In a year of summer films that have struggled to elicit much more of a reaction than “ok, and?” from me — the deeply-flawed Warcraft has so far been my pick of the blockbusters — Ghostbusters at least feels like it was made by people who cared about it. The end result can be a little uneven, but it gets by with fun characters, a great script, and a liberal application of the 1984 soundtrack to kick my withered nostalgia gland happily into life.
When I started writing this I wanted to avoid comparisons with the 1984 original and consider the film on its own merits, but it’s impossible: so much of that first film’s DNA is here in the form of references to scenes and lines, plus cameos not just from the original cast but from some of the original ghosts, and variations on — and straight inclusions of — the original score, that at times the film struggles to find its own voice. Still, when you’ve got a good, iconic score, there’s no point being ashamed of it; just as Superman Returns benefited from the original John Williams score, so does Ghostbusters benefit from Bernstein and Parker Jr. It’s piggy-backed nostalgia, but it’s effective nonetheless.
Fortunately, the heavy layer of homage doesn’t tamp down the witty, sparkling script that bombards the viewer with jokes so fast you can miss some because you’re still laughing at others. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are brilliant in their own subdued way and have a natural camaraderie, but the funniest of the lot is Kate McKinnon as the unhinged Holtzmann, played like a queer female reincarnation of a young Christopher Lloyd. Chris Hemsworth’s idiotic Kevin, who breezes through life by virtue of his magnificent Hemsworthian torso and not much else, is also routinely hilarious. A slew of minor characters also get great comic moments — it’s a very generous film in this respect.
The only weak link is Leslie Jones, though not, I think, from any fault of her own. While her character gets a few good lines when she’s not AW HELL NAWWING her way around the screen, her self-proclaimed exhaustive knowledge of New York is neither shown nor used — she isn’t even the one who gets to chart ghost sightings on a city map — and her only other special skill is “can borrow a car”. This all makes the team feel a little unbalanced, a tight-knit trio of scientists plus one hanger-on, lacking even Winston Zeddemore’s stoic working-stiff schtick, and when the brainless Kevin puts on a boiler suit and insists that he can also be one of the team, there aren’t many compelling reasons as to why he couldn’t. Why couldn’t anyone, really? The barrier to entry seems pretty low.
Visually the film references Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners as much as it does past Ghostbuster films, with a lurid, neon palette that pops off the screen. The last act of the film descends mostly into brightly-coloured action that serves to show off gadgets seen earlier in the film, which is generally fine. There’s some fun moments here — Holtzmann excitedly using a pair of proton beam six-shooters to the Ray Parker Jr. theme had me bouncing in my seat like some of the more irritating ten year olds I was sharing a cinema with — but in retrospect I’m not sure these scenes connected to anything else in a meaningful way. A general lack of cohesion in the story and action for the sake of having some action are probably the film’s biggest problems, but it’s having enough fun with itself that neither issues drag the film down.
I’ve been skeptical lately of the number of franchises getting contemporary reboots or continuations but Ghostbusters does its rebooting well, with deference to the source — too much, if anything — while still feeling fresh and exciting; the combination of Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy, so brilliant together in The Heat and Spy, continues to bear fruit. Their Ghostbusters may be sometimes uneven, could benefit from a tighter narrative, and really could have done with more work on Leslie Jones’ role, but despite all of that it’s great fun, and that’s all I really ask for in a Ghostbusters film.