From contributing film critic Barry Levitt
For films released in 2016, has any been the subject of more controversy than Ghostbusters? Its trailer inexplicably became the most disliked video in YouTube history, as fans of the Ivan Reitman-helmed classic came out in droves, expressing their disgust towards Paul Feig’s reboot. Replacing the original ghostbusters with an all-female squad has drawn a significant amount of ill will towards the film (a friendly reminder that still, in 2016, it is remarkably rare for women to be the leads of anything, let alone in a remake of a beloved comedy classic! The nerve). All negative press from those who have not seen the film aside, Ghostbusters is a joy to behold. While it may not reach the hysterical heights of Feig’s previous efforts, the film is chock-full of charm and wit, making for a wholly enjoyable cinematic experience.
First and foremost, what makes Ghostbusters work is its tremendous cast. Paul Feig has enlisted Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (who has also starred in Feig’s three previous features) in two of the lead roles. Feig’s expertise lies in his ability to work with his stars, and the film is more than happy to just let the actors perform. Wiig gets the most screentime, and her character feels the most developed as a result. Wiig plays the closest thing to the straight man in the film, but balances it out well with her knack for zaniness and bursts of the unexpected. McCarthy’s line delivery is terrific as always, and her ability to rip through intricate scientific explanations is hilarious.
The rest of the ghost-busting squad is made up of two bona-fide star turns that should elevate them far above their roles in Saturday Night Live. Kate McKinnon’s psycho-butch engineer has a tremendous knack for crafting creative ways to capture and destroy ghosts, and McKinnon plays her with gusto, shining in a largely physical performance. She brings forth a lot of laughs through reaction shots, performing a sort of masterclass in facial comedy. Leslie Jones, the final addition to the ghostbusters crew, plays an upbeat subway worker whose exceptional knowledge of New York City’s history provides a great asset to the team. Jones is a powerful presence, and she exudes a great charisma and possesses a real star power, all while getting some big laughs. Chris Hemsworth plays the squad’s receptionist in a surprising comic performance, although the audience I was with seemed to enjoy his role far more than I did. Regardless, the cast exude a great chemistry working off of each other, and Ghostbusters hits its highest points when it lets the characters simply talk with one another, and to its credit, the film certainly prefers dialogue to its action set pieces.
This is likely due to the fact that, despite Feig’s gift for comedy, his skills are somewhat lacking when it comes to action sequences. Despite the lush colours and some great looking ghosts, the fights often feel muddled and have an inescapable lack of excitement. This is partially because the main villain in the film, a sad, miserable janitor who dreams of destroying the world, is such a thin, dimensionless character, and it feels difficult to take him seriously. Because of this, the threat of impending doom never feels genuine, and that provides too big of a challenge for the film to overcome. While Feig’s gift may not be in action, a lot of potential is shown through a brilliant sequence at a heavy metal concert.
While Ghostbusters does have a lot of laughs and there is an awful lot to enjoy, it does feel as if it relies a touch too heavily on the mythology and success of the previous eighties classic. While the cameos are fun and the musical cues are terrific (the whole soundtrack is excellent), the reliance on the past prevents the film from doing a lot of its own world-building, which holds it back from feeling like a truly unique entity.
While Feig’s last three efforts have all adorned an R-rating, Ghostbusters is saddled with a PG-13, and it feels as if this prevents the film from reaching its full comic potential. Melissa McCarthy has trailblazed a career through shocking and raunchy monologues, and while she still delivers a great performance, it cannot help but feel like she, and by extension, the whole cast, are holding back. A lot of jokes do fall flat, and the film could have benefited from a shorter running time. However, plenty of jokes do land, and Ghostbusters mostly feels fully committed to its mission of creating inspirational family-friendly fun, and as this, it certainly works.
Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters is a delightful, consistently funny success. While the lack of an R-rating does prevent stars like Melissa McCarthy from delivering their most exceptional comedy, the film is still worthwhile. Ultimately though, beyond the film itself, Ghostbusters is culturally significant. When asking the next generation “Who you gonna call?”, young girls and boys will think of Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon. If that is the cost of some of the more explicit, raunchy comedy expected from a Feig film, then that is an exchange I’ll take any day.(3.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Columbia Pictures, Feigco Entertainment, Ghostcorps, LStar Capital, The Montecito Picture Company, Pascal Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures)