The new “Ghostbusters” film has been polarizing since it was first announced. It reboots the classic franchise, but with four women as the titular characters – a casting choice that enraged at least as many people as it thrilled. Like most comedies, if you go into the theater expecting to hate it, it isn’t going to win you over. It’s not “Citizen Kane,” it’s a popcorn movie. A good popcorn movie, but still too light and fluffy to win over any naysayers. If, on the other hand, you’re excited (or at least willing to be excited) about it and you enjoy lightweight summer flicks, you’ll probably be pleased.
Former friends Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) and Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) have gone their separate ways since Erin left their paranormal studies behind and went legit. Her opportunity to finally get tenure at Columbia is threatened when Abby republishes their book about ghosts, and Erin gets drawn back in when she goes to talk to Abby about it and is blackmailed into helping Abby and her new partner, Dr. Jillian “Holtz” Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) with a ghostly investigation.
When they’re attacked by a very real (and very angry) ghost, the three scientists band together to do more research – and get the boot from their respective educational institutions. Undeterred, they hire a receptionist, the cute-but-really, weirdly stupid Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) and start their own lab together. With the help of MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), they stumble onto a plot by standard-comedy-movie-vilain Rowan North (Neil Casey) to end the world by unleashing countless ghosts on New York.
The vast majority of the film feels like a standard reboot that happens to have been genderswapped in casting. Our three scientists are the classic skeptic, kooky believer, and mad scientist. The fourth, non-scientist Ghostbuster acts as a balancing agent, while the cute-but-airheaded receptionist is something of a mascot (this is probably the biggest change from the original material in terms of character). There are a lot of familiar tropes, but they’re applied to the opposite gender instead of the standard.
Where the swapping stops is with the villain. Rowan is a pretty typical “little guy snaps after a lifetime of bullying” kind of villain. He has a few elements that are pretty clearly poking fun at the enraged fanboys who have been sending death threats and all forms of hostility at the cast and crew of the film since it was first announced, but for the most part he’s a by-the-book nebbishy bad guy.
A film like this stands or falls on the chemistry and timing among its protagonists, and the cast really shines here. Hemsworth has a surprising amount of comedic talent – anybody who’s seen him as Thor knows he can be funny, but he takes it to a whole new level here. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones all seem to be having a great time together, and on the rare occasions that things fall flat, it feels more like poor editing than anything else. (Director Paul Feig’s original cut reported ran 3.5 hours, so there’s at least hour and a half on the cutting room floor.)
McKinnon steals almost every scene she’s in, and there are probably film school essays being written about her already. Holtz would be fun even if she were a guy, but she’s revolutionary played by a woman. Holtz can build anything, has no fear when it comes to building nuclear-powered equipment, and her part of the final battle is both exhilarating and hilarious.
There are a ton of little references to the original film, from cameos to visual gags. This is clearly a reboot by people who adore the source material. “Ghostbusters” is all-in, and if you’re willing to give it a chance, it will give you a fun couple of hours out of the heat.