Ghostbusters

UK Release Date 11th July 2016
Director Paul Feig
Starring Girls!
Runtime 116 Minutes
Certificate 12A
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 19th July 2016

My first memories of Ghostbusters (1984) was the marketing campaign that surrounded it. Not so much the trailers, more the TV spots that were played in amongst review shows. I remember being on the edge of my seat every time Slimer headed towards Venkman - you never actually saw what followed, just Bill Murray’s face as the ghost approached. It was a great campaign for a seven year old to be following but looking back at the trailer now, it has an almost quaint feel to it. Add that to the fact that the one black character in the movie doesn’t even get name checked in the ‘starring’ voiceover and it quickly becomes clear how utterly ridiculous the criticism levelled at the first trailer for the 2016 version was.

But of course, the criticism was never really about the trailer was it boys? Nope, other things were afoot. Paul Feig must have been on something when he put together the idea for this one. Remake a beloved 80’s movie? You can hear the mutterings from the back already. Remake a beloved 80’s movie but swap out all the main characters for women? Yikes! You know what they say; hell hath no fury like a bored manchild with access to the internet and a huge chip on his shoulder. Still, somehow this got greenlit and the predictable abuse started pouring in….

Ghostbusters (2016) then comes with a whole lot of baggage. Would it just be terrible or would it be so bad that it would literally destroy your childhood? Or, whisper it, would it actually manage to at least be better than the largely forgettable sequel (that everybody seems to have conveniently forgotten about).

Taking a similar format to the original, Feig’s movie begins with an actual haunting as a curator at a ‘haunted’ house is attacked by something nefarious in the basement. We then pick up with now serious professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and she juggles an awful wardrobe and attempts at securing tenure at Columbia. The owner of the house visits her at work having discovered her through a co-written book ‘Ghosts from our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively’ available on Amazon. Worried about being taken seriously for her tenure, Gilbert tracks down her co-writer Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) to ask her to remove it from public view. She discovers Yates holed up in a much lesser institution than Columbia, still investigating the paranormal with new sidekick, engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Before you know it, she gets dragged along to check out the haunting and soon the girls are back together again.

Meanwhile, subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) experiences some very similar weirdness whilst pursuing a trespasser on the tracks. The girls recruit a secretary purely on his looks (we’ve all been there) and a certain fire station is on the market to rent…..

I may as well cut to the chase here. 2016 ain’t no 1984. It never was going to be and on that, I think we can all agree. The original captured something quite specific and wonderful with its SNL alumni (including then rising star Bill Murray), unique atmosphere and some of the sharpest comedy writing (from Aykroyd and Ramis), something I just don’t think we will capture again. BUT. 2016 is damn good fun all by itself. Feig, along with co-writer Katie Dippold have created a movie stuffed to breaking point with gags and so many references to the source material that at times it’s difficult to keep up. Feig also throws in some magical Ivan Reitman shots (you can never have too many gently swooping shots of Ecto 1 travelling around New York) and a soundtrack that manages to stay true to the original without completely copying it.

Of the new team, clearly the Kate McKinnon genie is well and truly out of the bottle now. A complete unknown to me before this movie (having spent her formative years on SNL), I now want to see her in pretty much everything. Her Holtzmann is the absolute standout from the cast and outshines everybody. Which is slightly unfortunate as the central pairing of McCarthy / Wiig somewhat pales into comparison (neither have the same presence in this as Murray did in 1984) but to be honest, I was having too much fun watching McKinnon to care. Holtzmann is obsessed with Pringles, quirky without it being annoying and the source of some of the real laugh out loud moments of the movie - a star in the making to be sure and a genuinely wonderful character.

That’s not to say the rest of the team don’t shine. All clearly gifted comedic actors, the script makes sure they all get their moment. Wiig’s repressed academic’s obsession with the team’s secretary is hilarious as is her wonderful response to the real estate agent (I won’t spoil the gag). McCarthy in truth is probably the least interesting of the group, not really given a huge amount of space to work but Leslie Jones manages to elevate her character above 1984’s embarrassing tokenism. Most importantly, we believe in them as a team. The vaguely sketched backstory between Gilbert and Yates is the starting point but the four work so well together, it’s barely necessary to make them believable.

In terms of reverence to the source, Feig has also done an excellent job. Pretty much everyone from 1984 is here, with the exception of Louis Tully, either in cameo form, or, in the case of the much missed Harold Ramis, a wonderfully touching blink and you’ll miss it moment outside Jillian’s office (we miss Harold Ramis. Splitsider posted a wonderful piece by his daughter Violet which you should absolutely read here). Nobody overstays their welcome and even the original ghosts get in on the gag.

In Brief:

Out of context, Ghostbusters would be a charming, slightly ramshackle, hit and miss comedy. But obviously we can’t leave the context behind for this one. Feig has pulled off the near impossible. He’s taken a much adored 80’s one-off and rebooted the shit out of it. No it’s not the original but I’m sure that was never his intention. The new team are great fun (Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin is an inspired creation), the movie boasts an outstanding turn from a star to be, the writing is sharp more often than not and endlessly chuckle-inducing (whilst admittedly only being occasionally belly-laugh funny), the direction and tone strike the right balance between scary and funny and the whole thing pays wonderful homage to 1984. Of course, those of us that praise it will now be the ones with the ‘agenda’ but fuck that boys, we really aren’t interested in how your forum-self processes the relationship you wish you’d had with your mother. There will be a sequel (stay on until after the credits for another great 1984 reference) and I’ll bet money now that it’s a damn sight better than Vigo. 

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