The horrendous racist and misogynistic backlash and ridiculous levels of fan entitlement leading up to the Ghostbusters reboot have been unprecedented, in my lifetime at least. The Paul Feig directed reboot has reared its head in GH and I guess you could fault it for a number of things, mainly the canker of mainstream Hollywood continually leeching off the past. However, the one thing you can’t fault this film for is humor.
Ghostbusters is very funny. It turned the peeps in my screening room into a pack of hyenas. The naysayers trumpeting about how women cannot be funny can go and burn the sea along with the sexist twits who were damn sure the world was going to end the moment a film anchored by four women opened in theatres. The world may be at the brink but not because of this film. That said, ticking the humor box may not always be enough. It certainly won’t be enough for the fanboys with 84 Ghostbusters shrines in their bedrooms.
Happiness in film is always a product of expectations. If you went in expecting to laugh, this is an A+ film. If you went in, like me, hoping for a decent film with laughs then there will be few “mehs” floating around. As for the 84 disciples, nothing will ever be good enough which a point in itself is. As a bout of storytelling, this film struggles to convince as some degree of coherence, character and the critical supernatural lore appear to be sacrificed for the laughs. There is a reason three paragraphs have come without any focus on plot because this film is ostensibly and unapologetically constructed as a series of sketches, albeit very good ones.
The story: Kristen Wiig stars as driven physicist Erin Gilbert working at the renowned Columbia University. As much as she is working at an upward trajectory in her field, she is mindful of her dabbling in the paranormal early on in life which will hurt her prospects. We learn she co-wrote a book called “Ghosts from the Past: Literally and Figuratively” with her now-estranged childhood friend, Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and this book eventually surfaces on Amazon leading to Erin getting the boot from Columbia.
Abby is herself still holds fast to her belief in ghosts and she has been pursuing the paranormal with torched tech specialist Jillian Holtzmann, played by Saturday Night Live cast member, Kate McKinnon. In the service of moving the story forward, Erin finds herself seamlessly joining forces with Abby and Jillian to chase after ghosts. To point them in the direction of ghosts ready to torment New York is Leslie Jones’ Patty, a New York subway employee who alerts them to ghosts underground. The receptionist slot is filled by Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) who toes the line of thick in every sense of the word.
This piece’s villain, Rowan North (Neil Casey), is behind the recent appearances of nefarious apparitions as he has a vision of a spectral apocalypse in mind but his endgame is ultimately geared towards some city wide CGI destruction and why not – it is 2016. Everybody is doing it. That’s kind of this film’s main problem, the fact it has chosen to do what everybody is doing. I did struggle to find a any original beats. Aside the CGI, there is the reliance on pointers from the past like the iconic firehouse and the assortment of cameos from the original cast ostensibly reminding us at every turn that this film is a little more gimmicky than we would like to admit.
On a character level what does our cast have to offer: they are played as misfit paranormal fanatics which is odd, much like this film’s antagonist. They are supposed to be scientist but that slow burn,calculating factor was missing. every thing felt so reactionary. The girls aren’t so much nerdy as they are unsure, save for McKinnon’s goofy character. This is something that flows from the childhoods of Abby and Erin who claim to have seen ghosts as a kid but were shunned by their friends. “Ghost girl” is what they called a young Erin and that desire to prove the existence of the unknown is something that has moved her – or so the film tries to unconvincingly posit.
But come on guys, this film is constructed to farm laughs from audiences. An argument could be made it becomes a series of sketches after the first act but it is hard to complain when the sketches are truly hilarious. Every character is fully committed to servicing Feig’s humor laden script, even Hemsworth who is the conduit for some comic reverse sexism. For me, the finest gag this film has to offer however involves the New York Mayor (played amusingly by Andy Garcia) and his team who actually believe in the paranormal threat but instead opt for political expediency even in the wake of blatant evidence.
Ghostbusters isn’t without its flaws. The general sentiment following its release is that this film wasn’t the glowing success that gave a license to serve humble pie. Take away the laughs and the characters are truly flat, there is more but ultimately less convincing science talk and it settles for that mass senseless CGI destruction as an excuse for a final action set piece. But the consistent laughs do count for something in my mind. The humor papers over the cracks and makes it way more enjoyable than it deserved to be.