3 out of 5 stars.
It was months before the film was even released when Sony’s “Ghostbusters” reboot became not only the most hated movie of 2016, but one of the most hated movies of all time, its trailer generating a barrage of nasty comments and becoming one of the most disliked videos ever on YouTube. This review isn’t going to speculate why that was — we all know it’s because women were cast as the leads this go around, and there’s no reason to keep debating about it. But after all that hype, was the movie as bad as everyone said it was going to be? Actually…no. No, it wasn’t.
Directed by Paul Feig, “Ghostbusters” starts by revealing a malevolent entity inhabiting an old home before introducing us to Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a professor at Columbia University. Erin is a former paranormal investigator trying to leave that part of her past behind, so when her former colleague Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) republishes the book they wrote together, threatening her bid for tenure, Erin reunites with Abby. In exchange for her pulling the book from publication, Erin agrees to help Abby and her eccentric new partner Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) on a paranormal investigation — the one we saw in the film’s opening. As it turns out, the ghost is very real, renewing Erin’s interest in the paranormal and prompting her to form the Conductors of Metaphysical Examination with Abby and Holtzmann after losing her job. They take on a new recruit, an MTA worker named Patty (Leslie Jones) who comes to them for help after seeing a ghost in the subway, and hire a dull receptionist named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). They soon discover that the fate of the world is on their shoulders when they find that all of these ghosts are being summoned by a crazed scientist out to start the apocalypse.
Much of the story is a retread of the original “Ghostbusters,” and although it doesn’t compare with the original, it still works as both a homage to that film and an entertaining movie on its own. Much of the original cast make cameos in this movie, although some of them — coughBillMurraycough — feel forced and actually detract from the film. But the leads all bring their own brand of humor to the film, and even though not all the jokes, particularly those of the more slapstick/physical variety, land, it’s great to see this group of actresses clearly having the time of their lives running around zapping ghosts. Wiig plays the awkward, insecure, and most relatable — I guess? — character, while McCarthy brings most of the physical gags. She and Wiig, who have of course worked together before, play off each other very well, but it’s actually Jones and McKinnon who steal the show. Jones, playing the one lead character who doesn’t come from a paranormal investigator background, brings a hard-hitting dose of common sense to her character. McKinnon’s Holtzmann is the most memorable, and the one out of the four who is closest to becoming an icon on the level of the original Ghostbusters. She relishes creating crazy inventions and running into dangerous situations, she says things that don’t make any sense, and even her appearance — a shock of wild hair, and goggles that rarely come off her face — come together to create a character who is original, memorable, and fun. And it’s a character no one but McKinnon could have played.
Hemsworth playing the receptionist is another particularly inspired piece of casting that is in keeping with this reboot’s gender reversals, although his is a character who is funnier in small doses; by the end of the movie his part has grown to the point where it becomes overkill. Furthermore, the film lacks a good villain; everything about this one’s goals and intentions are pretty clichéd.
But the legacy and importance of this movie doesn’t lie in the film itself, but in that aforementioned controversy surrounding it (something the actresses hilariously address a couple of times within the film). It’s important that this sort of movie was made, that a studio had the guts to cast women in roles made iconic by male actors. It’s important that a new generation of fans will encounter this movie and recognize these women as their Ghostbusters. And it’s important that, even though “Ghostbusters” is far from a great movie, it is good enough to defy the haters and leave many viewers wanting more.
Runtime: 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.