Ghostbusters review – all-female upgrade awakens the ectoplasmic force

Paul Feig’s reboot pays tribute to the 80s blockbuster with in-jokes and cameos – but it’s a brand new work, firing off top-quality zingers every 10 seconds

The persistently hilarious new female Ghostbusters film has been released into a perfect storm of troll-feeding media nonsense. An admittedly unfunny trailer. An even unfunnier tendency to review trailers and consider them important or interesting standalone events. An ugly Gamergate mob of male online commenters, and the lamestream media’s need to reward and amplify their abuse.

And why was the Ghostbusters trailer so ropey when the film itself fires off a top-quality zinger every 10 seconds or so – except for the lengthy action scenes? Maybe to save the best material for the film itself. Or perhaps it was to lure the misogynists into precisely that online abuse that the movie itself satirises so cleverly.

Watch the Ghostbusters trailer

Ghostbusters: The Ectoplasmic Force Awakens – as I am now calling it – does more than sport with the increasingly tiresome subject of identity politics and pop culture. It delivers a really funny and spectacular action comedy that pays tribute to the first film with in-jokes, twists and cameos, and yet produces a brand new work, as smart as paint.

In the 1984 original, directed by Ivan Reitman and co-written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, it was Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Ramis and Aykroyd as the gung-ho paranormal specialists, hunting down ghosts in New York City. The new version comes from Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids, and co-written by him with Katie Dippold, who gave us Parks and Recreation on TV. Their script absolutely sparkles – in a different way: looser, more self-aware, more allusion, more riffing. Kristen Wiig is Erin Gilbert, the super-serious physicist at Columbia, who is trying to live down an early interest in the paranormal and a book she once co-wrote called Ghosts from the Past: Literally and Figuratively. This was created in tandem with her schoolfriend, the stroppily unrepentant spirit-chaser, Abby Yates, played at full proton throttle by Melissa McCarthy. Abby is still pursuing her vocation with tech specialist Jillian Holtzmann, played by newcomer Kate McKinnon.

Breakout star … Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann.
Breakout star … Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. Photograph: Allstar/Sony Pictures

The reappearance of their book on Amazon causes Erin to be fired, and she has no choice but to join up with Abby and make a living ghostbusting to pay the bills and because it makes them feel good. They are joined by Patty, a New York subway employee who alerts them to ghosts underground – a terrific performance from Leslie Jones. They are helped by a stupid male beefcake secretary called Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth. That dumb-male twist is maybe a bit pedantic, and where the film wobbles a bit. I could have done with more funny stuff within the action sequences themselves, and quite simply I wanted a bigger, longer, earlier blast of Ray Parker Jr’s classic theme song. (I always feel the same way, incidentally, about the James Bond theme in every Bond film.)

But there are such tremendous gags. It is hardly out of the starting gate before we get lines about a haunted 19th-century mansion having an “anti-Irish fence” and containing the very room where Phineas T Barnum had the idea to enslave elephants. I especially loved Kevin having a dog called “Mike Hat”, which leads to misconceptions. Another great touch is the way the ghosts of Broadway past are revealed in the film’s climactic confrontation, old buildings, old posters for old shows.

Beefcake … Chris Hemsworth as Kevin.
Beefcake … Chris Hemsworth as Kevin. Photograph: Hopper Stone

In a way, the breakout star turn is McKinnon – a graduate of TV’s Saturday Night Live who was entirely new to me. She has a kind of limber improv-ish eccentricity and natural comedy that is the closest in spirit to Bill Murray from the first film. Not that such comparisons are necessary or desirable. All the ghostbusters have that quality of lovability that is most prominent when they are united in adversity, especially when up against the city’s dodgy mayor, played by Andy Garcia, who has a very funny line about his fictional opposite number in Jaws.

The real triumph of this new Ghostbusters is that it doesn’t feel like an inversion, or an experiment, or a novelty. It just feels funny. An update or upgrade to the original, not a rebuke to it, or to its fans, although certainly a rebuke to those who believe that being funny is an XY chromosome thing. This is a blockbuster.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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