Wednesday, 13 July 2016


First of all, I'd like to put your mind at rest. I'm not in the employ of Sony or being paid to improve the standing of the new Ghostbusters movie. This seems to be a real concern to many of the film's loud, angry haters, who can't understand any other reason for the many positive reviews the film is receiving. I can also confirm that, unlike many of the more vehemently negative reviewers, I have actually seen the film (the UK release date was Monday July 11th, four days ahead of the States). Thirdly, I can confirm this: Bustin' still makes me feel good.

Is Ghostbusters 2016 as good as Ghostbusters 1984? No, it's not, but in the category of science fiction comedy, very few things are. Although there were a fair few such film both around the time of the original and in recent years, it's still a narrow genre, and a tricky one to get right. The new Ghostbusters has to hold its own amongst such hits as Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as exist under the long shadow of the original.

Ghostbusters 2016 is not Ghostbusters 1984. It is not a sequel, nor a remake, although the influence of the original is worn prominently. It isn't a feminist sermon, nor a man-hating rant, although it most certainly has moments that will be latched onto by those who are out to label it as such. There's an element of the battle of the sexes to the story, but it's a minor one. Some people were concerned it would be full of "girl jokes," and while some of the lines surely are "girl jokes," they're funny ones - and heaven forbid that the occasional gag be written with the female members of the audience in mind. (The most disgusting joke in the film, although still very mild, is definitely aimed at women, but then, the women I know have always had a grottier sense of humour than the men.)

What the film is, is fun. Simple, straightforward fun. There are plenty of jokes, and while they don't all work, the hit:miss ratio is pretty damned good. The story is actually far stronger than in the original; it's better paced and develops more smoothly. Once the new team have established what they're going to be doing for a living, there's a significant stage of trial and development, unlike the sudden leap from hiring a base to catching Slimer in the first. The strongest elements in the film come from the interplay of the cast, who are all excellent. Kristen Wiig, one of the best comedy actors currently working, centres the movie as believer-turned-sceptic-turned-believer Dr. Erin Gilbert, while her once-and-future best friend Abby Yates is made real and likeable by Melissa McCarthy. Their relationship is the core of the story, everything else revolving around it.

Out of the four central actors, Leslie Jones is the one I'm least familiar with; she turns out to be an absolute highlight. I was among those who wasn't pleased that the sole black character was left with the streetwise sassy role instead being allowed to be a scientist. On the contrary though, Patty brings much needed grounding and knowledge to the team, and is far more than a stereotype. Leslie Jones makes Patty easily the most likeable and relatable character on the team.

The absolute standout, though, is of course Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. McKinnon's performance is utterly unsubtle but hugely enjoyable. Holtzmann is weird, sexy, brilliant and a little terrifying. There are times when she seems to be taking part in a different production to the others, but that's less of a clash of styles than it might sound. It's more that she's just one of those people who seems just a little out-of-step with the rest of the world, but who doesn't care a jot. Holtzmann is some kind of bizarre mix of Doc Brown, Captain Cold, Tank Girl and Iso Suicide (honestly, if you knew her...) Some people are going to absolutely hate her, but they'd be wrong.

Chris Hemsworth gets to show off his admirable comedy skills as Kevin, the team's dimwitted assistant. Having a dense boy kept around as eye candy for the clever women is such an obvious inversion of a cliched joke it's surprising it's not been done more often. As good as Hemsworth is - and he does get a chance to do more than play stupid during the course of the film - Kevin is a one joke character and does wear thin after a while. Of the more minor roles, fellow SNL luminary Cecily Strong stands out as the Mayor's aide, while Deadpool's Karim Soni has a nice recurring role.

Now for the really important stuff: the ghosts and the gear. Holtzmann's creations look appealingly cobbled together, and while there are variants on the classic proton packs and ghost trap (and Ecto 1, naturally), there's an impressive array of new equipment of display. The ghosts, on the other hand (and the villain's own technological creations) have a more Technicolor, cartoonish aesthetic. This isn't a failing at all; while the trailer didn't show the film's visuals off terribly well, as an overall look they work very well. There's more of a feel of the animated series than the original film; in fact, this extends to the entirety of the production. And, like The Real Ghostbusters, the new movie includes some quite creepy and unsettling moments. Family friendly scares, of course, but effective.

Of the weaker elements, it has to be said that the villain of the piece is rather weak. Although Neil Casey gives it his all as downtrodden psychotic Rowan, he's just too unimpressive and pathetic to convince as a real villain. Once he crosses into new forms, he improves a little, and (spoiler for anyone who has missed all the trailers) making his final form the logo ghost is a great touch. One thing that reviews mostly agree on is that the cameos by the original cast are among the weakest elements in the film. On the whole, I think they work quite well. Bill Murray, in particular, seems to be having a blast, although Dan Aykroyd's cameo is a little too on-the-nose (I prefer the one he had in Casper). The problem is that there are just too many of them; it's a constant reminder that this exists in the shadow of another production. Some elements don't work at all, and they're predominantly the ones that try too hard to reimagine aspects of the original. Lady Slimer and the generally awful covers and remixes of the theme being the worst offenders.

Ultimately, the new Ghostbusters is tremendous fun. It's unlikely to win over any of its committed haters, but who cares about them? They'll hate it no matter what. There will be boys and girls laughing and jumping through this, and who knows, maybe a few of them will go check out the original. 1984 had a Ghostbusters that was made in the style of the time by some of the biggest names in American comedy. 2016 has its own Ghostbusters in the same stead. This movie would have benefited from letting go of the original and not trying to please fanboys like me. Still, it works. I found it a joy to watch.


  1. "The story is actually far stronger than in the original"

    "the villain of the piece is rather weak"

    I don't see how you can reconcile these viewpoints.The villain is (supposed to be) integral to the plot from the beginning.

    1. I see what you mean, but Rowan is central to the plot. Once the initial set-up is finished, and there's only Patty left to be introduced, Rowan is brought in as well. The plot is stronger than the original, moving in more logical, better paced steps. It's Rowan's character that is weak, and this damages his function in the story, which otherwise holds together well.