FILM REVIEW: Ghostbusters (2016)
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) once wrote a book together collating their hypotheses around the paranormal, but their lives have diverged and they're no longer speaking. Erin is approached by a man with the book she thought was lost who wants help with a resident ghost. She tracks Abby down to beg her to stop selling the book, only to find herself discovering the haunting is real, their theories are correct and someone is trying to bring a whole host of ghosts to New York. Together with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and their ditzy secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the Ghostbusters must fight to convince the city that ghosts are real and everyone is in danger.
I'll not dwell on the ongoing furore around the film until now because, ultimately, it falls away as soon as you watch the film, reduced to a classy punchline and closed as fast as an internet browser window.
Ghostbusters counters those toxic attitudes with a relentless positivity. As with The Force Awakens, I want to bottle the feeling I get of seeing these women - in all their strength, vulnerabilities, quirks, body types, intelligence, wit and determination - up on that screen. I also want to bottle the feeling I get when I see women and girls responding to this. It's hard to explain how it feels to have heroes like these, entirely independent of men or the male gaze, but it's really, really awesome.
A huge part of that is down to the central four cast members with not a single weak link among them. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy's chemistry is present and correct, used to power the emotional core of the film. We may not see much of their prior friendship, but Wiig and McCarthy convey enough to make their key moments land as well as sparking off of each other to regularly bring the laughter. They're the heart of the film and ground it just enough to let the wackier comedy of McKinnon or Hemsworth's dumb blonde to keep the gag rate high.
McKinnon is the particular breakout here, walking away with most of the film's most memorable lines as well as carving out a character that is always eccentric but never rings hollow. Holtzmann is zany, hilarious and also very sweet. She also works well alongside Jones' Patty, whose more forthright humour contrasts Holtzmann's flightier moments. Then there's Chris Hemsworth, gleefully playing up his blockbuster beefcake persona with Kevin, who doesn't quite know how glasses work nor is he capable of answering a phone. The scenes with all five of them together have a dysfunctional family theme to them, playing well with the film's continual positive drive.
Even when dealing with Rowan, the walking version of toxic masculinity villain of the piece, Abby tries to save him first, the four only prompted into fighting when they have no other choice. Rowan's an intriguing character, a riposte to the types that have been hammering away at keyboards and furiously clicking their mouse to downrate a film they have no intention of seeing. He's the perfect villain to contrast our heroes with; he's been bullied and uses this as his excuse for his power grab and he's resentful of everyone around him, alone in his rage.
Despite what Rowan thinks, Abby is keen to point out that they're not so different; we see these women belittled, mistreated and suppressed by those around them, whether it's a cameoing Charles Dance's stern professor, Andy Garcia's polished mayor or Patty's customers on the subway. The difference between them and Rowan is that they own it and turn it to their advantage, trying to save the world regardless of how it treats them. It might be largely a kids' film, but Ghostbusters was a pretty insightful examination of how society treats men and women differently and how they react in turn. In truth, it could have made more of this analysis; it's a hopeful message about turning adversity into strengths and successes.
There's a couple of bumps along the way; Kevin goes through a bit of a character shift without any real explanation and there are one or two jokes that linger a little too long. However, the good-natured charm of it all and the crackling chemistry of the cast powers it through to a rather spectacular climax. The final battle arrives suddenly, but it's a vibrant sequence, full of wisecracks and badass moments (Holtzmann, man) with gorgeous and creepy ghost designs. It feels fitting for everything that has gone before, one in which the four women get a chance to show off not only their skills, but their love for each other in that so much of the battle is about them working together to solve the problem.
There will always be naysayers when it comes to this film, whether it comes from a deep, abiding love of the original or, as has been largely the case, because there are women in it. The important thing, however, is how it makes women and girls watching this film feel. And it feels awesome. I can forgive the bumps for that.