GhostBusters: Ignore the Premature Haters. Let go of your biased love of the original brand. Just sit back, relax and enjoy this heart warming, funny, visually spectacular and infectiously charming, girl-powered, nostalgic yet forward looking ‘reboot’.
Paranormal Field Data:
Stars: Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Thor
Director: Paul Feig
12A / 2 hrs approx /Sony Pictures
Four Women from differing backgrounds (science, technology, transportation) team together to prevent an army of Ghosts engulfing New York City. It will not be an easy ride. They must evolve the right methods, technologies and even public relations strategies and those initially peripheral challenges prove more frightening than any ghost. Welcome to the first adventures of the all new GhostBusters.
When you need a re-boot…and the franchise seems old..when the original cast and crew..have moved on..when every second new film is just a rehashed franchise set-up..when you need some laughs and you seek some soul..who ya gonna call?
Well..Sony Pictures (headed by a visionary Amy Pascal) wisely called on none other than Director Paul Feig. Or rather, he called them and pitched an all girl reboot. It made sense. Because GhostBusters 3 was frankly lurking in development hell and had they left it to the old team of Murray /Aykroyd/Reitman et al..then we might never have seen the GhostBusters brand on the big screen again at all as they would simply have continued tweaking pitches.
So, was this the right call? Absolutely, yes! A big yes. With bells attached. Before considering this product on its own merits, though, allow me to consider the alternative. There was indeed a GhostBusters 3 script out there. It had several iterations, including one in which Hell itself opened on New York, thereby creating an alternate reality, presided over by a version of Satan as Donald Trump-ish magnate (a role tailored to Alec Baldwin).
Another take was part prequel, giving us the back story on Slimer. Gozer and the mythos of the 1984 original movie. And then, the most obvious kind of belated sequel, whereby the old team would pass the torch to the next generation of comedians come protectors from the paranormal.
Whilst none of those ideas would have been ‘wrong’ per se, neither do any stand out as particularly inspired or fresh and new. Indeed, there was a genuine danger of giving us something tired and even unwelcome that would damage rather than honour the legacy of the beloved original.
There was no story that needed to be told and frankly, there was no need to continue a series that had been left to gather dust back in 1989. You could repeat yourself or try and outdo the old formula and that rarely, if ever, works and especially when reactivating an old brand whose third episode was mooted yet not exactly desired by fans of the originals. The semi sequel computer game was probably sufficient in any event, right?
And then there was Bill Murray. His charisma anchored the 1984 and 1989 movies, yet he made a virtue of half committing to then quite suddenly and dramatically withdrawing from any notion of reassembling the old team and associated formulae. He did pitch the notion of playing a ghost (genius but all too risky and ultimately a thin premise).
Couple Murray’s reluctance with the fact that the world had arguably just moved on and that similar products had come and gone (notably Men in Black). And it became clear that the sheer will to even watch, let alone make a third film in the old series..had simply faded..like a..ghost?
But the brand itself, from logo through to theme tune? All still very viable, from nostalgia value alone. The question was how to harness that constructively and the only logical option was a reboot. Paul Feig was spot on in his assertion that involving the old team / mythology would be a counter-productive move (though Murray and co do get some delightful cameo roles).
This new take is that the team are now ladies rather than lads and that this is the first time in this cinematic universe that ghosts will have been seen or the technologies developed with which any spectral menace can be contained.
I am absolutely delighted to report that this new spin does work very well indeed. How can that be so, when the entire world seemed so determined it fail? I love an underdog as much as the next man but my critical and objective eye was very much on from the moment the film started. And that, frankly, is a first and critical litmus test of a film today and its potential for success. Does it engage your attention and thrill the senses from the outset? In this case, absolutely, yes.
Tone is set very clearly from the first scene. This will be genuinely unsettling and scary in places, whilst avoiding outright horror or nastiness. It will trade on the trappings of the originals (logo and infectious theme tune), whilst very carefully crafting its own world, mythology and delightful cast of characters. You fall in love with this new team of GhostBusters and consequently, with the film. You want these new heroines to win and you genuinely care about their progress over the story’s course.
By contrast, it is surprisingly the beloved ‘originals’ that fall somewhat short of the mark. Yes, their imagery and genre bending was a thing of genius. Yes, you still cannot outdo Bill Murray at his best. Yes, those original special effects were genuinely innovative. But peel away the layers a bit and be objective.
The films of 1984 and 1989 had some quite nasty moments. The horror frequently outdid the comedy, thereby unbalancing an uneasy partnership in tone. And the so called heroes? They were quite thinly drawn and not terribly sympathetic. Had they all made us laugh, then perhaps one could forgive shortcomings but Dan Aykroyd was in fact quite muted compared to his other hilarious work and Murray’s Peter Venkman character was something of a bully.
So when you say that you ‘love’ the original GhostBusters, do you in fact mean, that you love the associated memories and feel good packaging? If so: you are still in for a treat with this new reboot. All the old imagery. New and arguably better spin.
Each of the lead actresses will make you laugh. Each has a character that is distinct and compelling and in some way relevant to the movement of plot, without too great of a contrivance. Melissa McCarthy just gets better and better with each film she graces. Kristen Wiig is a charming ‘way in’ character for the story. Leslie Jones plays an equally adept game, occasionally touching and trading on the ‘black thing’, without in fact making it a ‘thing’.
Chris Hemsworth unselfishly sends up his own beefcake image and eschews any leading man vanity to play an endearingly vacuous idiot, whose sole purpose is to generate comedic scenarios for the girls to play off. This film is most definitely an ensemble piece. Even the small roles have importance and definition.
Look out for Zach Woods and Katie Dippold. Small moments, perfectly cast and crafted. Though quite why Charles Dance turns up for all of five minutes yet enjoys almost top billing is beyond me (he would have made a great villain).
And it’s a bit of a shame to see Andy Garcia in yet another comedy cameo, when we all missed out on his giving us Godfather 4. But you cannot have everything. And yes, you could find flaws aplenty in the film, beyond those superficial and meta-textual gripes.
The ‘big bad’ is in fact not that big or bad. Consequently, what should be the requisite epic and stakes-increasing finale is a tad flat. We build to a crescendo that never quite happens; tension dissipates rather than escalates as the film progresses.
One could also make a case that Aykroyd’s original scripts had a greater sense of exposition and mythology, with a richer and more literate sub-text both in their pseudo-science and quasi-religious motifs. This reboot by contrast does not present an especially dense or literate script. It therefore harms rather than helps this film when our attentions are drawn to images that simply do not work as well in this new version’s universe.
I won’t spoil things, but a few familiar spectral forms might make gratuitous appearances. And, whilst it all looks lovely, the sense of novelty and innovation are absent. There is certainly not a great deal of substance here or rather, there is an absence of meat on the bones or wontons in the takeaway soup (to draw on a running gag in the new film).
A few scenes remind one of Scooby Doo, presumably unintentionally? There is also no topping Peter MacNicol’s bad guy from GhostBusters 2 and casting an antagonist who is a bit in that mould was probably a mistake? The Ray Parker Junior theme tune is used brilliantly at the start (I even rocked in my seat..fact). But they undo that with possibly the worst cover version. Ever.
Notice though that the drawbacks are minor; more about slightly rough edges and holes that must be picked. At no stage does any particular problem undermine the fabric of the product as a whole or one’s enjoyment of the entertainment experience. In fact I had to really struggle to find things I did not like. The film oozes a love of its own art-form. This is not so much a love letter to GhostBusters as it is ode to the lost treasure of the uncomplicated fun of a traditional summer blockbuster.
Whilst it pays nod and wink tributes to the legacy of a parent brand and other pop cultural gems (Jaws, Patrick Swayze, Ozzy Osborne, YouTube trolls) there is very little in the way of cynicism or complacent ‘origin story’ / reboot features.
No formulaic ‘You are now the GhostBusters‘ as credits roll. No smug sequel bait. And a refreshing absence of the obvious montage technique. That might seem like a small detail, but it benefits the film with a sheen of original style that more than compensates for any debts to its 1984/9 counterparts.
GhostBusters is a team effort and ensemble piece. But I must give a particular shout to the incredible talents of Kate McKinnon. She manages to be a selfless member of the group dynamic, whilst filling the screen anytime the camera fixes on her. Her sheer sense of fun and energy pervade the film and arguably define its tone. Kate is a brilliant, beautiful, buoyant joy to watch. So, even if you do not love the film (there’s no pleasing some people), you cannot help but come away loving Kate. A star is born.
A delight from start to finish: the summer blockbuster has been refreshed, thoroughly with visual bounce and infectious, innocent joy. GhostBusters joins Batman Begins and Casino Royale in the pantheon of successful reboots that just manage to get everything ‘right’ and against the odds.
It’s an hilarious treat and suitable for a range of ages and tastes across the family spectrum: a cinematic equivalent to Pantomime with a real sense of heart and soul and community.
A sequel, please, and soon. This was an unexpected but most welcome and joyous night of traditional Hollywood, popcorn fun. Busting will indeed make you feel good! If you don’t like this film..then you might want to check your own pulse, because perhaps you are in fact..a ghost?
8 marks out of 10. Recommended!