Why would you remake Ghostbusters? It's a question legions of movie fans have been asking ever since Paul Feig's reboot of the 1984 Ivan Reitman classic was announced. And the controversy only intensified when producers announced a big twist: that the all-male line-up of the original had been recast with four women. The trailer (which is admittedly a poor reflection of the final film) was slated online; early previews suggested Feig had made a total mess of things. Now the film is finally on general release, and the reality is rather surprising.
Ghostbusters is really rather good. It manages to combine plenty of the original storyline with new content that prevents it from being a pointless shot-for-shot remake, and it's pretty much relentlessly entertaining. It's an action/comedy where the action is exciting and the comedy is well above average (a rare thing in modern cinema), and while the gender switch is a little hard to ignore at first, by the end you genuinely don't notice anything unusual. Considering Hollywood's pre-eminent model of all-male casts sprinkled with a bit of female eye candy, that's some feat.
Like the original, the film tells the story of a team of scientists who turn themselves into a low-brow team of paranormal investigators when weird things start happening in New York City. Yet while it's punctuated with knowing references to Reitman's version (and cameos from most of the original cast), it also manages to tell its own story, and thankfully creates its own brand new action set pieces. So don't expect a giant marshmallow man to illuminate the ending... at least not in the way you would imagine.
The four leads – Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon – are all on great form throughout. Rather awkwardly, the show is almost stolen by its most significant male actor, Chris Hemsworth, as hilariously thick beefcake receptionist Kevin (and he really is quite brilliant in the role). In the end though he's no match for McKinnon's brilliant Holtzmann, a quirky genius who has you smiling every time she's on screen.
Ghostbusters is far from perfect though, and it's certainly not on a par with the classic original. It's hard to get over the fact that the film exists because of the paucity of new ideas in Hollywood, and the marketing power afforded by the existence of the 1984 version. The plot has some serious pacing issues; taking too long to get going, and arriving at a conclusion all too abruptly. Plus the uneven script grates at times; one particular gag around 'letting the cat out of the bag' meanders on unsuccessfully for what feels like a week, and while there are numerous good moments, there are also plenty which were crying out for a final rewrite. But it manages to be sweet, smart and fairly regularly hilarious, and my guess is that all but the most die-hard fans will leave the cinema pleasantly surprised by how the film has managed to defy its own anti-hype.
If true feminism is about real equality, then Ghostbusters is – at least from this reviewer's limited male perspective – a home run for the cause. I was expecting a string of awkward gender gags, but in truth the sex of the heroines is barely alluded to. Let's not lose sight of the fact that most action, sci-fi and superhero films are dominated by male characters with a couple of less important token females; even The Hunger Games trilogy saw heroine Katniss flanked by beefy male love interests while she struggled with angst. Here these are all people who really just happen to be women, and all those early concerns that a feminist agenda would somehow mess things up prove to be unfounded.
A couple of words of warning: some of the ghosts are really quite scary for younger viewers, and for some Christians, talk of supernatural phenomena will be uncomfortable. Those points notwithstanding, Ghostbusters ends up being a robust rebuttal of anyone who ever said women can't carry action movies, and a pretty significant cultural milestone as a result.