*** out of ****
Rated PG-13 (for supernatural action, some crude humor, and language)
Released: July 15, 2016
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams
The 2016 version of Ghostbusters unleashes exactly the kind of fun that people go to the movies for. Estrogen ghostbustin’ will definitely make you feel good.
Working like the comedy equivalent of J.J. Abrams, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) displays the right instincts to perfectly calibrate a franchise reboot. While modernized in the best kinds of ways, one of the great things about how Feig has reimagined this comedy classic is that he’s done it in the clever-yet-carefree 80s spirit that fueled the original and made it a phenomenon.
The most controversial aspect of this new Ghostbusters has been, surprisingly, the all-female lead cast. Each of the film’s trailers notched record “thumbs down” levels on YouTube, a disproportionate onslaught of hate that could only be attributed to misogynist trolls targeting the previews en masse. (One of the movie’s early jokes is a meta response to this backlash; whether it was prophetically delivered or picked up as a recent reshoot insert, it was a subtle but warranted dig at internet idiots.)
The sexist pile-on became so ridiculous that many, more reasonable people (a.k.a. those who could acknowledge the solid track record of the creatives involved) began to root for the success of this movie, so much so that some also began to worry, “But what if it ends up not being that good?”, perhaps fearing the need to work extra hard at finding reasons to like and defend it.
Well relax. Enjoying this female Ghostbusters reboot couldn’t come more naturally or easily.
The core concept remains, but then several key elements are ingeniously tweaked (their replacement for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, for example, is inspired) and original cast cameos strike just the right chord, all serving as pleasant surprises (look for the poignant memoriam early on to the late Harold Ramis) . From there, this story is fresh, original, and new – and the women have personalities all their own.
At first glance, these four comediennes appear to intentionally resemble the Murray / Aykroyd / Ramis / Hudson archetypes, but fairly quickly we see that they’re different in a lot of ways, and in several respects even complete opposites. Instead of trying to mimic the strengths of the original actors, these actresses embrace and play to their own; Kristen Wiig and her comic anxieties, Melissa McCarthy‘s loveable brashness, Leslie Jones’ high octane but never obnoxious comic swagger, and Kate McKinnon’s unpredictable loopiness (this SNL star is the film’s breakout; people are going to love her).
Similarly, once the script gives us the four ghostbusters, their Echo 1 hearse, and an “us against the doubters” premise, it doesn’t rehash the original for excessive fan service. There’s no forced romance. No Rick Moranis-type goofball. Or to the extent there are those vague parallels, they exist in an ingenious mashup of the hunky doofus secretary played with a silly charm by Chris Hemsworth.
The filmmaking is also top notch (arguably Feig’s most accomplished yet), from its colorful special effects palette to glossy, cinematic visuals. Feig’s Ghostbusters is an action comedy that excels equally at both.
One of the most refreshing things about this movie, particularly in comparison to other modern comedies, is how it’s never desperate for laughs. Feig’s script, with co-writer Katie Dippold, doesn’t assault us with an onslaught of jokes and gags, hoping something will stick. They actually construct a solid plot with nice setups and payoffs, allow the laughs (and scares) to emerge from that, and then layer it all with sweet and affecting character arcs.
The overall tone elicits more consistent smiles than full-on guffaws (though the laughs are definitely there), but it’s so enjoyable to see these women have so much fun that you can’t help but have fun right along with them. Furthermore, the humor arises as much from these characters’ distinct personalities (again, all hail McKinnon) as it does any specific one-liner or punchline, and that endears these women to us. To top it all off, their ability to be total badasses with the proton packs is the best form of mic drop against all the troglodyte pre-release haters.
Delivering a perfect mix of comedy, action, and spectacle, this broad comedy (in the truest sense of the phrase) proves that we don’t have to be afraid of no female Ghostbusters.
(Oh, and stick around to the very end for the post-credits stinger. It’s an intriguing one.)