Ghostbusters is funny, boisterous, exuberant and in places spectacular. It features comedy, action and respect for its audience. The four protagonists, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) are warm, rounded and have a variety of motivations, including knowledge, creativity and belonging. And while Paul Feig’s remake pays homage to the legacy of the franchise (including some sly cameos by original cast members), it also stakes its own territory with verve and aplomb. While it is far from perfect, it is a perfectly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.
The misogynistic trolling that preceded this film highlights the need for major blockbusters with female leads whose gender is not an issue. Four men busting the paranormal causes no controversy; therefore neither should four women. The problems with the film can be laid squarely at the feet of co-writer/director Paul Feig. Feig has great comic skills in terms of slapstick set pieces – the Ghostbusters trying out new equipment is a highlight – as well as wacky character banter such as the idiocy of the team’s secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). Feig is less confident with large-scale action sequences, which other directors such as Joss Whedon and Shane Black tackle with grandeur while still maintaining a comedic edge. The finale of Ghostbusters is probably its weakest movement, as all hell literally breaks loose and the film veers unevenly between action and comedy. This can leave the viewer yearning for the sharpness of the inter-character moments when the film is at its most laugh out loud funny.
Feig’s weaknesses aside, his approach to mainstream filmmaking is to be applauded. Over the course of his career, closely tied to the rise of Melissa McCarthy, Feig has taken several genres and stocked them with female characters. His most accomplished film, Bridesmaids, is a romantic comedy, long associated with female audiences. However, entries in this genre often focus as much if not more on the male characters, whereas Bridesmaids focuses squarely on the women with the men very peripheral. The Heat is a buddy cop comedy, which would typically centre on male characters, as would the genre of Spy, but Feig demonstrates that these narratives work just as well with women. The success of these Feig/McCarthy collaborations demonstrates the commercial viability of mainstream movies with women as central characters, and Ghostbusters continues this trend. Now if a majority of studio executives would accept this empirical reality, wouldn’t that be a positive step towards equality?