Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Lesley Jones and Kate McKinnon
Director: Paul Feig
Remakes and reboots of old franchises are always tricky. There is an established market that executives can exploit for easy money, but the creative team behind a bad product always get the blame. There is definitely a challenge when rebooting Ghostbusters, a classic 1980s comedy, starring, and written by towering talent Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. And boy oh boy the internet certainly didn’t take the pressure off director Paul Feig, writing partner Katie Dippold, and the new cast, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. I avoided the drama that surrounded this film. I took a look at the hate that it was getting, just from the announcement that it was going to be an all-female cast. I didn’t get involved, as a wise man once said “haters are going to hate”. However I am afraid to admit, that while I didn’t hate the new Ghostbusters I most certainly didn’t like it.
The basic premise, like the original Ghostbusters, centres on 3 scientists and someone who just wants to be part of the club who are researching the paranormal or bustin’ ghosts if you prefer. More specifically though in the 2016 version Dr Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is up for tenure at a prestigious university in the physics department. However a ‘ghost from her past’ in the form of Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy) who co-authored a book which posits the existence of paranormal phenomenon, threatens Erin’s chances at tenure. Erin tracks Abby down to a technical college where she finds her working with eccentric engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) who together with a MTA employee Patty Tolan (Jones) discovers a conspiracy to unleash the dead on New York City and the rest of the world.
Before explaining why I did not like the film, I must preface this article with a spoiler warning. I will try to avoid them if I can but in order to articulate the specifics as to why this film fails as a movie, I must refer to key character traits and story moments in order to do so. You have been warned.
The major problem I had with the film is that nothing felt earned. What I mean by that is the film was trying for some character moments and plot points that felt disjointed, underwhelming and sudden. A key example is the dynamic between Erin and Abby. It is clear at the beginning of the film that Abby and Erin have fallen out for a long time, but the film never explains why they aren’t friends anymore, though says often that they were. We never see those old tensions play out; it is like the event that drove them apart for so long was completely forgotten about. It would have been great to have these tensions revealed, put aside, then to have them rise up again to tear apart the group only to have the two put aside their differences and work to save the city. But because none of these interesting character elements are set up or used at all and thus the important character moments that the movie tries for falls flat. So when Erin saves Abby at the end of the film, it lacks that punch the filmmakers where clearly driving for. Nothing has changed for these characters, they have not gone on a journey, so in the most exciting and tense moment of the film, I don’t feel anything; because the characters are not real breathing things, they are Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy against a green screen. The pacing, editing and structure of the film, didn’t allow for any investment, when beats seemed to be happening out of nowhere, or far too early, it felt lazy and rushed.
Similarly, Erin has past experience with a ghost, however when she tells someone about it, no one believers her, except for Abby; this is key motivation for Erin, in everything that she does in the film. It would have been great to have a prologue seeing this issue that she had, as it would have given greater impetuous to a confrontation with the film’s also bullied antagonist. However this is underutilised, as it provides none of the character tension that it should, between those who are just excited to see ghosts and Erin who is clearly ready to go out of her way to prove ghosts are real, to fatal consequences. This again could be used to great effect to develop some rather flat and boring characters. But instead all we got was some slightly stilted improv comedy that you can see in almost all modern American comedies.
This brings us to the humour, which again falls flat. This is inexcusable, the actresses involved in the film are talented and smart and more importantly have proven that they can be funny. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are current SNL cast members, Kristen Wiig has multiple film roles in standout comedies like the really odd Welcome to Me and while I do not like Melisa McCarthey in the films that I have seen her in I can appreciate that she certainly has amazing talent to be as popular as she is in an overly masculine business. But there was none of the pop and sparkle that one would expect from women at the top of their profession; which crippled the character chemistry and film in my opinion. Also the references to the hate that the internet had for the film just seemed petty.
It felt like all of the important scenes had been cut to provide references to the previous film. While I understand that the filmmakers were caught in a catch 22 situation, they could have been handled with more tact and subtlety to allow for greater independence of the new movie. All the cameos where extremely distracting and sucked up the screen time causing the film to come to a screeching halt as it nodded and winked at the audience going, “hey do you remember, this was in Ghostbusters!”. I do remember, and it just made me want to watch the original Ghostbusters.
I really wanted to like this film, and I did in parts. I found myself enjoying Kate McKinnon’s Dr. Jillian Holtzmann. She provides an energy and enthusiasm that just didn’t exist in Wiig or McCarthy, and wasn’t given to Leslie Jones, who was my third favourite character after Chris Hemsworth’s beef cake secretary Kevin and Holtzmann. I also really enjoyed some of the jokes. Early on in the film, when investigating a ghost in the subway, the team get out the prototype proton pack and there is a great exchange between a blasé Holtzmann and a more worried Gilbert. This was one of the funniest scenes in the film; great visual and verbal gags that were woven into the narrative rather than the standard stilted, single mid shot-reverse-shot that seems overly prevalent in comedy. I also loved the action scene towards the end, with the epic music, great use of slow motion and well-choreographed action, it gave me goosebumps. But then I realised that they were scientists, when did they train to be great warriors? And I was taken out of the film yet again. Again I really wanted to like the film, but its problems with lack of chemistry, poor plotting, cheap humour and references, as well as totally unearned pivotal moments prevented me from becoming truly immersed in what should have been the best comedy of the year.
As I was talking to a friend as I left the cinema, he said something that we are both afraid is going to ring true. If Ghostbusters does not do well in the box office, it is not going to be the myriad of structural problems in the film’s story and bland uninteresting characters that is going to be blamed, it is going to be the fact that it was an all-female lead cast. And it would be a shame to have less female lead general blockbusters in this day and age.
Score: 2.5 Stars (out of 5 stars)
Review by Ben Pinsent