Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has had a long, strange odyssey to the big screen, doing battle with sirens and cyclopes in the form of grown men throwing five year old pounding the floor of the grocery store level internet tantrums at the thought that someone without a Y chromosome could tell a joke and fight ghosts. But alas, Feig’s Ghostbusters is here. And it’s fun. A lot of fun. Paul Feig’s energetic style of comedy filmmaking creates a summer blockbuster—flawed though it may be—that is kinetic, exciting and really funny.
Borrowing story beats from the 1984 original, Ghostbusters sees two former friends—and former ghost hunting compatriots—Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthey) reunite after a painful falling out. With the help of Abby’s lab partner and tech genius Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and an MTA agent-cum-ghost-chaser Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), the group forms the Ghostbusters, dedicating themselves to finding and eradicating the malevolent spirits that have begun to mysteriously appear around Manhattan. With a prestigious pedigree of funny—in addition to Paul Feig and a lead quartet of four of the funniest people in show business, Ghostbusters boasts a script co-written by The Heat scribeand Parks and Rec writer Katie Dippold)—Ghostbusters packs in the laughs, fitting a joke in nearly every frame.
Paul Feig cut his teeth directing television; from Freaks and Geeks (the short-lived, seminal program he also created) to Nurse Jackie, Feig carved out a nice career for himself on TV. But when Feig made the transition to big-picture directing (2006’s Unaccompanied Minors and a few earlier films, notwithstanding), he brought an energy not expected from a director hamstrung by adhering to the conventions and sensibilities of someone else’s television show. Bridesmaids was colorful, exciting and playful. Both The Heat and last year’s Spy showed Feig is capable of frenetic, fast-paced action that doesn’t detract from the comedy but instead enhances it. Ghostbusters brings the same kinetic sense of movement, color and excitement to a franchise in desperate need of a lively jump-start to ensure its successful return.
Full disclosure: I didn’t see 1984’s Ghostbusters until I was an adult and I thought it was good, nothing more or less. I know the film is an ecclesiastical relic to many, but for me it was a fun romp that could have used a lot more jokes considering its cast of comedy royalty. In 2016’s Ghostbusters, the jokes are layered, one on top of the other. In addition to the film’s leads, Ghostbusters features a great many funny performances from comedy vets and new-comers alike. Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Cecily Strong, Matt Walsh and Michael Kenneth Williams, among others, all have minimal screen-time but make lasting impressions. But the film’s standout is Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ implausibly handsome secretary who turns out to be dumber than a potted tulip. The jokes in Ghostbusters are fierce and eclectic, both cutting (“Ain’t no bitches gonna catch no ghosts”, McCarthy’s Abby reads from an online review of their ghost-busting services, taking to task the aforementioned sexist, man-babies who thought/think the presence of fallopian tubes would render one’s ghost hunting abilities obsolete) and silly. The only times the jokes don’t quite work is when they resort to ham-fisted pandering to the original film (the lines “Something wrong in the neighborhood”, “Who you gonna call?” and “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” are all shoehorned into the dialogue), engendering giggles of recognition but not actual laughter. More than a year prior to the film’s release, internet trolls and 1984 Ghostbusters acolytes consumed themselves with “worry” that the film would fail to pay due respects to the original. But these worries are ultimately unfounded; in fact, the film often trips over itself to pay homage to its predecessor and its weaker jokes are the ones that are referential and self-effacing.
Though Feig and Dippold have jokes for days, the screenplay often feels restrained, caught somewhere between retro-fitting the previous films and staying beholden to Sony’s franchise plans. Erin and Abby are the film’s protagonists, despite being only one-half of the ghost-busting team. McKinnon and Jones are the films beating hearts, supplying the biggest laughs and some of the most tender moments, but on the page their characters are flat, often lacking motivation or texture. This works well for some of the characters who are meant to be two-dimensional representations of classic archetypes—such as Andy Garcia’s incorrigible Mayor Bradley (“Do NOT compare me to the mayor from Jaws!”). But by relegating two of the ostensible leads to lead comic relief, the film deprives itself of creating a quartet of fleshed out characters. So too is the film’s villain (played wonderfully by Neil Casey); he’s a joke-machine, sure, but any character motivation or development is often sidelined in favor of hand-wringing and arched eyebrows. But because Feig’s direction is so exciting and lively—the film’s finale, a sort of macabre Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, is a visual spectacle—most of the script’s shortcomings are easily ignored.
This last paragraph is just for you, internet commenter, YouTube down-voter or any other variant of indignant Ghostbusters super-fan: relax, you’re going to be okay. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is not going to ruin your childhood (which, if that is an actual possibility, I’m guessing your childhood wasn’t worth salvaging anyways). It’s a fun movie. You should go see it. If you’re taking some kind of principled stand against the film, that’s your prerogative. But in the dog days of lackluster summer blockbusters (and with no trailers left to down-vote), Ghostbusters should be a welcome reprieve.
Craig is a writer living in north Florida with his wife and ornery dog. He writes about film and TV. He creates and publishes comic books under the label Gentleman Baby Comics. He's currently wishing his bio sounded more engaging.