Ghostbusters – Updated, respectful and loads of fun

ghostbusters 2016

Let's get this out of the way early - the new Ghostbusters film isn't as good as the original. It was never really trying to be and, in all honesty, whether you were looking forward to it or in the camp decrying its mere existence you probably weren't expecting it to trump the 1984 classic. Not even Ghostbusters II, fully loaded with the original cast, managed to improve upon its predecessor. The new Ghostbusters had to be something that spoke to the people of 2016 and it really is that. You've only got to read Hadley Freeman's Life Moves Pretty Fast to understand why the film industry won't make the movies we loved in the 80s again. The landscape has dramatically changed. These Ghostbusters are updated, respectful and loads of fun.

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Nostalgia is a blurring force. The original Ghostbusters always has and always will deliver me to a joyous place, but it's also like a moment in time captured in a jar. Sparks flicker throughout each scene stamped with memories and half-thoughts. Some are crystal clear, others flutter around like a dream where you remember a feeling but not what caused it. It's magic. And what do we really mean by better anyway? In his book, The World According to Star Wars, Cass Sunstein tries to pick apart what makes one film explode into a phenomenon while others flop. It comes down to a lot more than great script, stellar performances and ample budgets, though they certainly help. Sometimes it's sheer luck that the right film comes along at the right time; tapping into a psyche that captures the minds and hearts of everyone who sees it. Word of mouth is more influential than we give it credit for, too. The original Ghostbusters harnessed all that. That's why we still care about it 32 years on. With the new film, the legacy of what Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd wrote gets an exciting new chapter. But just like any addition to a series, if you want to bow out early and gracefully, that's just fine. You're not obliged to take part.

What was most surprising about the new film and what took a little adjustment is that this isn't an expanded universe. Cameos from the '84 cast come in the form of new characters we may or may not see again, though their appearances definitely make your heart skip a beat. Stay alert and you'll get a big grin out of the Harold Ramis tribute, too. He remains the franchise's figurehead. Wink too much at the audience and you risk spending the entire film breaking the fourth wall, doing little else. What Paul Feig and Katie Dippold have done so well with Ghostbusters is let us know they're thinking of the past without sacrificing the present characters they're trying to establish. The balance is just right. There are Easter eggs but they don't overshadow.

The new troupe is made up of two physics experts in Erin and Abby, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy respectively. Their broken friendship is repaired when they have cause to cross paths again after going on very different career routes. They're joined by engineer extraordinaire Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), whose loose wiring extends beyond the explosive contraptions she builds to support their busting endeavours. The collective is sealed by the arrival of Patty (Leslie Jones). Her no-nonsense approach to their fledgling business as someone who knows New York City better than anyone is butter to their academic bread. The revolving harmony and deliberate disquiet between them is beautifully familiar. What's new is Janice's replacement on reception. Gone is the legendary spikiness. Chris Hemsworth's Kevin, the dumbest puppy in the litter, is so adorable in his stupidity it's impossible not to want to take him home, pat his head and keep him safe from harm.

ghostbusters - chris hemsworth

Plot-wise the film roughly follows the track you might expect. What starts out as a slight increase in paranormal activity soon becomes a much bigger, slimier problem. Only the Ghostbusters know what's coming and against the orders of the Mayor's Office - with PR and spin doctors so 2016 it aches - they seek out the villains to put things right. There are a few moments during that middle section of puzzle-solving where things start to drag. You might find yourself wanting to dial up the pace. The bad-guy too was a touch underdeveloped. But what they take their time over in the first half of the film is rectified as they head into its climax. It's a satisfyingly sticky tangle of ghostly destruction, impressive graphic effects, heartwarming teamwork and rolling comedy. It's not the perfect film by any means, but it leaves you exiting the cinema with a big smile on your face. That's all I ever want from anything emblazoned with the Ghostbusters logo, along with the desire to see more. The post-credits bonus scene hints that this won't be the last we see of the ladies.

Speaking of which, tempting as it is to ignore the elephant in the room, we should close the book on the bizarre and unsavoury campaign that's exhaustingly raged against this film since its conception. There are those who genuinely didn't like the idea of a new Ghostbusters film at all, some who only wanted to see the original cast or nothing, and others who weren't enthused because they don't subscribe to that very specific SNL brand of comedy. Even I had a flicker of sadness knowing I'd never see the original cast as they were again, though I put that to bed with logic.

What we can't pretend didn't happen was the upsetting and disturbing amount of venom spouted online every time the film was mentioned. Legions of people, largely men, went into sinister autopilot, trotting out the same tired statements that the film was destined to bomb because they had no intention of wasting their money on it. Anyone who offered their excitement was briskly shouted down and told to take their unwanted feminist manifesto elsewhere. I was regularly chastised for daring to give the film a chance and for looking forward to it. Boys who could hardly remember the 1990s told me I was unwelcome in discussions on a film that had painted itself into my young memories but not theirs. It was if they'd turned their hatred into a full-time job.

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The irony is that the film is incredibly feminist, just not in the way those screaming over alleged ruined childhoods courtesy of a female cast might think. Despite their fears that every moment would be laden with some militant man-hating agenda, there are almost no references in the film to the Ghostbusters being women. They're scientists, engineers, transport workers and ghostbusters who just happen to be women. They don't have to yell about it because that's normality. That's what equality looks like. That's what Feminism looks like. It's thrilling to know that girls will be watching and knowing they can dress up as the Ghostbusters for Halloween or buy action figures that look like them, but it's even nicer that they might see themselves as future scientists. That's important.

This isn't a movie for women and girls, it's a film for everyone where women happen to be in the lead roles. It also happens to be a hugely entertaining and contemporary film that sits nicely alongside the two instalments that came long before it. And you really feel that those responsible for the first two have brushed it with their fingers. Go with the intention of enjoying yourself and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. See it hoping you'll hate it and you're only wasting your own time. If it's not for you, leave it to those who had fun and find something else to love. The original, in all its retro glory, remains entirely unsullied by this latest chapter. The childhoods of 2016, however, may just be sprinkled with the same magic we felt for the franchise in the 80s. But that's for the kids to decide for themselves. They need memories too.

kristen wiig meets girls ghostbusters