For years Sony had been trying to get a third Ghostbusters movie off the ground, mostly failing due to Bill Murray’s complete lack of interest, and when the reality that this project was never going to happen finally set in Sony switched gears into reboot mode. Now you can about count the successful remakes on one hand; for every John Carpenter’s The Thing you get a half dozen godawful Robocop remakes so when I heard they were going to remake Ghostbusters you could honestly say I was less than thrilled, but then it was announced that Sony was switching up the gender of the Ghostbuster team and I became interested. Putting some of the hottest female comics together could work, but then I saw the first trailer and began to despair all over again. So with lowered expectations, I stepped into the theatre to find out for myself, was the film as bad as that trailer led us to believe or was the negative hype unfair? Let’s take a look.
The movie opens much as the original did with a haunting, but instead of getting a group of friends leaping into action, the movie goes for an origin story as the film slowly assembles the team. Doctor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wig) is trying to get tenure at Columbia University, not an easy task when your boss is Charles Dance, and when she learns that a book she co-authored years ago, one that posited the existence of a paranormal phenomenon, has popped up on Amazon she rushes off to confront her old friend and co-author Doctor Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) in the hopes she will take it down before it jeopardizes her career. She learns that Abby never gave up on the ghost hunting gig and is currently working at a bargain basement technical college with a kooky engineer by the name of Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and through some contrived writing they rush off to check out the ghost from the movie’s opening.
I’ll give director Paul Feig credit for not trying to make his cast of female Ghostbusters carbon copies of the originals, but then he kinda of forgot to give them much in the way of identifiable characteristics at all. Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann is just a walking talking weirdo whose zany antics you will either find funny or increasingly annoying, while Kristen Wig and Mellissa McCarthy were almost interchangeable with no real defining character traits. When we first met Erin she was all about living a life of straight academia but once she re-teams with Abby the two become indistinguishable from another. The only differentiating trait this movie gives Erin is that she likes moronic beefcake Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) while Abby seems oblivious to his charms. This leads to one of the film’s key failings. It’s no secret that Hollywood is a gender-biased community; that there are more varied roles for men than there are for women has been a hard truth in the industry since its inception, but Paul Feig seems to be tackling the issue in all the wrong ways. You can have a movie where its primary characters are strong intelligent women without making all the men in the film idiots, jerks, or losers, and in this Ghostbuster remake that’s exactly what they do.
In the original Ghostbusters, the leads may have all been men but the supporting women in the film were not gender stereotypes; Annie Potts as the team’s receptionist was smart, competent and aside from a crush on Egon was a model of professionalism, but in this remake, Feig has given us Kevin, a musclebound idiot who is so dumb he makes Steve Carell character in Anchorman look brilliant by comparison. Sigourney Weaver was the original film’s love interest, but she was also a key component to the movie’s story, and she easily held her own against the likes of Bill Murray. In the case of Kevin, he is just a mouth-breathing joke machine that if removed from the movie would barely have any impact on the plot. He is briefly possessed by the film’s chief villain but as we really don’t give a crap about his character it has little to no impact structurally or emotionally.
Speaking of the remake’s villain; Rowan North (Neil Casey) is your stereotypical bullied nerd who has decided to take out his frustrations on the world by destroying it, and that is all the background we get on this character. He’s an angry little dweeb who is tired of being insulted so he wants to unleash Hell on Earth. Rowan is such an uninteresting villain that it made me long for Peter MacNicoll’s idiotic “villain” in Ghostbusters 2. How do the strong women of 2016 Ghostbusters handle such an opponent? They make cracks about his virginity and shoot him in the groin with their proton packs. The “Man Hate” in this film goes from subtext to just plain text. Even this movie’s mayor (Andy Garcia) is portrayed as an ineffectual buffoon and that it’s his female aid who is clearly running the show. I am all for having more roles for strong female characters in film but making all the men in your movie idiots or incompetent does not help; it actually undermines your case as it’s basically saying that the only way a woman can compete is if the men she’s up against are ineffectual morons.
It is said that the stature of a hero is determined by the magnitude of the villain he or she must overcome, so what is it saying when you have four women armed with nuclear-powered weapons and they’re having a hard time with this guy?
Accusations of feminism and misogyny aside this film fails because it is simply not all that funny. The original film took a group of goofball characters and put them in crazy situations while Paul Feig, on the other hand, has basically hung a collection of jokes and sight gags on a thinnest frames and called it a movie. Characters come and go with almost no believable motivation; the three Ghostbusters are joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) because she saw a ghost while at her job as a subway transit worker; why did she quit her job to hunt ghosts? Not a fucking clue. She is just included because the previous film had a black actor join the group, and because this film lacks any originality she’s also your stereotypical sassy black woman. Leslie Jones is a fine comic actor but there is was nothing in this script for her to do that was even remotely funny. Though to be fair none of the leads are given much in the way of “good” comedic moments. This film even has the nerve to throw in a fart joke but because this is a comedy starring women they turn it into a quiff joke. *sigh*
It’s no surprise that a lot of money went into the special effects for this film, and we do get more ghosts than the previous Ghostbusters films combined, but they are your generic CGI fare that we’ve seen dozens of times before, and they often look more like entries in a Disney World Halloween Parade than anything that is supposed to be scary. This does fit with the tone of this film as most of the humour is aimed at six-year-olds. Remember how funny it was when Bill Murray got slimed in the original? Well in this film Paul Feig has Kristen Wig get slimed multiple times because more equals better, right?
This isn’t the worst movie to hit theatres this year, which would be Independence Day: Resurgence and the sooner we forget that ever happened the better, but it’s not a very good one either. I’ll admit to chuckling a couple of times, and some of the action scenes where they bust an army of ghosts were well put together, but overall this film is a mess. It’s a shame that Sony tried to challenge gender roles with such films because all I can see is it making it harder for other actresses to headline big-budgeted movies. This Ghostbusters reboot is guilty of wasting comic talent with a juvenile script and of setting back gender equality thirty years.
Note: There is a moment when Kevin is possessed where he freezes all the law enforcement personnel in a dance pose, but then nothing happens. I kept expecting them to break into a musical number, but they didn’t. I’m guessing somebody pointed out that this particular gag had already been done in Jim Carrey’s The Mask and so it was cut, but if you hang around during the end credits the footage is included as a deleted scene, which is kind of new for cinemas.
Paul Feig should be ashamed of himself, not for tarnishing a classic movie as that one was already tarnished by its sequel, but for making a two hour comedy with only about ten minutes of genuine laughs.