As the credits played over the end of Paul Feig’s much-talked-about new take on Ghostbusters, my mind was awash. There were things that didn’t quite work. There were bits I really liked. How did it measure up compared to the others? What did I want to say about it?
And then I stopped, and realised I had a great big grin on my face (bolstered still further by the excellent, unmissable end credits). I think that’s something to easily lose sight of. That this is – for all the noise that’s followed the project for the last year – ultimately supposed to be a big, broad summer comedy blockbuster. Its aim is to entertain. In that respect, I think Ghostbusters is mission accomplished. Stacked next to any Transformers film, for instance, and it’s not even the slightest sniff of a competition.
That said, I’m not naïve. This Ghostbusters isn’t going to be just assessed on its entertainment merits, as all concerned must surely have known when they took on a film with Ghostbusters in its title. Notwithstanding the fact that a third Ghostbusters movie is a project Sony has been trying to get moving for nearly two decades, you invoke comparisons with Ivan Reitman’s original at your peril. And in a straight fistfight, the original was always going to win, as indeed it does.
But then writers Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, whilst playing in the Ghostbusters world, clearly wanted to do something that set their movie apart from the earlier two. As such, it’s neither remake nor sequel, rather a sort-of-reboot that sets up the Ghostbusters and the supernatural again in New York City, with respective nods to the originals.
It’s a long time, in fact, since I’ve seen a blockbuster so very, very eager to please. The movie shoots out of the traps with a pre-credits spooky sequence, before introducing most of our new quartet of Ghostbusters at surprising speed. The core four are Melissa McCarthy’s Abby (channeling, at first, a little bit of Susan Cooper from Spy, before settling well into her character), Kristen Wiig’s Erin (who serves as our primary way into the movie), Kate McKinnon’s Jillian (relentlessly active, clearly having a ball) and Leslie Jones’ take-no-shit Patty.
We get through a lot of exposition quickly, a consequence of the need to re-position the film’s world, with Wiig’s character in particular about to get a job, tracking down an old book, and meeting up again with an old colleague in what feels like double-quick time. It does mean that, as energetic as the opening third is, the movie takes a while to properly settle. McKinnon’s Jillian – who I’d imagine will be loved and not loved in pretty equal measure (I warmed to her) – is utterly in keeping with the tempo of things with her non-stop energy.
But as things do settle, so this new Ghostbusters finds its feet. It doesn’t disassociate itself from the older films – the same theme and logo is there, and there are obvious and less-obvious callouts – but the tone of the humour has changed slightly, and the world the Ghostbusters live in is just a little more self-aware. Andy Garcia’s Mayor, for instance, is far more interested in image management than shouting down the Ghostbusters themselves.
What surprised me is just how effective some of the jumps are here. Feig is more naturally a director of comedy, yet he shows signs of a horror edge here, with one excellent leap-out-of-your-seat moment in particular. Furthermore, when he turns his hands to special effects, he’s wise enough to ensure you can actually see and follow what’s going on, even when things are ramped up for the inevitably huge finale.
His much-discussed casting works, too. The four leads work nicely as a team, and there’s one sequence with McCarthy in particular that’s flat-out excellent (can’t divulge more there for spoiler reaons). I think it’s Kristen Wiig who’s the quiet glue holding things together, though, and by not trying to base their performances on the Ghostbusters of old, McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and McKinnon had brought to the screen characters I’d happily watch again.
There are problems here, still. The hit rate of the jokes felt a little light to me, appreciating just how subjective comedy can be (I did have a hearty chuckle at nods to some of the more negative internet comments the film has attracted, though), and whilst the actual core plot is fine, but I never got the sense that it was putting genuine barriers up in front of its characters. There’s never really much doubt as to what’s going to happen.
Furthermore, Chris Hemsworth’s receptionist becomes for me – aside from Wiig’s fascination with him – a joke that runs a little too thin. His character, Kevin, feels at first a little too close to his turn in last year’s Vacation. And whilst Kevin’s incompetence has its moments, the joke is well worn by the time it’s stopped being told.
The cameos, too, are a pretty mixed bag. It feels in at least two of the cases that the movie is being distracted too much by reverence to the old films, and – without spoiling things – one of the big appearances really stuck out for me. That said, it saves the best cameo appearance for last, and it’s certainly worth hanging around once the credits kick in.
I can’t help but come back to this point, though: in era of cynical, bloated, effects-packed blockbusters, this new Ghostbusters, to its last breath, desperately, desperately wants you to have a good night out at the movies. And I think most people will. Perhaps there’s not enough in there to fully dispel the hate that a subset of the audience are bringing to the film (although there’s an argument that it’d need to be Citizen Kane to do that in some quarters), but particularly when it finds its own footing, this new Ghostbusters is a really fun night out at the movies in its own right. It’s an upvote from me.
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