I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’ve remade “Ghostbusters” with an entirely new cast? It’s been pretty low-key and uncontroversial with almost no internet chatter around it so it might have slipped past you. Jokes. It’s been everywhere, dividing movie fandom in a way that makes the sectarian DC/ Marvel schism look like a little local difficulty.
When estranged friends and physicists Erin Gilbert (Kirsten Wiig) and Abbey Yates (Melissa McCarthy) are unexpectedly reunited thanks to a book they wrote and a local haunting, they quickly discover the world of the paranormal is far more real, and far closer to breaking through than they ever thought. Teaming up with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) they find themselves standing as New York’s last line of defence against an invasion by the spirit realm.
The film opens with a spooky set-piece which not only instantly invokes the eerie library scene of the very first movie but, by centring around a foreboding portrait and vast quantities of gloopy slime also homages the flawed and lacklustre sequel. It foreshadows an ongoing compulsion the film has to revisit the touchstones of the previous movies at the expense of creating a distinct identity of its own. After the promising opening, which manages to create an effective air of creepiness and tension, the film shifts down a gear and takes far too long to build up momentum once again as it introduces us not only to the central characters of this new iteration but also the seemingly unending parade of comical background characters, all of whom seem to get their ‘bit’ to do.
This film has had to deal with an incredible amount of pre-emptive flack prior to its release and it’s heartening that this seems to have provoked defiance in the filmmakers rather than a desire to appease. The downside of this defiance is that everyone in the movie is ‘on’. Maximum schtick, all the time, resulting in the undoubtedly talented and likeable cast tripping over each other in an attempt to ‘steal’ the scene or the whole movie (Kate McKinnon comes closest to actually doing it). The action sequences (sluggish and overly reliant on CGI as they are) end up being welcome respites from the relentless quirky cacophony of funny ‘bits’ being smashed together.
Wiig and McCarthy are actually a little subdued at the beginning of the movie but are forced to up their game once McKinnon, Jones and Hemsworth start to make their presence felt. Nobody’s helped by an unevenly paced script which is further distorted by accommodating a disruptive ego-driven super cameo from Bill Murray who clearly demanded more to do than the cute nods given to Aykroyd, Hudson, Potts and Weaver peppered throughout the film. The plot itself has some interesting twists to add to the Ghostbusters lore but it’s buried under all the performances and never gets enough room to breathe, largely thanks to an anaemic villain in Neil Casey who rarely feels like anything more than a henchman. It manages to have some effective horror moments scattered among the comedy but never manages to build up the sense of peril which both previous movies – yes, even “Ghostbusters II” – managed to. The effects are, as you’d expect, much better this time round but the action isn’t as engaging and it’s mostly due to the movie’s overt focus being comedy rather than adventure. There’s also some signs of a fairly brutal editing process with a central finale set-piece featuring a possessed Hemsworth leading the assembled police and troops in a song and dance number (a la “The Mask”) cut completely from the movie and exiled to the closing credits.
Ultimately, Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is far better than the doomsayers (and worse) were predicting but it’s not the triumphant, feel-good summer blockbuster some of us were hoping for – if only to confound those very same vitriolic trolls. It’s good, but not great. All the ingredients are there, it just needs to be confident enough of its own validity to not try so hard next time around.