Much of the conversation around the gender-swapped remake of “Ghostbusters” has been protests from (mostly) male fans of the original, who don’t want to see women in the roles popularized by Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson in the 1984 original. But what’s the fun in re-creating a direct facsimile of a piece of art or entertainment? This version, directed by Paul Feig, written with Katie Dippold, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, proves to be a fun and fresh way to reboot the franchise.
The beloved original “Ghostbusters” was a cultural phenomenon, and nothing will retroactively change that. But the “Ghostbusters” that 2016 demands is not the one from 1984. All the predatory leering, sensual dream ghosts and weirdly sexy ghost possession would go over about as well as a Bill Cosby joke this year, and the gender-flip is the exact right way — the only way — to reboot “Ghostbusters.” Happily, Feig and team easily pull it off. The film is legitimately hilarious, spooky and manages to capture the irreverent fun of the original.
The characters aren’t direct translations from the 1984 film, and they don’t share a universe, but they do have the same story DNA. Erin (Wiig) is the skeptic, Abby (McCarthy) is the enthusiastic go-getting force behind the operation, Holtzmann (McKinnon) is the brains and Patty (Jones) brings the knowledge of New York City.
The performances here are loose and relaxed, and Wiig and McCarthy, who can both push the boundaries of their own weirdness to an extreme level, are mostly reined in. The humor is built out of character moments, funny asides, casual ribbing and ongoing bits that build to a fever pitch over the course of the film (and it doesn’t necessarily translate to ideal trailer moments).
The standout is a magnificently unhinged McKinnon, the nimble, rubber-faced comedian best known for “Saturday Night Live,” making her breakout film turn here. As the begoggled genius Holtzmann, she licks her chops and spouts streams of quasi-scientific gibberish — and also gets the best goosebump-raising moment of heroics that practically shouts: “A star is born!”
The film prioritizes mood, tone and laughs over plotting, with a third act that feels a bit rushed, with facile resolutions. But the climactic effects are eye-popping, scary and hokey in an intentional way, evoking a sense of cheesy vintage fun among all the gooey-green slime.
There are some references to “never read the comments,” a direct jab at the online trolls, and the main villain espouses rhetoric that sounds awfully similar to that of men’s rights activists. Chris Hemsworth gives a wonderful take as the ditzy secretary, whom Erin drools over. There’s fun is in the gender flip itself, but it’s entirely earned and based in character and story.
The feminism of “Ghostbusters” is present but it doesn’t have to be announced. All we need to see are women who are confident scientists, leaders and heroes, who don’t have to defend themselves based on their gender, because in this world, it’s not a factor. It shouldn’t be a factor in the film’s reception either. Somehow, this “Ghostbusters” remake is going to push us all to reckon with what a more equal world might look like, whether we like it or not. Fortunately, the movie is tremendously easy to like.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth.
Director: Paul Feig.
Running time: 1:56 minutes.
Rated: PG-13, for supernatural action and some crude humor.