When it comes to rebooting classics of an untouchable nature, the new incarnation has to offer something that’s not only slightly different, but also truly spectacular. And, in spite of a certain lukewarm response to Paul Feig’s rendering of Ghostbusters, the revamping of the aforementioned has proven to offer a combination of both.
While preserving some key portions of the plot, as well as elements of the backstory (e.g. working at Columbia University), the joint sensibilities of screenwriter Katie Dippold (who also worked with the Feig/Kristen Wiig/Melissa McCarthy trifecta on The Heat) and Feig combine to create what so many action-geared movies featuring women have missed the mark on: the objectification of men–in this case, “beefcake” Chris Hemsworth as dumb but pretty secretary Kevin Beckman, who the ghostbusters hire because there’s no one else in their receptionist application pool.
But, of course, before Hemsworth makes in onto the scene, there are other introductions, starting with a tour guide named Garret (Zach Woods) who thinks his crafty parlor trick of getting a candle to knock over on the floor thanks to a murdering ghost he attributes this “spookiness” to is genius. And though his screen time is relatively minimal, Woods makes the most of it with his deadpan delivery of trivia facts like how the Aldridges had “an anti-Irish security fence.” Later that night as he’s closing up, the ghost in question attacks with a vengeance, leading the proprietor of the mansion, Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley, Jr., who can’t stop won’t stop), to approach Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), currently up for tenure at Columbia. Showing her the book Ghosts From Our Pasts–an unwanted ghost from Erin’s own past–he begs her for help in combating this supernatural element.
Horrified that her old friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), has put their co-written book up for sale online, Erin goes to confront her at the somewhat disreputable science institute where she now works and passionately studies the paranormal with her cohort, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, in a role that everyone is raving about too much). As Erin gets to explaining how Mulgrave found the book on the internet after a run-in with a spirit at the Aldridge Mansion, Abby gets distracted by the never-ending disappointment of her wonton to soup ratio, a running gag that is all too relatable to any New Yorker familiar with the delivery scene in this town. But then, of course, the light of excitement goes off in her head when she realizes that she and Jillian might actually have a chance to catch and confine a real live ghost. Following them out, Erin ends up tagging along for the ride when Abby assures she’ll take the book down during Erin’s “up-for-tenure” process if she makes the introduction to Mulgrave. So it goes, that the trio encounters the same terrifying ghost as the tour guide, filming every moment for YouTube posterity that leads to Erin screaming, “Ghosts are real!” When the head of her department at Columbia sees it, he, naturally, fires her, leaving the road of destiny open solely to the exploration of the paranormal with Abby and Jillian.
And while they have yet to trace the sudden surge of supernatural activity to a typically jilted by life white boy hotel janitor named Rowan North (Neil Casey), this becomes apparent when Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker who is way too friendly to passersby even by suspension of disbelief movie standards, has a run-in with him at a subway stop that used to be the site of an old prison where they would electrocute criminals. And sure, there’s just a hint of the usual racist undertones with Patty being an MTA booth sitter rather than a scientist like “the rest,” a point driven home when Abby remarks, “Come on, we’re scientists…and Patty.” Then there’s the fact that she has to beg the trio to let her into the group by insisting on her positive attributes, like her uncle having access to a car (a.k.a. hearse) and that she reads a lot of non-fiction and has a limitless supply of NYC knowledge. Thus, in this regard Ghostbusters may have made leaps and bounds in gender representation, but not necessarily that much in the realm of race.
Still, Patty is given the most laugh-out-loud line of the film (again, one with a New York City-specific kind of relatability) when she says of a convict ghost on the subway tracks who flees from them, “He’s only gonna be like the third weirdest person on that train.” As the quartet gains notoriety, their phone rings increasingly off the hook, leaving plenty of opportunity to make fun of how daft Kevin is in any matters that do not pertain to looking good, as he reacts to these calls by either saying something completely nonsensical or simply hanging up.
Then there is his interview “process,” which consists of him asking questions like, “Is it okay to bring my cat in?” When Abby learns that he is actually referring to a dog, she asks quizzically, “Your dog’s name is Mycat?” He returns stoically, “Yeah. Mike Hatt.” His incoherence is even more of a caricature of how the average “hot girl assistant” is portrayed in major action movies (see: anything Michael Bay has ever released), making for a rather sweet vengeance on behalf of females everywhere who have long had to suffer through big-busted women in a “lesser profession” ogled by the men who employ them on the screen.
As the war against ghosts intensifies, Rowan’s release of a paranormal bevy at an Ozzfest-like event leads them uptown. In the midst of the concert, they battle a ghost dragon that everyone in the audience assumes is part of the show, a none too subtle statement on the exact reason why Rowan is so intent on wiping out humanity as elucidated by the New York population. Later, Ozzy Osbourne himself ultimately appears to deliver a line one imagines it took multiple takes to capture: “Sharon, I’m having another flashback!” Though Sharon’s absence from his life at the moment makes it land somewhat flatly.
With the ghostbusters contending with problems at every turn, including Mayor Bradley (played with mayorial perfection by Andy Garcia) and his publicist, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong), feeding them to the dogs of public opinion on a regular basis, Kevin’s laissez-faire, feeble-minded antics in administrative and menial tasks serve to accent the challenges they must face. But, in the end, he’s just too pretty to hate or be annoyed with, the poor dolt.
Although the movie goes on for a hair longer than necessary (primarily during the standoff showdown against Rowan as a mondo ghost), the presence of “tack-on” scenes during the credits are among the most entertaining, with Sigourney Weaver joining in on the cameo front (after Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd’s memorable moments) as Jillian’s mentor to balk, “Safety lights are for dudes.” And now, objectification in mainstream cinema is for women.