Yes: here be spoilers.
Bottom line: is it funny? Is it scary? Is it good? And the answer to all three is yes.
The film has a hell of a job to do in the first half hour: attempting to be its own beast while setting up a world that we’re already overtly familiar with, so there are plenty of moments that restyle scenes from the first film and repackage them for an audience likely mixed with newbies and die-hards (although it’s startling to hear Ray Parker Jr’s classic song dismissed so perfunctorily). This means that the film has a rather odd task, in that we already know many of the beats (film starts with a horror emerging from the wood panels, film ends with a huge ghost stamping downtown) in a story we have yet to be told. Ultimately, it’s a very busy film in which not much can happen, and a lot of that is to do with pressure of expectation. It falls to the cast, then, to power things up.
Kristen Wigg and Melissa McCarthy as the nominal leads Erin and Abby do a fair amount of the narrative heavy lifting, who pull on a long established friendship (both in real life and within the context of the film’s plot) to sell the story. A lot of their dialogue is muttered ripostes, hardly able to credit the unbelievable world they’re in (and that’s before we get to the ghosts). It’s left then to the other two Ghostbusters to deliver the films more memorable moments: Leslie Jones is a blast as Patty – perhaps surprisingly, her ‘street smarts’ are less POC stereotype, but as an expert of the history of old New York, more a way to get a Hermione Granger style exposition in. But truly, the film lights up like a sparkler each time Jillian Holttzmann (Kate McKinnon) is on screen. Visually, she seems vaguely inspired by the cartoon version of Egon, but if you really have to have a Pete Venkman comfort blankie, you’ll find it here: McKinnon’s character appears to be the most obviously improvised (and if it’s tightly scripted, it’s even more glorious), loose limbed and gimlet eyed, flirty and fierce, Tank Girl with a Proton Pack.
It is true that the performers deserve a better plot than they are given here. We have a movie that is a loose retread of the 1984 film, without quite having the nerve to tread on the toes of the original. In fact, that’s what’s required: a basic lack of respect for the first version. There are some very cute kisses with Ghostbusters (1984) – a few establishing shots almost exactly replicate their original counterpoints, and in one sequence, Wigg gets to channel her inner Rick Moranis when slammed up against a window of a restaurant full of disbelieving diners. In the end, though, there is too much reverence, and the cameos (both human and spiritual) become wearying, although the best is saved until last (hidden inside the closing credits) and Bill Murray’s appearance appears specifically designed to enrage the haters. Elsewhere, however, the looking-back references suggest that these Ghostbusters aren’t allowed to stand on their own eight feet.
And make no mistake: they are the Ghostbusters. This is scary in all the right places, and packed full of excellent lines. The humour seems somewhat broader than 1984 (but, hell, that’s a weak claim: the first movie is full of green gloop and dick jokes) but generally the gags are very tightly scripted, some of them betraying a SNL DNA – Chris Hemsworth is spectacularly funny, but it’s difficult to believe that anyone could be that dumb and still live, baby soft skin or no. Having said that, the character’s stupidity becomes about something bigger than the film (yes, I’m being serious). If the secretary was another woman, it would present narrative problems – since Patty has essentially walked off the street and been elevated to Ghostbuster, why wouldn’t the male Annie Potts? (yes: Patty has specialist knowledge regarding the history of New York, but it’s still a lot to deal with in a few lines of dialogue). Plus, when Kevin pulls a Louis Tulley, it would compel the four women to beat up on another woman, which isn’t exactly where this film needs to be right now. So, we’re left with the sexy-beefcake-there’s-no-way-he-could-be-that-dumb problem. And actually, aside from a cute bit of baiting those who want to cry reverse racism, it’s a clever bit of scripting: by having him so dumb, and having Wigg’s character so hot and heavy on him, it removes almost all agency from him (side note: it’s important that Wigg is simply lustful about him, rather than falling in love, as is the fact that none of the Ghostbusters’ significant others – if they have any – is really mentioned. In so many quiet little ways is this film subtly revolutionary). Removing agency from Kevin isn’t a ‘see how you dudes like it’ move’, but rather a response to the fact that audiences are generally not yet able to cope with a movie starring four women with a capable and sensible man who won’t solve their problems for them (it’s why the man-splaining gag: ‘That’s exactly what we already do here’ is there).
A lot of the gags will reward multiple viewings (there’s about four smuggled in as throwaway dialogue even before we get to the opening credits), and there’s a great line about a long dead curator. A lot is said about the easy quotability of the first film, but there’s actually not that much to mine, whereas here there are many sublime jokes that pepper the action throughout (and anyway, if you really want a 80s Bill Murray film that’s endlessly quotable, obviously that’s Tootsie. How did you not know that?).
The Big Bad is never truly a threat (although there’s enough evidence both in and outside the film to suggest that that’s precisely the point), and indeed if there’s anything to suggest that this movie can never capture the ecto-glow nostalgia of the original, it’s not the switching gender of the cast, but that one supporting character has irreversibly changed. Because if Ghostbusters is about anything, it’s about New York. And the city that never sleeps is no longer the scummy, glorious big apple it was before Mayor Rudy came along and showed those bitches how we gentrify things downtown. This NY is cleaner, sharper. Generally that’s true for the CGI effects also, with an electric chair victim and a ghastly Thanksgiving Parade being the highlights. We could have stood to have seen more practical effects, however. On that note, the ‘true fans’ may have a point.
Far from four women destroying Ghostbusters, they are the energy and fizz that saves it. It’s notable that there are few sequences where the team are publicly celebrated (as happens several times in the original movie), and indeed the gang are almost constantly derided and dismissed by the media. After they have undeniably saved the world, the mayor’s office asks them to keep a low profile, and it’s hard to dismiss the idea being discussed is that girls being allowed to play in the sandbox that has been denied them so long comes with a certain amount of apology. But, now they’re here to save the world, and they no longer have anything to prove. So here’s a prediction to really piss off the fanboys: within the next ten years, there will be more female led Ghostbusters movies than boys ones. And you know what that means? Their Ghostbusters 2 will be better than your Ghostbusters 2.