‘Ghostbusters’ Spoiler-Free Review: Paul Feig Makes a Classic Franchise His Own
Ghostbusters was always going to have a tough hill to climb. Even before Paul Feig signed on, fans were skeptical about the very notion of another Ghostbusters movie. After he did, there were fans upset at the idea of female Ghostbusters and fans unhappy about getting a reboot instead of a sequel and fans still annoyed that a new Ghostbusters movie was happening at all. This project has been under intense scrutiny since before a single frame was shot, and the fuss and furor over it has only intensified as the release date approaches.
But the movie itself isn’t terribly concerned with all that. Feig’s Ghostbusters is more interested in carving out a new space than it is in retracing the steps of the original. While it may not reach “instant classic” status, it’s still an entertaining addition to the franchise, bursting with humor and personality that’s all its own.
Ghostbusters as a Paul Feig Comedy
In some ways, Ghostbusters is a change of pace for director Paul Feig. It’s his first time working on a big-budget franchise or dabbling in horror elements, and it’s his first non-R-rated film in ten years. In other ways, though, it fits comfortably alongside the rest of his resume. Like Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, Ghostbusters is a comedy with a strong ensemble and a laid-back, improvised feel. The cast and crew are stacked with talents who’ve worked with Feig before, including The Heat screenwriter Katie Dippold and Feig’s favorite muse Melissa McCarthy. And while Feig may not be known as an action director per se, he has some experience in the genre thanks to The Heat and Spy.
It’s probably not surprising, then, that Ghostbusters is at its best when it feels most like classic Feig. The early scenes — where our leads are just starting to come together but before the main supernatural plotline has really kicked in — are the strongest. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon have crackling chemistry together, and it’s a pleasure just to watch them hang out. Since Ghostbusters is PG-13, the humor is necessarily a bit cleaner, but on the whole the comedy doesn’t feel too different from Feig’s other work. Once again, it’s all about big personalities bouncing off of each other, launching into semi-improvised riffs and the occasional bit of slapstick-y physical comedy.
Ghostbusters as a Big-Budget Franchise Flick
Once Ghostbusters starts to dig deeper into its main storyline, though, it finds itself on shakier ground. Ghostbusters essentially combines a typical Feig comedy with a franchise blockbuster, and the marriage isn’t always smooth sailing. Feig and his team make a solid effort: the action scenes are capably shot and choreographed, the gadgets are fun, and the monsters range from amusing to genuinely creepy. They also take care to sprinkle some fun character beats throughout. Still, the setpieces sometimes feel more obligatory than organic — as if they’re there to fulfill the expectations of a big-budget blockbuster rather than because they make sense for this particular movie. Some of that time and money and energy would have been better spent on Ghostbusters‘ strengths, namely its characters and its comedy.
Ghostbusters‘ other concession to franchise filmmaking are the nods to the earlier movies scattered throughout, including cameos from certain cast members. They’re largely unnecessary, but they’re not really intrusive either. Otherwise, Ghostbusters is content to stand on its own, and does so quite well. It doesn’t coast on nostalgia, or take for granted the affection surrounding this franchise (which is more than we can say for a lot of the terrible sequels and adaptations we’ve seen this year). Yes, it has the built-in advantage of a familiar brand name. But it does the work of building its own world and characters from the ground up.
Ghostbusters’ Breakthrough Performances
Speaking of those characters: Of the core cast, McCarthy and Wiig are a bit more dialed down than we’ve seen in some of their other films (including Bridesmaids), allowing their co-stars to go a little bolder and bigger. Jones is the heart of the team, bringing a warm and upbeat energy to their adventures together. But the real standout is McKinnon as Holtzmann, an engineer who marches to the beat of her own (very high-tech and probably deadly) drum. With luck, Ghostbusters could do for her what Bridesmaids did for McCarthy. McKinnon steals the scene with her very first line, before we even see her face — and when we do get to see her she gets even better, because McKinnon is blessed with an elastic, expressive face that never stops working. In any given scene, it’s worth keeping one eye on whatever she’s doing. Even when Holtzmann isn’t actually speaking, a blink of her eye or a twitch of her mouth says everything you need to know.
Ghostbusters’ other breakthrough performance comes from Chris Hemsworth, who’s good and game as the Ghostbusters’ extremely dim-witted receptionist Kevin. Even in his Marvel movies, Hemsworth is better — more convincing, more distinctive, more interesting — portraying Thor’s surfer bro side than he is at Thor’s noble hero side. Ghostbusters feels like further evidence that Hemsworth ought to borrow a page from fellow Aussie Rose Byrne, and embrace his talents as a comedy star. He gets some of the biggest laughs of the entire movie, including one I’m still giggling about days after I saw the movie.
The New Ghostbusters Is Not the Old Ghostbusters
At the end of the day, those who hoped the new Ghostbusters would be just like the original will probably be disappointed. The comedic sensibility is more Paul Feig than Ivan Reitman, the characters and their relationships to one another are completely different, and it all feels more like a 2010s blockbuster film than a 1980s comedy adventure (for pretty obvious reasons). But those willing to roll with the changes will find an entertaining comedy-adventure full of new characters, new gadgets, new monsters, and new possibilities.
/Film rating: 7 out of 10
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