After months of unfounded online resentment, the most disappointing part of Paul Feig’s reboot is that it’s not nearly good enough to definitively silence the premature and misogynistic haters.
About 15 minutes into the Ghostbusters reboot, Leslie Jones leads Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon through a subway station in order to show them where she discovered a ghost the other day. They come across a graffiti artist, who Jones, an employee at the station, tries to shoo away, but this altercation’s occurred often enough that the tagger can “pretend” not to hear her as he finishes what is eventually revealed to be the iconic Ghostbusters logo. Wiig, McCarthy and McKinnon marvel at it for a moment, but Jones isn’t having it: “That ain’t art!” she exclaims. “Y’all just reinforcing him!” Unfortunately, this line of dialogue perfectly summarized my feelings towards a film that was polarizing before its release, and promises to continue to be so after.
Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t give a damn about the original Ghostbusters (1984). In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sharing this so I can sneak in a line somewhere about how, because I have no affiliation to its predecessor, it’s impossible for me to be misogynistic if I dislike the modern, female version; feel free to draw your own conclusions on my social values. If anything, the reboot should consider itself lucky—just look at how nostalgia ruined my enjoyment of a perfectly fine movie like Finding Dory. That’s not to say I went into the new Ghostbusters expecting to like it: it’s a broad comedy, perhaps my least favorite film genre, and it’s written and directed by Paul Feig, whose movies I’d best describe as punchline-packed and pointless (for what it’s worth, I made out with my high school girlfriend throughout most of Bridesmaids, found Spy to be a pile of garbage with few worthwhile moments, and have yet to see The Heat). But, as a lover of film, as well as things that definitively silence anti-egalitarians, I was certainly rooting for this film. So what went wrong? How about a brief, spoiler-free plot synopsis first.
After an employee of an historic house asks Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) to investigate a supernatural event, she realizes her chance at tenure is in jeopardy, thanks to the book that led the man to find her, which she wrote years ago in an attempt to prove ghosts exist. Fearing the dean won’t take her seriously if her belief is revealed, Erin visits her co-author and former best friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who’s continued to hunt for ghosts with a new partner, Dr. Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon). Abby agrees to take the book offline if Erin joins them on a paranormal mission to the historic house, where the three encounter a ghost and document it on camera. The video goes viral, and their respective institutions fire the scientists (as if they only saw the video where the women claimed to see the ghost, rather than the footage of the ghost itself), who resolve to hunt ghosts regardless; they rent some office space, hire an empty-headed hunk as their secretary (Chris Hemsworth), meet Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), and head to the subway station for the scene mentioned earlier, in which they learn someone is attempting to transport ghosts from the paranormal world to theirs. No one believes them, so it’s up to these four to save the city from the supernatural.
The most important question to ask after any comedy is always, “Is it funny?” Though full of jokes, the humor in Ghostbusters is comprised mostly of uninspired gags and mediocre one-liners; very little is a product of engaging, individual characterizations, but rather caricatures that feel underdeveloped. Though there are a few worthy bits—such as Holtzman’s firearm fetish and very occasionally Kevin Beckman’s (Chris Hemsworth) dimwittedness—the majority of the comedy is not memorable and reliant on a viewer’s ability to shut down all brain activity that isn’t necessary for survival. But don’t expect anything too similar to Feig’s previous three films, all of which are rated R, as Ghostbusters barely even deserves it’s PG-13 rating—take out the few curses and this is pretty much a family friendly project. If you happen to like the jokes, though, count yourself lucky—you’ll certainly get a lot of them.
Unfortunately, the comedy’s overbearing nature comes at a price, as it disallows for even a morsel of intricate storytelling. The film’s only subplot blandly sets up its antagonist, Rowan North (Neil Casey), who plans to incite an apocalypse by transporting ghosts from their world to ours; this is done in a manner that is so void of originality and relatable character motivation that the movie would be better without him. This sentiment is true of the protagonists as well: pick one, pluck her from the film, and the story remains the same, making it feel as though the only reason there are four of them is because there were that many in the original. After the other three absorbed her lines (easy work when every line is a punchline), you wouldn’t even know that she was missing. There’s certainly a few attempts at differentiating them, such as Patty’s knowledge of the city, but this movie is so rooted in a culture in which cell phones have GPS that it hardly feels vital. Feig’s lazy attempts to install individualized character arcs in the final few minutes—such as Jillian’s toast about how she didn’t have friends before the Ghostbusters, and Erin promising Abby she won’t leave her twice—only serve to further frustrate, as it becomes clear the opportunity was available had the screenwriters (Feig co-wrote this with Katie Dippold) put in an iota of legitimate legwork.
Just like Feig’s previous work, Ghostbusters is an action-comedy, but, also like his previous work, the action, though easy to follow, is not particularly inspiring or (as was the case with Spy) funny. While good enough to support the film’s whimsical nature, the CGI doesn’t feel like the product of a $144 million budget, and it’s mostly showcased in the climactic set piece (in which Kate McKinnon gets a moderately badass 15 seconds). If you’ve seen Feig’s other films, it won’t come as a surprise to find his bland framing and contrast-less lighting here, which keep him from standing out on a pure aesthetic basis from every other broad comedy. But the real problem visually is in the editing, as Feig and co-editors Melissa Bretherton and Brent White manage to undermine the film’s star power by cutting as frequently as possible, occasionally even multiple times in the middle of very brief lines. There can be no questioning the natural comedic talents of the four leads, and thus the hyperactive editing speaks to something gone wrong during production that needed fixing in post; but it’s hard to imagine this was the case for these talented actresses, which makes the editing feel all the more confounding and unnecessary.
This is all to say that it’s okay to be a feminist and dislike this film: it’s not particularly funny, has a forgettable and underdeveloped storyline, lacks the ability to evoke sympathy, and isn’t much in the way of an action flick. Reboot or not, this movie deserved to be made because of the social commentary it generated, even before its release, but the end result isn’t something that definitively silences online misogynists who can hide behind their keyboards and continue to espouse socially inappropriate values, and the film does little in offering support to those who swore to defend it before they even saw it. And that’s the real disgrace behind Ghostbusters; those who were die-hard fans of this film because of what it represented socially, rather than its inspiration, deserved something much, much better than this, and for that Paul Feig should be ashamed.
Grade: 2/10 or D