepped aside with their blessing and he co-wrote the screenplay for a reboot featuring an all-woman cast of Ghostbusters. This led to some viciously misogynistic comments, posts and tweets from men who grew up liking the original films and somehow couldn’t grasp that women would be just as capable in the roles as the original quartet of men. Many of the comments that will and are popping up on the internet will try to look like they are critiquing the film, while really they are angry that women were cast (I saw one referring to the film as ‘Ghostbusters Tampon’). Much of these bigoted reactions were months before the movie even came out, taking to message boards, Twitter and Facebook as well as IMdB and YouTube to deride the film (the trailer is the fourth most disliked video on the site, the only movie trailer to be in the bottom 50). They were hating a movie they hadn’t seen before it came out because their fragile masculinity felt threatened and they feared their childhood would be ‘ruined’ by this film (though, in truth, if your childhood can be ruined by a change to something you loved then, your childhood probably wasn’t that great to begin with) and that is just utter nonsense.
The story follows Dr. Erin Gilbert, a particle physicist at Columbia University who is approached by Ed Mulgrave (Ed Bagley Jr.) concerning a book she wrote many years ago about ghosts with a now estranged friend. There’s been a ghost sighting in the historical landmark mansion he manages and he wants her to look into it. She declines but is led back to Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) with whom she wrote the book, but thought she’d destroyed all the copies. Abby is still working on paranormal science with a coworker, particle physicist/nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Erin gets dragged along to the mansion where they actually see a ghost, leading to a video of Erin yelling she believes in ghosts being posted on YouTube and for which Erin is fired. She joins up with Abby and Holtzmann to investigate paranormal activity with her old friend once again. From here, they hire Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), and bring Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker with an incredible knowledge of New York and its history, into the fold and discover someone is trying to bring about an apocalypse by breaking down the wall between the living dimension and the dimension of spirits.
Director/co-writer Paul Feig, best known for Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy and co-writer Katie Dippold, also known for The Heat as well as several episodes of MadTV and Parks and Recreation, have made a script that is deferent and respectful of the original Ghostbusters yet also original. They didn’t try to rehash and remake the original scene for scene, but they did take some story beats to connect it to the modern classic original. They took great care in creating four unique and fleshed out characters for the new group of Ghostbusters, not dwelling on the personalities of the original actors and characters but making them stand out and be completely new. The script is hilarious, using a lot of great banter and running gags to keep it going when there isn’t a new ghost to bust or new information for the plot to move forward, and that is what helps set this apart from most comedy/actions. Feig and Dipplod focus more on the characters than the plot, which they sprinkle in during the banter-heavy dialogue scenes. The jokes are all born out of the personalities and interactions between the characters, not forced into plot-heavy sequences that just get us to the next action scene. They even work in a few shots at the naysayers in scenes that were shot after the debut of the first trailer.
Feig as director also knows how to get the most out of his actors. He lets these immensely talented actors go and this creates an amazing dynamic between them. He’s not anxious to move on, content to watch something play out if it will get more quick character jokes in. His casting decisions work entirely to his favor, as no one is bad in the entire film. While his visual sense isn’t particularly noteworthy, his work with the actors makes up for that. He does seem to get a little overwhelmed with the effects and green-screen work in the final act, but the character work he’s done up to that point takes over and that is what keeps the ending from undermining the rest of the picture. It is worth it to note that Feig does some fantastic things with the 3D, so much so that this is the best use of the format I’ve seen since Martin Scorsese’s great 2011 film Hugo. It’s not just used for depth of the screen, he has ectoplasm and characters pop out of the screen right at you, drawing you into the screen with them, like it should be used. If this was a post-conversion to 3D, then it is the best of its kind and if it was filmed in 3D, Feig has an uncanny knowledge of just what to do with it.
McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and McKinnon, with help from Hemsworth, keep this film going with relentless energy. McCarthy has her best screen part, keeping herself odd but not over the top, subduing the crazier elements of many of her other film roles for a reserved, intelligent woman who believes deeply in what she’s doing. She and Wiig work amazingly together, doing a lot of quick riffs back and forth that give the sense that these two characters really are old friends. Jones is a powerhouse of a comedian and thankfully, her role is not a stereotype but rather she is a real person. Jones works in knowledge of NYC into each conversation, proving that she’s not a dumb MTA worker that stumbles into this, that she belongs with these scientists and ends up being indispensable. It’s McKinnon that steals the show though, despite some pretty strong competition from Hemsworth’s dumber-than-a-sack-of-hammers Kevin. McKinnon is electric in her performance, mumbling something odd or getting hyper-excited over her latest invention or modification to their gear. She’s wild and unpredictable, and McKinnon uses everything she has, modulating her voice all over the place, sometimes within the same sentence; exaggerated movements (sometimes reminiscent of Groucho Marx) and brilliant eye movement. She’s all over the place but is never distracting, crazy without ever being wrong and endlessly entertaining in every scene she’s in.
Ghostbusters doesn’t top the original, nothing ever could, but it is actually better than Ghostbusters 2. It would be easy to dismiss the film as the normal summer action/comedy shlock because of the big action finale, but that would be doing it a great disservice. It shines brightest when McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon and Jones are just riffing off of each other, which is nearly constantly. Everything is in service to the characters and the characters are magnificent. The action is much bigger than anything the originals could do, due to limitations in technology, but like them, the action is driven by the personalities of the characters. Bottom line: haters are going to hate. Don’t let them drive you away from a fantastic time at the movies just because they can’t get over themselves enough to realize that they can love the original and still like this Ghostbusters too, all while keeping their masculinity and childhoods intact.