Like any reboot of a popular franchise, Ghostbusters garnered a lot of attention even before its first trailer. In a similar vein to last year’s Mad Max reboot, most of the commentary detracted from what could be an interesting conversation in favour of taking a detour through the 1950s to collectively wonder if a female-driven film could be any good.
For those who didn’t immediately write off the film based on the gender of its stars, Ghostbusters provides the kinds of laughs, big action sequences and slightly-spooky moments true to the 1984 original. Just like that film, we have a largely Saturday Night Live-sourced cast of comedians, silly looking sci-fi props, appropriately unbelievable special effects and a lot of physical humour.
Oh goodness, the physical humour. Slapstick genius takes centre stage, here. For fans of Kristen Wiig, especially, audiences are treated to hints of her classic SNL characters, I saw glimmers of the gyrating Triangle Sally, the terrified “Who is this!?” homeowner, and flirting expert Rebecca Larue. Meanwhile Kate McKinnon’s twitching, winking face sent me right back to her Bieber impression as she expertly danced between smug, sexy and batshit insane. Melissa McCarthy’s playing field remains mostly in quick one-liners and gross-out humour, managing to throw a vaginal fart joke about 20 minutes into what is ostensibly a children’s movie. Leslie Jones’ delivery is sassy and direct as always, energetically muscling her way into the “club” as she calls it, as a very believable streetsmart New York veteran.
Just like the original, Ghostbusters flits rapidly from nuanced, layered gags to broad, sluggish jokes that any idiot can appreciate. Upon seeing the trailers, I got the impression that the movie would lean far more toward the latter than the former, but I am happy to report that it is not so. With its tried-and-true premise, a strong cast and Paug Feig at the helm, Ghostbusters was always going to be at least good, but it’s turned out better than it needed to be.
Characters that are written as somewhat one-dimensional caricatures are performed with a good deal of depth. Wiig especially has proven herself as a capable dramatic actor in The Skeleton Twins and Diary Of A Teenage Girl. She’s put in the work to earn a shot at leading a big budget blockbuster, and absolutely delivered.
Ghostbusters is not without its flaws though. There are times that the improv-fuelled back-and-forths favour humour over character consistency, occasionally sounding like a conversation between Wiig and McCarthy rather than their characters Erin and Abby. Most other criticisms can be forgiven by remembering what grown men like me often forget when watching films like this – this is a PG rated family film. And this is also one of its strengths, clocking a very child-friendly 116 minutes, downright lean in comparison to the increasingly bloated run times of recent blockbusters. One villain, a few memorable characters and a clear plot – what a relief!
As with any reboot, there are a raft of nods and cameos, some more subtle and unexpected than others. Some lingering close ups of minor characters made it clear that there were cameos from people I didn’t even recognise. But for the most part it isn’t heavy handed. This reboot has room to breathe, space to be its own thing. Sure, in part it lives in the shadow of the original, but that’s unavoidable with any reboot – stray too far and it might as well cut ties and call itself a new franchise. But without revealing too much, a good bit of the final act involves the Ghostbusters quite literally destroying the remains of the 1984 classic. Perhaps metaphorically freeing the path to make a more original, less tied-down sequel.
And speaking of sequels, stick around at the end because there is a post-credits scene. I imagine nothing will be announced until after nervous men in suits see the box office results of their risky female-led blockbuster, but the final moments will leave any Ghostbusters enthusiast hyped for the next one.
It’s worth noting that we often wear the rosiest of specs when recalling pop culture favourites. It’s easy to forget that the first Ghostbusters wasn’t exactly sophisticated. It was a parody, arguably a kids’ movie, packed with low-hanging-fruit jokesters. At its heart, the new one is the same silly, hilarious, action-packed, sometimes cheesy offering, with more than enough new personality injected to validate its existence as its own unique film.