Four dedicated New Yorkers armed with intellect, ingenuity, wit, and some combination of bravery and foolishness try to protect the city from a coming paranormal apocalypse. They fight ghosts with proton guns, skepticism with stubborn determination, and stupid with funny.
They are the new female Ghostbusters, and that last battle is one that began off screen and ends on, with more than a handful of asides, slights, and smirks at that vocal but small and certainly small-minded population that questions and spews vitriol at something the slightest bit different.
Some 30 years after the original, we’ve a novel Ghostbusters that has plenty new and old, with homages and allusions to Ivan Reitman’s beloved sci-fi comedy that do well to blend into what is essentially a reboot of the franchise – and yes, let’s hope it’s a franchise.
Erin (Kristen Wiig) is a modestly dressed physics teacher up for tenure can’t quite get rid of her past career where she explored the paranormal. When she goes to chastise a former friend and college she left behind, she discovers that her once close confidant Abby (Melissa McCarthy) has teamed up with an eccentric scientist Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to track down ghosts.
It’s a timely encounter for Erin, as she has just been contacted by the owner of a haunted house. Upon investigation – and a creepy one at that for a comedy – a ghost presents itself, slime is spewed, and the hunt is on.
Throw in a savvy NYC transit officer who wears her name ‘Patty’ on her necklace (Leslie Jones) and has her own encounter in a subway tunnel, and we’ve our new team who reluctantly call themselves Ghostbusters.
They are sassy and smart, silly and well, sillier, as equal-opportunity director Paul Feig on a script he co-wrote with Katie Dippold uses the strengths of his cast to provide a consistently and diversely funny and at times winning story. Feig avoids putting characters into specifics stereotypes (though Jones is the only non-scientist), allowing them all to be different kinds of funny when the situation calls for it. Holtzmann is weird, Patty sassy, Erin awkward, and Abby aggressive, but they’re all so sharp, with quick barbs that don’t sink in right away but linger and slay you; everyone gets a turn.
After taking up residence above a Chinese restaurant, the group expands their arsenal – testing it to great effect in the back alley – as well as their team. An exceptionally idiotic and super hunky space cadet named Kevin (a hysterical Chris Hemsworth, who shows off some dance moves and self-portraits in the credits) enlists as their secretary, bumbling his way around the office and into trouble, all the while Erin tries uncomfortably to get his attention.
Certainly as the film blows out in its third act, with chaos in NYC as curiously-imagined ghosts are everywhere and things fall apart, Ghostbusters loses steam, coherency, and some of the funny. It falls into the same trap as every other summer-superhero-blockbuster movie, going just a bit too far for a bit too long. While one action sequence is especially engrossing, with Holtzmann providing a very satisfying piece of aggression, the finale is unspectacular.
It’s not merely important that these exceptionally talented and funny woman successfully pull off being ghostbusters, it’s that they’re always focused on what’s in front of them. They don’t fight over boys, get jealous, or turn towards any reductive trope. The handsome Hemsworth doesn’t get to step in and save the day, Erin and Abby come to slowly bridge their divide, and Holtzmann might (and probably is but Feig can’t talk about it) be gay. But it doesn’t matter! None of their actions or situations are through the lens of their gender or sexuality; it’s not so much ‘girl power’ as ‘they-happen-to-be-girls, power!’
The new iteration of Ghostbusters is more than worthy, a welcome piece of optimistic, enjoyable entertainment, meaningful in its greater context and a refreshing diversion in the moment.