Film Review | I ain’t afraid of no girls

The all-female Ghostbusters reboot is not a revolutionary act of pop culture sabotage, and neither is it a particularly exceptional film

Who you gonna call? These girls, apparently (from left): Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones
Who you gonna call? These girls, apparently (from left): Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones

The much talked-about – and all-female – Ghostbusters reboot is not a revolutionary act of pop culture sabotage, and neither is it – simply – a particularly exceptional film. But it’s a workable sci-fi comedy that both recognizes what its predecessors did to secure their vaunted position in the cinema canon, while still keeping its finger on the pulse of what contemporary American comedy is all about. 

And we’re introduced to its world through that scion of contemporary American comedy, Kristen Wiig. Here playing the formerly ghost-obsessed, now tenure-chasing ‘serious’ scientist Erin Gilbert, her plans for a cushy career within the hallowed halls of academia are dashed when her former friend and collaborator Abby Yeats (Melissa McCarthy) inadvertently barges back into her life. 

Back in the day, Erin and Abby had co-written a book about the supposed science behind ‘real-life’ ghosts – an endeavour which Erin has since disowned as she (rightly) fears it would discredit her with the scientific community she so desperately yearns to be part of. But as she discovers when an elderly fan of the paranormal visits her before a lecture, it turns out that Abby has put the book on Amazon without consulting Erin. 

Paranoid that this move would jeopardise her shot at academic tenure – something well within her grasp at that point – Erin marches to Abby’s ramshackle office at New York’s ‘Institute for Science’, where her former colleague is found still tinkering away at notions of ghosts, aided along by the eccentric engineer Dr Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Though Abby eventually agrees to remove the book from all online listings, the meeting is not a happy one, with Abby clearly hurt about Erin ‘abandoning’ their project – and subsequently, their friendship – in favour of advancing her career.

But the possibility of a real-life ghost in their native New York changes all that. And following that first fateful encounter, the trio – Abby, Erin and Jillian – decide to set up their own ghost-hunting service, also recruiting the New York-trivia savvy metro clerk Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and the devastatingly handsome but hopelessly dumb secretary, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). 

However, the authorities – represented by a genial Andy Garcia as the city’s Mayor – are none too keen about their special effects laden and attention-grabbing efforts, and the team will have to go underground if they are to face a very real threat to the city. 

Much online bile and counter-bile was unleashed online in the run-up to this particular reboot, directed by Paul Feig and penned by Katie Dippold and Feig, with the original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman stepping into the role of producer this time around. 

The very fact of a Ghostbusters reboot was bad enough news for many, but throwing in the all-female cast into the mix lent the whole story another edge of ugliness. Hardcore misogynists complained about the simple fact of it all, less hardcore misogynists saw it as a cynical ploy, while on the other side of the spectrum there were those willing to forgive any and all of the film’s shortcomings due to the progressive advocacy assumed in its casting. 

Well, suffice it to say that this fun, but not remarkable, piece of franchise re-jigging merited very little of all that advance-plug ‘discussion’ ahead of release. Though it’s no doubt a cool thing that girls will now have their own Ghostbusters to look forward to – with McKinnon firmly establishing herself as a fan-favourite – the film does a good enough job of delivering an enjoyable couple of hours of comedy fluff, but it shouldn’t be taken as anything else. 

The presence of Reitman within its crew, along with a clutch of fun cameos from Ghostbusters stalwarts, is a smooth-enough way of passing the baton to the newbies, but this is still very much Feig’s movie, and that of its stars. 

And both Feig – a veteran of Wiig and McCarthy-starring ‘female Hangover’ comedies such as Bridesmaids and The Heat – and the actresses in questions are very much in tune with the contemporary comedy vernacular. Less about the organic, improvised vibe that made the first Ghostbusters so special, in the new mode the individual gag is king, and stringing a bunch of them together is how Feig makes his films work. Perhaps this is a logical step forward in the age of YouTube (or better still: Vine and Snapchat) and it certainly explains why McKinnon is being singled out for adoration above all. She’s great at practiced weirdness, and her one-liners and visual gags could easily be transposed into another film – or comedy skit – with very little being lost in translation. 

Go in with little expectations of continuity from the former franchise, and you’ll find the new Ghostbusters to be an enjoyable diversion.