Ghostbusters review: the haters are silenced

With nods to the original (and fanboy outrage) this fun-filled reboot wastes none of the actors’ gifts

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Director: Paul Feig
Cert: 12A
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Cecily Strong
Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins

Heads up, men's-rights idiots. The film that is set to retrospectively ruin all your childhoods has finally arrived. Can the all-female Ghostbusters do more damage to the franchise's reputation (never that high in Clarke Towers, anyway) than that wrought by the unnecessary appalling Ghostbusters 2? Maybe, this incarnation will be a feminist classic to compare with that Chilean film about the lady shepherd.

The truth is more mundane. Paul Feig, director of Spy and Bridesmaids, has proper comic chops and, as one might thus expect, he has delivered a decent comedy that wastes none of his actors' abundant gifts. The film suffers from all the symptoms of Reboot Fever – exhausting nods to the original; the sense of living in hand-me-downs – but these are mitigated by a consistently playful tone. Belly laughs are less than abundant. Titters come fairly consistently. Hey, there are worse things than being merely tolerable. That's more than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Independence Day: Resurgence managed and they cost a squillion dollars each.

This is not any sort of sequel. We begin in a present-day New York that knows nothing of those who bust ghosts. The reliably deadpan Kristen Wiig plays Erin, a nervy Columbia physics professor. Events skew peculiar when the owner of a haunted museum turns up clutching a book that Erin co-wrote and subsequently disowned: Ghosts of the Past. ("Both literal and figurative" the priceless subtitle reads.)

Her association with the occult gets her the sack and sends her angrily back to her old colleague Abby (Melissa McCarthy). This happens. That happens. After more complications than are strictly necessary, they end up forming a ghost-annihilating business with Jillian (Kate McKinnon), a technology whiz, and Patty (Leslie Jones), a former transit worker who breathes New York psychogeography.


Well aware that this is the Age of Knowing, the film-makers make at least two references to the caveman kickback against the new picture’s gender shifts. “Ain’t no bitch gonna hunt no ghosts,” Abby reads from an internet comments page. A few fanatical cabbage-heads will never be won over, but Feig and his team surely do enough to persuade the merely suspicious.

McCarthy and Wiig tweak personae with which we are already familiar. The former combines bumbling charm with an occasional tendency towards the hoity-toity. Wiig is the still, nervy centre of the film: the person most likely to react reasonably to unreasonably peculiar events. Jones, queasily playing the only person of colour and the only non-scientist, brings endless energy to the comedy. McKinnon is a bit of a puzzle. The Saturday Night Live regular, all leather jacket and vintage specs, seems to be working harder at looking cool than being funny. She delivers fecund material for gif enthusiasts – particularly those wishing to express insouciance or weary disdain – but she rarely does anything to help sharpen the punchline.

Oddly, the surrounding pack gets better one-liners than the core foursome. Exacting revenge for a thousand films featuring gorgeous dumb secretaries, Chris Hemsworth has endless fun as the Ghostbusters’ idiot assistant. Andy Garcia relishes the role of Trumpian mayor. “Don’t mention the Jaws mayor,” he says panicked as crisis looms.

Though the stations of the cross are visited – cameos for all living Ghostbusters; a scene in the now too-pricey firehouse – this season’s edition moves, for its first two acts, at a more contemporary pace: lolloping, meandering, apparently at home to improvisation. It is initially an easier film to sink into than its wired-up Reagan-era predecessor.

When, however, all chaos breaks loose then all chaos breaks loose. The confusing notion of New York slipping back through time allows some fun (check out the posters for the Broadway run of Beyond the Fringe), but the closing CGI mayhem is just as confusingly mindless as that in the latest, dumbest superhero farrago.

Oh, the new film will do well enough. I wouldn't watch it again. Mind you, I wouldn't watch the original Ghostbusters again.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist