Despite Melissa McCarthy’s Chewbacca Mom schtick now running very thin, a weirdly bipolar it is/it isn’t linked to the originals stance, a distinct lack of that SNL ’84 bite from these SNL ’16 ladies and some fun, but wanting cameos (who ultimately underscore the film’s schizophrenic relationship with its source material), oddly and rather refreshingly Ghostbusters – Answer The Call is still miraculously heaps of slick fun, creepy when it needs to be and is not quite the childhood-destroying proton beam the cackling undead of the internet’s movie fan community needed it to be.
Yes, it’s no Bridesmaids II. But it’s not Ghostbusters II either. Losing Dan Aykroyd’s ever passionate pursuits of ancient ghost-foolery versus society’s ills is no bad thing. And whilst the original 1984 classic is understandably held aloft with great reverence it too is not that perfect a movie. If the original and surviving cast members couldn’t get this third Gozarian off the ground then possibly it was for a reason.
Admittedly director Paul Feig (The Heat, Spy) has bargained with a franchise devil and maybe not wholly stood up from the séance as victor. The now reviled initial trailers for this new movie were actually fine. But they did tap into a heritage – the ’84 fire house, the New York was saved before mantra, the suits, the proton guns – that the subsequent trailers and this final film oddly try to distance itself from when it suits. This is a 2016 world where no Ghostbusters have ever existed….yet a subway graffiti artist nails their logo without trying, a real estate suit shows the new gang around that Tribeca fire station and the cameo wrangler clearly has the ’84 original on loop somewhere. For a film whose director and press tried to distance itself from the first two movies, it makes no sense that Ghostbusters – Answer The Call (that seemed to be the title we got in our cinema but who knows what this alias of a movie wants to call itself) repeats the beats of the ’84 original. From an opening phantom menace to some cool and kickass calls to duty, the unbelieving world of academic elders (Charles Dance is sorely wasted), camp venue managers, a finale haunting in a late 19th century apartment block and meddlesome city bureaucrats, the film that doesn’t want you to know it is Ghostbusters III is about as convincing at subterfuge as a Halloween kid under a white sheet.
And so to the ghostly white elephant in the Manhattan library room. Does the all-lady ensemble work? Yes, it does. Very much so. When the end credits roll (and not the eye-gougingly awful spectacle of Chris Hemsworth trying to add some Slumdog Millionaire flash-mob er fun to proceedings) one is left with a guilty moment of “I think I want to see those characters again“. Yes, they are shameless photocopies of the original line up of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson (with the exception being that Wiig is not Venkman with the “smallest bowtie in the world“). Wiig especially has the onscreen ability of being the comedy ring leader without pitching for the bigger laughs. That is left to Leslie Jones and the comedy balls she brings to the haunting. And likewise Kate McKinnon’s science lesbian Holtzman and the gentle hots she has for Wiig’s Erin Gilbert works more than not, despite being kept at arm’s length. If anything, a film that is/isn’t based on the 1984 Columbia Pictures stalwart needed a love story in the ecto-mix to echo that Dana and Peter dynamic. And not with Hemsworth’s dire receptionist. We really don’t need to talk about Kevin – a terrible, terrible homage mix of Rick Moranis dumb and Annie Potts phone answering swipes whose dumb blonde comedy gold must have stormed that first cast read-through, but maybe not since. Whilst it obviously panders to the ladies (and some of the boys) leaving the cinema, a film that has weathered such female-skewed criticisms should have thought a bit more about whether having a dancing Hemsworth flashing pictures of his topless torso was quite the 2016 statement about onscreen gender it could have been.
But politics was never Ghostbusters thing – though there is a great “Jaws mayor” gag at Andy Garcia’s expense. It is great to see the various ages of New York be that summer blockbuster Big Apple again (albeit one shot in Boston and Harvard), the effects straddle cartoon and creepy well enough and that klaxon of a title song never ceases to stir. In a world of social media (who you gonna tweet?) and countless haunted reality shows, Ghostbusters – Answer The Call doesn’t maybe feel the contemporary statement that the ’84 classic was. The original tapped into the cult of inadvertent celebrity, academia and both city and American politics with more skill than here. But for two hours of your Summer movie time, director Feig and his ensemble have not buried our childhoods alive. They have not killed a franchise that has been dead of its own accord for nearly thirty years. They have raised a movie spirit that is knockabout, visually rich, fun when it needs to be and is a stylish piece of matinee fluff. In the kneejerk “jumpers for goal posts” nostalgic-steered attacks it is worth noting that 2016’s Ghostbusters is more of an Eighties comedy blockbuster than maybe even 1989’s Ghostbusters II was. This is a successful ensemble pantomime with a gloss, a pace, likeable characters and no need to mentally string out four sequels before the credits have even rolled. In an age when the gatekeepers of summer cinema are comic book movies obsessed with endless teaser-y teasing to movies not yet made, it is refreshing to just have a self-contained film that has a confidence in itself. That is more Eighties cinema than not. If you’ve got it, haunt it.
Ghostbusters is on general release both in the UK and US from 15th July 2016.