Its plot revolves around a bullied, emasculated nerd who wants to open a portal to a parallel universe of paranormal entities so that he can finally become the bully himself, raining down vengeance upon a world where he has never fit in and leading all his former persecutors on a merry (disco) dance. Rowan (Neil Casey), chief antagonist of this resurrected Ghostbusters, is quite a lot like the raging male-fans of the 1984 Ghostbusters, so enraged at the idea of anyone tampering with, or worse feminising, the beloved capstone of their childhood fantasies that they are willing to unleash their wrathful apocalypse – or at least a virtual one, rendered in full digital form – on everyone before them.
The four new Ghostbusters, once they have come together and somewhat reluctantly accepted that name (imposed by the media, as well as by franchise tradition), are a bit puzzled by Rowan. After all, they too are all excluded misfits, facing endless scepticism, disdain and outright ridicule for their ideas and actions – but, being women, they see this treatment as just part of their everyday experience, and after brushing off any dust, dirt or ectoplasm that has stuck to them, they just get back up and on with the business of life as best they can. Though their gear and modus operandi are not so very different from Rowan’s, where he wants to end the world, or at least fascistically to recreate it in his own image, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) just want to go about saving it, with fun and maybe recognition their secondary goals.
There may be lots of CG ghosts emerging from the alternative dimension that Rowan has opened, but the real ghosts haunting Paul Feig’s resexed revamp are the spirits (and more broadly the spirit) of the original. All the original’s key cast (Bill Murray, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Enie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver) turn up, one after the other, for jokey cameos – apart from the genuinely deceased Harold Ramis, although the film is dedicated to him, and his son Daniel features in a small rôle. Even the spectral Slimer shows up, still devouring hot dogs, but this time with a girlfriend in tow, and a penchant for joyriding – and you can be sure that the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man will get a look in somewhere. All this is pure fan service – and while nostalgia usually plays well to the crowd, the film, if we’re being honest here, comes to a lurching, clunking halt every time one of these avatars of the past puts in a reappearance.
Ghostbusters is better when striking its own path, with McKinnon’s fun-time physicist Holtzmann repeatedly stealing the show simply by relishing any opportunity to play with her dangerous toys, and seeming to exist in her very own parallel universe. “Safety lights are for dudes,” she says near the end, in what might as well be her (sort-of feminist) motto. Just as rewardingly chaotic is the fearless foursome’s secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), who takes a typical ‘dumb blonde’ rôle to surreal new heights.
In a neatly self-conscious joke that updates the 1984 film to the more gentrified New York of the new millennium, the Ghostbusters realise that they cannot possibly afford the inflated rent on the iconic decommissioned fire station from the original film, and so they must instead resort to using for their premises the disused upstairs floor of a Chinese restaurant. Several scenes where the Ghostbusters try out Holtzmann’s weapons in the alley behind their offices, and destroy everything in their path along with the bull’s-eye target, perhaps encapsulate the hit-and-miss nature of the comedy here. The humour does not always work, but is blasted so relentlessly at the viewer that the odd good line strikes home.
For a film that comes with its own logo, Ghostbusters also boasts an irritating amount of product placement, as though to advertise (you decide how ironically) its status as a corporate product. Not content merely with positioning itself in the marketplace (as well as within its own franchise), the film also sizes itself up against other films, with express allusions to The Shining, Jaws, Peter Pan, Scarface, Point Break (this last especially risky, given the poor quality of the reboot) and even Superman. That reference (a character is compared to Clark Kent before flying into the air) is particularly striking because Ghostbusters too features wholesale casual destruction of buildings in a crowded metropolis, with little regard for the question of collateral damage – something for which Man of Steel incurred much criticism. Still, in a story world where ghosts exist, death is never the end – and a coda promises both a sequel and more ghostly reconjurings of the same old.
© Anton Bitel