If you’re a fan of the original film (and who isn’t?) you’ll be waiting for a moment filled with the thrill of recognition that takes you back to what you loved so much about Ivan Reitman’s 1984 classic.
It comes early and – being a complete lift from the original – it’s kind of a cheat. As museum tour guide Zach Woods (Silicon Valley) closes up at the stately New York City mansion where he works and fakes paranormal activity to get the crowd interested, he’s set upon by the real spook that haunts the place.
We only see his face as it closes in on him, hanging off a destroyed staircase in a gloomy basement, screaming in terror. In the same way it did 32 years ago on the face of librarian Alice, the picture closes in, the drum beat of the opening riff from Ray Parker Jr’s immortal title song rings out, the rich synth guitar of the melody and opening lyrics (‘There’s somethin’ strange’) explode across the theatre and the scene cuts to a wide shot of New York City, the title card appearing with a confident flourish.
You feel a frisson of excitement go through the cinema that’s never quite bettered for the rest of the movie, but the disappointment is mild. Despite the bland trailers and ‘meh’ reviews, Paul (”Bridesmaids”) Feig’s reboot has something to offer.
Trying to keep her head down long enough to get tenure at Columbia University (the same institution Drs Venkman, Stantz and Spengler worked at) Erin (Kristen Wiig) is approached by the museum’s owner, telling her the book she wrote about the paranormal and has since disowned is all true – ghosts exist.
When she discovers her book is online for sale, threatening her reputation and position at work, she goes to see her former friend, partner and co-author Abby (Melissa McCarthy), demanding Abby take it down.
Abby agrees if Erin accompanies her and her offsider – devil-may-care engineer Jillian (Kate McKinnon) – to the museum to see what they can find. When the resident ghost attacks them in spectacular fashion the girls realise they’re onto something, and with more sightings across the city they decide to team up to try and stem the undead tide.
Joined by subway operator Patty (Leslie Jones), they set up all the accouterments and motifs you’re waiting for – from the iconic car and proton packs to the name, logo and beyond.
From there, the story shifts into far more generic and far less interesting territory. Back when the Star Wars prequels came out it gradually emerged from cast interviews how George Lucas was far less concerned with character and performance than he was digital sets and effects.
”Ghostbusters” ultimately has the opposite problem. Where directors with more experience (maybe just more interest) might have made more of the effects and visuals, it just feels like Feig handed all the computer-ey stuff off to a team of software engineers and art directors and told them to do whatever they liked.
Nothing surrounding the girls stands out – from the indistinct, two-dimensional bad guy and his generic ‘I want to end the world’ plan to the points where the script meets the effects (haven’t we seen enough portals to beyond portrayed as a vortex full of spinning, multi-coloured clouds?).
The good news is Feig, Wiig and McCarthy have more than proven their comic chops, and there are far more laugh out loud moments than the ”Ghostbusters” trailers made it seem. In fact, the better scenes are the ones with no ghosts or visual effects at all, like the one where Erin, Abby and Jillian interview dumb Australian beefcake Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) for the receptionist’s position.
As Feig and Sony promised, there are both more laughs and more scares. Despite its classic status the original was never quite side-splitting and there was no appreciable horror despite it being about ghosts. Anything called ‘Ghostbusters’ is always going to suffer in the log shadow it casts. It does squander some of its potential on meaningless, blockbuster-of-the-week flashing lights and colours, but it’s more enjoyable that you’ve heard.