There's been more written about Paul Feig's Ghostbusters by people who've never seen a second of it than any film in recent memory. Look, it was always going to happen that there would be some kind of reimagining of the beloved 1984 classic starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson, it was just a question of how. Since the original stars couldn't agree on a path for an official Ghostbusters 3 (mostly because Murray said all the scripts stunk), Paul Feig and his frequent collaborator Katie Dippold were brought on to reboot the whole thing. And that decision to cast it up with talented females like Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon got a lot of sexists and nostalgia freaks riled up. Well, those folks weren't going to pay to see Ghostbusters, anyway, and it's totally their fault because they're missing a film that respects its predecessor while crossing the streams into a new direction.
Feig, screenwriter Dippold, McCarthy, and Wiig have worked together in one way or another on various projects such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, two of those among the best comedies of the last decade, and the other a serviceable cop movie. In short, Feig knows how to write characters for these actresses, and he's smart enough to give them room to build them up in their own way. Ghostbusters is at its best not when there's actual ghost busting going on (that's impressive too, in a different way), but when this group of brilliant and funny women are allowed to just riff off one another.
The plot pays homage to the original but changes enough to not be a straight-up remake. Erin (Wiig) is a college professor whose past as an author on the paranormal returns to bite her on the butt, thanks to old pal Abby (McCarthy), who continues to work in the field alongside an oddball nuclear scientist named Holtzmann (McKinnon). After the trio encounter a deadly apparition in a haunted mansion, complete with copious amounts of green slime (of which Abby is the frequent victim), they decide to form a team to investigate such supernatural occurrences even though nobody believes them. Well, the Mayor of New York City (an equally slimy Andy Garcia) actually does believe them; he just can't let word that ghosts really exist get out to the public.
Jones perhaps has the most controversial role of all as Patty, the sassy MTA employee who joins the team after a close encounter of the undead kind. Many have noted that she's the only one who isn't a scientific genius, and have claimed this is racist because she's also the team's only African-American. But it turns out there are two things these people didn't realize, unsurprising since they didn't see the movie: 1. that Jones brings so much more than just attitude to the performance. And 2, that Patty proves to be brilliant in ways the other ghostbusters aren't. She knows the city inside and out, from the history to the architecture, and while she's definitely a bit of a bruiser she fits in on the team far better than Ernie Hudson did in the original. Feig and Dippold aren't idiots; they know how to write characters that seem like stereotypes on the surface but reveal more as time goes on.
Watch the original Ghostbusters lately? It's really not that funny. It's more peculiar than anything else; this collection of comedic heavyweights in a movie that doesn't really fit into any category neatly. Feig's version doesn't differ from that too much, although it edges into horror territory more readily than many will come to expect. Some of the ghosts are downright creepy, like the electrified poltergeist haunting the subway system, while others are pretty goofy. And yes, our old friend Slimer returns to cause trouble in an unexpected way and with an unexpected companion. There are plenty of jokes that simply don't work, and what's weird about them is that they keep popping up; as if Feig hopes through repetition they'll eventually get around to making us laugh. One such gag involves Abby's poor Chinese food experience. Better is pretty much anything featuring Chris Hemsworth as the team's dopey secretary, Kevin, who makes for amazing eye candy and little else. Hemsworth's clearly having fun playing up his beefcake image, and most of the film's best lines belong to him.
Fans will dig many of the callbacks to the 1984 film, starting with a new model Ecto-1 (a hearse, borrowed from a very familiar face), and the return of Ray Parker Jr.'s classic theme song. And of course there are cameos galore, and a surprisingly lengthy appearance by Murray, who fought so long and hard to make sure Ghostbusters 3 never happened. Obviously he saw something in Feig's vision that made him want to be part of this one, and his role is both ironic and enjoyable. Fortunately, Feig doesn't overdo it with the nostalgic references, and the guest appearances are all right on point. While we can't expect him to suddenly turn into a blockbuster filmmaker overnight, Feig shows a pretty good handle on the visuals. Along with cinematographer Robert Yeoman he creates a vivid vision of the paranormal, with ghosts radiating colors from all across the spectrum. The final battle is especially vibrant as thousands of spirits of all types (Stay Puft!!!) engulf the screen. But the action is a bit deflating and uninspired, with the ladies' individuality lost in the requirements of blockbuster spectacle.
Ghostbusters truly belongs to the ladies, though, and they show chemistry that measures up to their male counterparts in every way. McCarthy and Wiig are more reserved than usual, especially McCarthy who dials down her typical abundance of physical humor. It's also nice to see her play a character you can actually like right from the beginning and root for throughout, rather than her typical anti-social blowhards. In her biggest feature role yet, McKinnon somehow manages to make Holtzmann's weirdness endearing. She's like Egon Spengler on steroids. While it's understandable that some out there will be skeptical about this new, modern Ghostbusters, sometimes the best thing to do is trust in the talent. We trusted in Akroyd, Ramis, Murray, and Ivan Reitman before and now it's time to give this new group a shot. Don't worry; your childhoods will remain intact.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5