After all the backlash – the trailer becoming YouTube’s most disliked ever, the controversy over the black Ghostbuster being the only one to not be an academic or a scientist, YouTube commenters accusing Sony Pictures of deleting comments and altering video statistics, the preference for fan-made trailer recuts, the observation that several of the negative comments had anti-feminist overtones – Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, a remake of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 film of the same name, turns out to be funny, exuberant, visually spectacular, a stupendous IMAX 3D experience, and tremendously entertaining. It just goes to show you that you can’t judge a movie before actually seeing it. You certainly can’t judge it by its trailer. Look what that did for Drive.
Feig has proven nothing if not adept in helming films with predominantly female casts. He’s also adept at allowing them to be funny – not in the distorted way men would like to see women be funny, but genuinely funny, on their own terms. He once again relies on the talents of Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, who were wise to rely on their own comedic sensibilities and not model their performances on any of the four original male Ghostbusters characters. He includes Saturday Night Live cast members Leslie Jones, her character’s street smarts and awareness of New York City’s history in no way seem stereotypical, and Kate McKinnon, who effectively combines the know-it-all tech geek, the raucous party girl, and the goofy class clown into the same role.
In keeping with the gender role reversals, the Ghostbusters’ secretary is now played by a man, specifically Chris Hemsworth, who refreshingly was allowed to keep his natural Australian accent. We already know that it’s effortless for him to play handsome, and so he does in Ghostbusters. What’s surprising is that he can play a strange blithering idiot very well. In real life, his character’s utter cluelessness and eccentricities – wearing glasses without their lenses and therefore walking around half blind, donning clothes that are a size too small, covering his eyes when confronted by loud noises – would get him kicked out of the office during the interview phase. In the humorous world of this movie, not only is he allowed to answer the Ghostbusters’ phone with no consequences for his incompetence, he’s also deemed unattractive by McCarthy’s character. Wiig’s character, of course, begs to differ.
The plot, in the spirit (no pun intended) of Reitman’s film, involves a newly formed paranormal elimination team using high-tech nuclear gadgets to zap away a plague of ghosts plaguing New York City. The activity is kick started by an oddball hotel busboy (Neil Casey), whose years of being bullied have left him with a sizeable inferiority complex, the kind that only opening an interdimensional portal, unleashing ghosts, and becoming an all-powerful underworld figure can fix. So as to not cause a panic, the mayor (Andy Garcia) mandates that the Ghostbusters’ work be privately lauded but publicly declared as fraudulent. This doesn’t sit well with Wiig’s character; neither her childhood brush with the paranormal nor her co-authoring of a spiritualist book were met with much belief, and she has a need to prove her skeptics wrong.
Like the original film, the film culminates with a supernatural battle to the finish in the heart of the city. There’s something strangely funny about the fact that the big ghost baddie is not the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man this time around, but rather the very Ghostbusters logo we’ve been intimately familiar with for the last thirty-two years. It’s as if Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold are simultaneously mocking one of the biggest merchandising movements of the last several decades and wholeheartedly embracing it. If this movie gets away with not inspiring a vast number of action figures, playsets, and breakfast cereals, I think someone somewhere is going to be kicking themselves in the rear for years to come.
Although familiarity with the original film isn’t a requirement for enjoying or even understanding this remake, which is exactly as it should be, Feig does show respect to the fan base by including numerous references, from appearances by Mr. Stay Puft and Slimer the ghost (a gluttonous party animal who’s now given a female counterpart) to the Ecto 1 to the firehouse on North Moore and Varick Streets to Ray Parker, Jr.’s title song to to a bust that looks like the late Harold Ramis, co-writer and co-star of the original film. There are also cameo appearances by several of the original’s cast members. No, I won’t reveal which ones, nor what roles they play. And then there’s a post-credit sequence, in which a specific, very familiar word is uttered, in all likelihood as a way to set up a sequel. Here’s hoping 2016’s Ghostbusters will be lucky enough to spawn one.