How much trouble does a filmmaker stir up by rebooting a beloved film franchise in the internet age? In most cases, none. Batman, James Bond and Star Wars are but three examples of cherished film series that have been reimagined and reintroduced to the delight of wildly receptive fans around the world.
Something else happened when writer-director Paul Feig announced that his reboot of Ghostbusters would feature an all-female primary cast. The response on message boards and social media was swift, brutal and often openly misogynist. The vitriol reached a peak two months ago when popular YouTube film reviewer James Rolfe posted a long-winded refusal to even watch the film, citing multiple infractions while carefully avoiding any mention of the female cast. The film’s first trailer became the most disliked movie preview in YouTube history. It currently has nearly one million “thumbs down” votes and an endless stream of scathing comments, of which the most offensively sexist are deleted by Sony Pictures.
That’s a lot of venom for a blockbuster movie to absorb, especially one as mild and well intentioned as Feig’s Ghostbusters. It’s not as funny or engaging as the original 1984 Ghostbusters, but that’s no surprise — it’s hard to imagine any actor of either gender matching Bill Murray’s droll, persona-making performance in that film. The reboot does recreate the silly-but-not-dumb tone of the original, scoring a lot of points by not taking itself too seriously. It’s a breezy, reasonably entertaining, family-oriented summer movie, which is something Hollywood has not managed to provide often in recent years despite the obvious demand.
The story doesn’t stray far from that of the original film. New York City is about to be overrun by an army of unruly ghosts, and someone has got to mount enough ghost-fighting technology to stop them. Paranormal expert Abby (Melissa McCarthy) is the ringleader of the newly formed Ghostbusters (so named by a catchphrase-happy New York media) with physicist and childhood friend Erin (Kristen Wiig) at her side. Tech genius Jillian (Kate McKinnon) is balanced by Patty (Leslie Jones), the nonscientist who knows the city’s every nook and cranny. Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) serves as the Ghostbusters’ ditzy receptionist. The film adds a human villain in the form of vaguely psychopathic Rowan (Neil Casey).
With the exception of McCarthy, all the women above are either former or current cast members of Saturday Night Live, which suits a film that functions as a two-hour comedy sketch with state-of-the-art special effects. The female leads play off each other nicely and have no trouble establishing the camaraderie that’s central to the Ghostbusters vibe. All the cameos fans hope to see are included, along with additional uncredited surprises. Interestingly, the two primary male roles are underwritten and don’t add a thing to the film.
While far from perfect, Ghostbusters finishes near the top of its summer action-comedy class. The film’s female stars seem not only to accept the challenges represented by that genre but to relish the chance to deliver highly physical performances. Maybe the lesson of Ghostbusters is an obvious one: It’s always wise to see a film before deciding what’s wrong with it.
Ghostbusters opens today, July 15, at the Canal Place, Chalmette, Elmwood, Westbank and Clearview theaters.