Ghostbusters (2016), a Review

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Director – Paul Fieg

Writer – Katie Dippold, Paul Fieg

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon,  Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

When you’re out of ideas, and your studioneed quick dough, who ya gonna call? An unnecessary reboot! And so came, easily, the most divisive and controversial movie of our time. The all-new, all-female reboot of the 80’s classic; treasured by casuals and cinephiles like the world over, destined to forever be remembered as among the greatest blockbuster comedies ever made. That’s the original by the way, not the reboot. The reboot is the most disliked film trailer in the history of the internet, yet if you dislike it, you’re a misogynist who hates women, apparently. At least, that’s the internet would have you believe.  As such, when finally released, it received positive reviews from critics far too terrified to be outed as bigots. So was it honestly any good? Not particularly.

Physicists Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert are co-authors of a research book which posits the existence of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts. Gilbert has disowned the work and become a professor at Columbia Unversity while Yates continues to study the paranormal at a technical college with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann. Gilbert learns Yates has republished the book, threatening her bid for tenureat Columbia. She reunites with Yates and, in exchange for Yates removing the book from publication, reluctantly agrees to assist her and Holtzmann in a paranormal investigation. This leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters. Eventually, they run into Patty, who has had her own paranormal experience, and she joins the film.

First, I feel it appropriate to address the considerable elephant in the room. That elephant being, of course, the decision to go with an all-female band of ‘busters. Now, I’m no sexist, I firmly believe in gender equality, and am irritated when actresses like Megan Fox keep putting serious female thespians out of work for simply being stupidly attractive. I have absolutely no issue with the men being switched for women, other than one. That being the horrible, nagging,  cynical thought that it was nothing more than a marketing gimmick, designed to make the film critic-proof.

If one ‘addresses’ an issue like feminism in a blockbuster, during an era when everybody, seemingly, and quite rightfully, are crying out for a change in how females are depicted on screen, it creates a special bubble. Feminists, regardless of logic, will furiously defend the film, while critics desperate to appear millennial and PC will be terrified to call it shit, out of fear of being dismantled. Now, I must confess this issue wasn’t made any better by the obvious misognyists, who took issue with women leading a blockbuster. Those guys, however,  were the minority, and quickly, everybody who had an issue with the film were tarred with that brush, of the angry raging woman-hater.

The problem is, switching all the characters for female isn’t all that progressive. It still creates a gender separation, as we go from ‘all guy’ to ‘all girl’. Surely the common sense approach would be to go half and half, with the females as useful as the men, and no romance shoe-horned in between them.

Fiege also  makes a series of cliched mistakes that wouldn’t be out of the place in any other major release. The idea of switching the objectified hot secretary from the traditional female, to a male, in this instance Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth, may appear on the surface to be clever, but, dig a little deeper, and you release it’s not all that clever at all. Firstly, because it’s still objectification, and switching a man for a woman doesn’t eradicate the problem. If anything, it’s pretty hypocritical. Secondly, Wiig’s Gilbert is supposed to be a scientific genius, and a woman of cunning intellect worthy of respect. Yet, around Mr.Sexy Secretary, she swoons and stutters like a twelve year old girl.

So, to get this straight, in a supposedly progressive film, an intelligent woman of science is reduced to a quivering mess around a hot male. This is an issue. An issue that is exasperated by Patty playing the Token Black Woman, all ‘Sugar’ and ‘Patty got attitude’. Honestly, it wouldn’t be out of place in a 70’s blacksploitation pciture.

The script is also lazy, and features a lot of the worse tropes in contemporary American comedy. The ‘She’s gonna say this’ ‘No she ain’t’ ‘Aww damn, she said it’ style of predictable and bland humour that permeates every Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen film. We’ve seen it before, and it wasn’t funny then. Also, side-note, replacing dick jokes with vagina jokes doesn’t make anything any better. They are just as lazy and unaffecting.

Now, not all jokes fail, and there are occasional flashes of something better, but, sadly, like Family Guy, Ghostbusters never knows quite when to let a joke go. In fact, the only thing that made me truly laugh out loud was watching Bill Murray, cameoing as a paranormal skeptic, being promptly thrown out of a window by a vengeful spirit. And that’s simply because Bill Murray is a hilarious guy.

The performances are actually rather good, and three at least bring something decent to the table. Sadly, it’s a case of everybody trying to polish the proverbial turd of a script, so they don’t have a chance to truly shine. The best, for my money, was McKinnon, whose eccentric Holtzmann was fantastically fun. Being a weird guy myself, I could relate.

Wiig is also fantastic as Gilbert, bringing a stout and serious performance for the most part, playing the straight-woman to the more comedic other three. It’s just a massive shame her character was hamstrung by one minute being a strong independent women, and the next swooning over Hemsworth. She does the best she can with what she has to work with though, which, at the end of the day, is the best you can ask for from a performer.

However, I found myself irritated by both McCarthy and Jones. McCarthy simply falls into that category of people who I don’t find amusing or entertaining. After you’ve seen somebody in enough terrible roles, it’s hard to ever take them seriously again. As it was for McCarthy, who just  doesn’t do it for me. Jones simply played ‘a black woman’, which she is naturally, ergo, she didn’t really do acting at all. She’s an offensive and stupid stereotype. Nothing more, nothing less.

The visuals as well leave a lot to be desired. The cinematography is boring, and the special effects are generic and listless. There seems to be a peculiar trope that came about with the rise of CGI, where all ghosts are the same boring neon blue/green spectrum. It doesn’t matter if it’s PG fodder like Scooby-Doo or an adult horror such as Crimson Peak. They all look like the same lifeless unthreatening entities, and Ghostbusters falls into the same trap.

Now, you may have noticed, that as yet, I’m yet to make direct comparisons to the iconic original. That’s because, sadly, there just aren’t any. The plot, while vaguely similar, is far more threadbare and predictable. The leads don’t play off each other as well, and that isn’t a gender problem, it’s a scripting problem, as they are given far weaker materials to work with than the original. It’s not a contest as to which is the better movie. In fact, they’re not even in the same weight category.

Now, that’s not to say that this is a terrible film. It’s average. Entertaining enough without ever being truly enthralling. Yet, the worst thing I could possibly say about it is that it’s forgettable. It’s been maybe a week since I saw it, and I can barely recall most of the jokes or scenarios. This is a crying shame, as the first was certainly anything but forgettable. This is a cynical marketing exercise masquerading as a motion picture, and, financially, flopped as it deserved to. When you need something to watch this Halloween, I suggest you rent the original. I also sorely hope that one day soon we get a truly progressive blockbuster in terms of gender equality, without a vagina joke in sight.

 

Final Rating – 2.8

 

Joshua Moulinie