It is a rare moment indeed when considering the merits of a rebooted film in a much-loved franchise such as Ghostbusters than you can say with complete confidence and not a small amount of happiness that the re-imagined product is every bit a match for the original, if not in some ways its superior.
It’s a bold claim for any rebooted film property, but even more so in the case of Paul Feig’s all-female take on the famous comedically-inclined fighters of the supernatural, which attracted a firestorm of controversy as disaffected fanboys took to social media to viciously attack anyone attached to the project and predict the film’s inevitable demise.
But the thing is that the all-new Ghostbusters, starring a who’s who of zeitgeist-occupying female comic talent, is not a failure of any kind; rather it is a triumphant success, paying homage to its much-venerated predecessor without sacrificing its own rich, warm, extremely funny and intelligently-realised vision in the process.
It is most definitely a movie for the here-and-now, not simply in its use of cutting edge special effects that grant the spectres, ghosts and vaporous apparitions including some well-known faces such as Slimer (voice by Adam Ray) and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, a real, ahem, life of their own, but in its perfectly-placed references to current events, social practices and pop culture influences.
There are ’80s references of course, how could there not be, including judiciously-used songs that lend the wellrounded soundtrack a pleasingly appropriate retro edge, but by and large this is a 21st century creation, as happy to be goofy and playful as it is post-modern whimsical and observant of socially progressive attitudes.
The biggest change of course, and the one that ignited all the needless controversy, is the gender of the Ghostbusters themselves.
The original cohort of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, all of whom make cameos (along with Annie Potts and a few memorable phrases) save obviously for Ramis who passed away in 2014, are now represented with aplomb by Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates, Kristen Wiig as Erin Gilbert, Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan and Kate McKinnon, whose gloriously manic energy steals every scene she’s in, as inventor extraordinaire Jillian Holtzmann.
They’re an all new team in many ways, not least the obvious one, and bring the franchise to life with their own comic wisecracking, gift for lively characterisation and penchant for inspired, scene-chewing improv.
All of which means that even though the film nods its creative hat to the iconography of the 1984 original with everything from the ghosts themselves, to the cars and uniforms and the Ghost Mobile and the fire house HQ, it is very much its own fresh, boundlessly funny creation, unhampered by the luggage of a franchise which has cast a long shadow over the last 32 years.
And that is a feat in itself.
You can imagine Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold sitting down and planning out the storyline, all too painfully aware, thanks to the virulently nasty campaign waged against the film even up to opening day when one of the stars Leslie Jones was the target of some truly racist trolling on Twitter, that expectations for the reboot were stratospherically high and abysmally low simultaneously.
While it is impossible to know how much this affected the manner in which they wrote the film, beyond some sly jabs at the online controversy in a few of the scenes, it doesn’t appear to have affected things overly with the film seemingly un-selfconsciously sauntering forth into a partly hostile pop culture firmament.
Ghostbusters quite simply has fun with itself, letting the chips fall where they may, anchored by a strong cohesive narrative that beautifully sets the whole ghostly chain of events in tension-building motion by making the villain of the piece a hugely disaffected victim of lifelong bullying, Rowan North (Neil Casey) who decides the perfect revenge on humanity is releasing all the angry, murderous disaffected spiritual entities he can lay his hands on from the Other Side into our time and space.
So yes no Zuul this time around but the forces that emerge through the portals he creates one by one along the energy lines of New York City are initially more than a match for the Ghostbusters, who face much of the same public scepticism and disapproval of their ’80s predecessors.
Unswayed by this, however, and determined to see their belief in the ghostly supernatural vindicated and then when proven throughout the film, subdued, the all-new Ghostbusters, who resist using the term at first until the media chooses it as their moniker for them, set about saving New York City from forces way beyond its considerable, chutzpah-laden control.
The climactic fight scene alone is epic as a result, and, not suprisingly, humourous into the bargain with wisecracks and quips aplenty even as the four women, and their deluded himbo assistant Kevin played with comic joy by Chris Hemsworth, have to face down an army of spiritual nasties, none of whom are in the mood to play nice, or engage with witticism trading with their nemeses.
Which is fine because with this array of comedic talent onboard, why waste valuable time giving the undead too much of a voice?
Melissa McCarthy is uncharacteristically subdued, playing more of a straightwoman role than her normal deliciously over the top persona which suits the team interplay and narrative to a tee while Kristen Wiig channels her ability to be a shy, wallflower-esque character who gradually comes back alive, her passion for the supernatural rediscovered after years spent climbing the ladder of academia at Columbia University, to perfection, reminding us once again of her impressive ability to tilt between comic and dramatic roles with ease.
Rounding out the ghoul-chasing posse is manically mad Jillian played with gusto by Kate McKinnon whose glee in her inventive powers is palpable, its breadth and vision only matched by her social awkwardness which is often countered by rapidfire, high-volume deliveries; in contrast Patty, given earthy, soulful life by the incomparable Leslie Jones, is a subway worker/New York geographical savant with more joyful attitude than any ghost can handle (although she is sensibly as scared as you or I would be when it’s warranted).
Together these remarkable characters, and the talented women who bring them to life invest Ghostbusters with the sort of passion, humour and love of their calling that matches the original zeal of the original all-male team.
Armed with a stellar cast, a zippy but fulsome screenplay that paces itself beautifully, world-building par excellence and enough witty retorts and humourous observations to keep a stand up comedy in ego-massaging applause for a lifetime, Ghostbusters is that rare beast – a reboot that not only honours its predecessor but builds on it with its own rich, utterly engaging, fun-filled sense of self.
Anyone who is thinking of rebooting, re-imagining or re-whatevering a franchise, and this being Hollywood you are likely queued down the block for eternity, should play close attention to what Paul Feig and four talented woman have pulled off here and take it as inspiration that it is possible to make something new and wholly, wonderfully and delightfullyoriginal while standing on the shoulders of that which came so brilliantly before.