Let’s be honest. The new Ghostbusters film has its share of problems.
Beyond the controversy that’s plagued it since it was announced, the actual film starts to fall apart around its midpoint.
The story comes to almost a dead halt the second Bill Murray turns up onscreen in an extended cameo as a skeptic who aims to bring down the Ghostbusters, and it never really recovers from that setback, despite a gigantic climax.
What’s more, it’s clear that director Paul Feig doesn’t have a lot of comfort with directing the kinds of massive special effects–heavy action sequences that modern blockbuster filmmaking requires. The action sequences are slack and not structured for maximum emotional impact — as when one character makes an incredible save in the big climactic fight against the ghosts, and it’s not even clear where she came from.
Perhaps most egregiously, the film’s improv-heavy comedy style leads to long stretches of screen time where nothing much of note happens, other than the actors bantering back and forth. More and more comedies take this as their style, and more and more comedies turn logy and flat because of it.
And yet I would give anything to see a sequel to this movie, hopefully one with a stronger, tighter script that didn’t feel obliged to loop in a bunch of cameos (even if some of those cameos were fun).
Why? Because this film absolutely nailed the single most important thing a new Ghostbusters movie needed to get right: casting.
I would follow these four Ghostbusters to the ends of the earth
Many of the flaws I listed above also apply to the original Ghostbusters from 1984, a slightly too shaggy, slightly scruffy action-comedy with a great cast that made everything that much funnier just from their mere presence. That movie had Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson — to say nothing of Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, and Rick Moranis in important supporting roles.
Thus, any reboot or remake has to compete with a terrific comedic ensemble cast that has lived on in its fans’ memory. It has to find a cast that compares favorably — but not one that immediately makes fans think the various new cast members are trying to riff on the original characters.
That’s why I’ve always found the decision to make the cast of the reboot all women such a smart one. It immediately gets you to stop wondering, “Hey, who’s the Dan Aykroyd of this group?” and focus far more on the individual performers.
And what’s often missed is how well the new cast members’ various energies contrast with each other. Kate McKinnon has been singled out, with good reason, for her unrestrained, hilariously strange performance.
But she’s nearly matched by Leslie Jones as the one Ghostbuster who didn’t realize ghosts even existed until she met one. Jones gives a similarly outsize performance, but in a different way from McKinnon, letting the film offer two very different but equally energetic performances, one quiet and weird and the other boisterous and gleeful.
Also perhaps not getting its due is just how well they’re balanced by the more restrained performances from Melissa McCarthy and especially Kristen Wiig.
The two have been comedic scene stealers in other films — and McCarthy has made a career of playing over-the-top characters — but here, their relationship needs to feel genuine in order for the film to work. That means scaling back to something more human-size, to provide a center amid the chaos, and the two are able to get laughs while also offering nuance.
And, of course, there are plenty of other comedic ringers in the cast, especially Chris Hemsworth as a doltish receptionist the Ghostbusters hire to (mostly not) answer their phone. Hemsworth excels in the very silly role, providing the film with another comedic release valve — one who can be just unbelievable enough in his utter vapidity to allow the movie to wink at its audience every so often about how crazy the universe it takes place in is.
This can’t overcome the film’s occasional story problems, or the fact that the script seems slack in places. But good casting can keep viewers engaged throughout rough patches, and that’s something Ghostbusters proves over and over again.