Already famous for its YouTube ‘Most Disliked Trailer Ever’ status, Paul Feig’s energetic, unapologetic reboot gets its troll-teasing in early. The paranormal posse have barely survived their first sliming when their uploaded ghoul-sighting videos are attracting screeds of crazed online hate: “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts!”
Oh yes they are – and with slick and solid style too, as Kristin Wiig’s timid physicist Erin Gilbert teams up reluctantly with bossy ex-bestie Abby (Melissa McCarthy), wacky engineer Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and sassy subway worker Patty (Leslie Jones) to form a group of supernatural pest-controllers. Understanding that horror-comedy needs proper hair-raising thrills for the inexperienced girl-gang, the film doesn’t stint on the jump scares for us either, right from the museum-rattling opener, which gives a tour guide some brown-trouser-inducing torment.
Lovers of the original 1984 Ghostbusters can rest assured that there’s a whole lot of affection for the illustrious predecessor here. For starters, there’s a respectful retention of much of the original story, though it’s tweaked to allow Neil Casey’s swivel-eyed nerd villain to spring a shower of vengeance-seeking ghouls into New York’s streets.
However, female friendship has been the motor driving Feig’s female-driven comedies since . So it’s the bonding of these misfits as well as the ‘busting’ that interests screenwriter Katie Dippold, as the awkward quartet unite against academia, a sceptical media, Andy Garcia’s PR-obsessed mayor and a contemptuous paranormal debunker (played by… no spoilers!).
Unlike the 1984 film, which was arranged deftly around Bill Murray’s shameless science scams and dry, deadpan reactions, this is very much an ensemble piece. The comedy is warm and sharp-eyed, and the laughs are rooted in the relationships and the women’s learning curve, from clueless amateurs to proton-gun-wielding pros. Watching the foursome pat Chris Hemsworth’s dumb-blond receptionist Kevin about like a cat toy makes for stereotype-flipping fun. But the laughs are on the wry and gentle side, rather than a yuck fest, since our heroine is meek Erin, battered by life and looking for pals and professional validation.
Before long, you’re starting to wish guiltily that McCarthy had taken centre stage, using the crazy vitality and brash improv skills that made and crackle. Here she’s the cosy squad leader, only getting to unleash her talent for physical comedy in a ‘demonic possession’ catfight featuring an alarming -style 360-degree head turn.
And though Leslie Jones garners a lot of laughs as straight-talking amateur NYC historian Patty, it feels a bit retrograde to have her as the one non-scientist in the crew. Nonetheless, the film’s stealth weapon (appropriately as she’s the armourer) is Kate McKinnon’s swaggering steampunk, serving up a bewildering range of death-dealing gizmos (there’s a lot more nuclear-powered kit this time around) with cute quips.
Getting medieval on some spectral ass with her proton pistols in a Times Square showdown, she delivers the pulse-quickening action that the film needs, but doesn’t always deliver. Despite a delightfully creepy confrontation with giant Thanksgiving balloon ghosts (look out for Mr Stay Puft), Feig can’t always maintain the needed visual variety or dramatic tension in the Big Apple battles that the film finally unleashes.
There’s marvellously sheeny if over-egged CGI ghost-work throughout, with Slimer and crew on the cuddly side of blood-curdling for the kid audience. But for all its warm-hearted fun, well-crafted thrills, careful nostalgia and girl-powered gadgetry, this fast-paced family film doesn’t always feel like a natural fit for Hollywood’s favourite genre-bender.