Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon
Genre: Action/ Comedy
Physicist Erin Gilbert (Wiig) has ambitions of pursuing a serious academic career, and after discovering that a book she previously wrote about the apparent existence of ghosts has been put for sale on Amazon by her co-author Abby Yates (McCarthy) she goes to see her former colleague to ask her to remove the book. However, after they and Yate’s colleague, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) are called to an apparent sighting of a ghost, it appears that Gilbert and Yate’s theories may well be true. They are also joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) after she discovers another ghost while working, and the four of them form a team to defeat a powerful supernatural force that threatens destroy New York.
The extreme levels of hate that the remake of Ghostbusters has found heading its way from the very moment it was announced has certainly been well documented. While the initial idea of just leaving alone what is a universally loved and classic film of its time is certainly justified, other criticisms and theories attributed to purposeful cast genders may certainly not be justified so easily. Those are however arguments for another day and definitely another blog.
I, like most film fans, always groan and sigh when I see yet another remake, and when I hear that there was a Ghostbusters remake I certainly groaned, a lot! Well I have of course made my theories about remakes and the marketing advantage of using the title of a previous film and attracting inevitable backlash over using an original title quite clear, and it can certainly be the case that there is no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to getting bums on seats at the box office.
Well, as soon as one starts to question why the Ghostbusters remake exists or compare it to the original, then that can only lead to negative thoughts. However, when entered and watched as a film in its own right, Ghostbusters is, despite a few flaws, a very enjoyable and often genuinely funny action romp.
Ghostbusters itself seems quite happy to be compared to its predecessor as there is a plethora of nods and references from start to finish that do seem to be made with genuine affection, as opposed to cheap gimmickry. These are certainly very enjoyable inclusions into the film, and certainly add to its sense of light-hearted playfulness and self-awareness.
They key part of why Ghostbusters is so enjoyable and often genuinely funny is the cast; for me a key element of how both the original and this remake can work so well is the deep sense of camaraderie and friendship between the four main characters. The reasons for the casting of women is not an argument I feel that is important, but Ghostbusters could have most certainly been a total disaster if the makers had taken the cynical approach and casted the four biggest female names in the industry at the moment (for example Chastain, Blunt, Johannsen, Lawrence). Instead the cast list does not consist of the most familiar names (though McCarthy and Wiig have now established themselves as reasonably well-known names, but not as leads in big budget films), but they all know each other very well and share an obvious on-screen chemistry and enjoy working together. This is for me a crucial element of a film like this, and plays a huge element as to why there are so many laughs, as I am sure many of the funniest lines were improvised.
The cast are all also individually likeable; in the straight role Kristen Wiig doesn’t get the best lines, but is solid. I have often been a critic of Melissa McCarthy, however not of her acting ability but her poor choices of roles and scripts, and the 12a certificate means she cannot resort to swearing, and this test proves to be a good thing as she does emerge as a likeable and funny character. Leslie Jones is hilarious in her role, and though her character could have easily become a one-note cliché, her excellent performance makes sure that her character of Patty is far more than that. In what some may describe as a bit of Hollywood gender role reversal, Chris Hemsworth gets to (literally) flex is comedy muscles, and though the inclusion of his character does often feel completely superfluous to the actual plot, it does bring a justifiable amount of hilarious moments.
This has already been said by many, but the clear standout performance is Kate McKinnon as the bonkers scientist Jillian Holtzmann. Her madcap and slightly unhinged performance could have easily descended into annoying over-acting, but she is a joy to watch and often steals every scene she is in, usually producing the biggest laughs.
Despite the great performances and abundance of laughs on hand, what ultimately lets Ghostbusters down and prevents it from being a really good film is its ultimate lack of narrative coherence. It is certainly director Paul Feig’s most narratively coherent film yet, but considering his previous films have been Judd Apatow inspired comedy sketches being held together by wafer-thin narratives, that it is not saying much, However Ghostbusters is most definitely a step in the right direction. There is of course, not even attempts at any kind of character arcs as well as a completely forgettable and underwritten antagonist, which does indeed show just how ultimately creatively hollow the film is.
However when being in charge of a big budget blockbuster, you really cannot get away with having a lack of control over your plot like you perhaps can with an out-and-out comedy. With a little more disciplined the film could have been 20 minutes shorter and many individual scenes are just essentially comedy skits that could have been shorter without having any effect in the plot. I am certainly intrigued to see if there will be a directors cuts with more, extended improvised moments and perhaps more swearing.
While the more character driven first two thirds get away with often showing a lack of overall narrative discipline, in the final third Feig’s attempts at constantly throwing over the top, excessive CGI at the screen and new weapons constantly turning up to get characters out of situations become increasingly lazy and jarring. There is of course a need for an action-led final third in a film of this kind, but how it is executed unfortunately detracts from what makes the first two thirds such fun and does make the film harder to feel part of as it goes on.
However, despite its narrative flaws, there is definitely a lot of fun to be had watching Ghostbusters, and it certainly produces more laughs than the average mainstream comedy.
Despite its fair share of narrative flaws, thanks to four excellent performances and some razor-sharp dialogue, Ghostbusters may be ultimately quite a forgettable film, but it is not only good fun, but often hilarious.