Main cast: Melissa McCarthy (Abby Yates), Kristen Wiig (Erin Gilbert), Kate McKinnon (Jillian Holtzmann), Leslie Jones (Patty Tolan), Neil Casey (Rowan North), Cecily Strong (Jennifer Lynch), Andy García (Mayor Bradley), and Chris Hemsworth (Kevin Beckman)
Director: Paul Feig
It’s actually quite interesting in a “That’s so absurd!” way how this Ghostbusters reboot managed to get so much press that has nothing to do with its quality and everything to do with manufactured virtue signaling and chest thumping from both sides of the fence. If you love this movie, you are a shill or a social justice clickbait-writer who had spent the last few months defending this movie due to “Girl power!”, so there is no way you will pan this movie. If you hate this movie, you are a woman-hating virgin basement-dweller. The truth lies somewhere between the hyperbole flying from both extremes of the spectrum: were not for the fact that this movie is piggybacking on the Ghostbusters brand, it would have been just another incompetent big, dumb blockbuster flick. The anti-male sexism is nowhere close to the exaggerated claims of the naysayers, while the female empowerment thing is just as exaggerated from the supporters.
If you are not aware of the premise of Ghostbusters at all, well, this one is a reboot, so it is an origins story. Erin Gilbert, who hopes to get a tenure at a more prestigious university, is dismayed when her high school best friend and former collaborator Abby Yates has, without Erin’s knowledge or permission, made available on Amazon, in both digital and print, the book on paranormal and ghostly theories they once collaborated on. Erin no longer believes that ghosts exist, and she also fears that her tenure application would be shredded if the universities find out about the book. She goes to find Abby, who is now working as a third-tier academia in a schlocky university of dubious reputation, to get her to pull down the book.
Along the way, she ends up tagging along with Abby and her assistant, the self-professed crazy inventor-technician Jillian Holtzmann, to investigate a haunted museum. They end up meeting their first ever ghost, resulting in Erin enthusiastically yelling into Jillian’s camcorder that ghosts really exist and it’s all so exciting. Oops, that video ends up being viral, and Erin ends up getting fired. She ends up joining Anny and Jillian in forming an independent research entity, and they are soon joined by Patty Tolan, who finds a ghost in the subway tunnel. Oh, and Kevin Beckman, a vain and impossibly dumb cute guy whom they hire as a receptionist because Erin practically ovulates each time she sees him. The ladies also discover that someone is somehow triggering pretty nasty ghosts into manifesting in various locations in New York City, and they must stop that person before that person ends up doing far worse things.
Now, I love the Ghostbusters that first came out in 1984, as well as the far less critically beloved sequel, and while I do try to approach this Ghostbusters on a clean slate and open mind, I can’t help comparing it to the 1984 original. Keep that in mind when you read this review.
Now, let’s talk about the good things. The ladies actually acquit themselves very well here, as more often than not, their delivery of the many, many bad one-liners here make those one-liners work far better than they should. I also like how Patty Tolan, unlike Winston Zeddemore, makes a bigger impression and feels more like an equal member of the Ghostbusters instead of just that token black member that tags along with the three white guys. You can argue that the characters here are all stereotypes, and Leslie Jones, especially, is just playing yet again her loud, brassy black woman shtick, but in this case, that shtick works very well for Patty – she’s hard to forget, unlike poor Winston who almost always ends up being known as “that black guy with Ray, Egon, and Peter”.
Now, the bad. The script is basically the slower, short bus sibling of that of the 1984 flick. The beauty of the original Ghostbusters is that the pacing was impressively precise; things moved at a quick yet coherent pace, and every scene felt important or necessary. Here, however, things take what seems like forever to get going. There are some PG-13 one-liners here, but on the whole, the comedy feels very juvenile. The first half relies on our ladies acting all incompetent for slapstick humor – girl power, indeed – and there are also the cringe-inducing “white people dancing and lip-syncing” moments. I don’t know why comedies with a mostly or all-female cast always feel the need to show scenes of women dancing and lip-syncing awkwardly, but there you go.
The original movie is also pretty brilliant in how subversive it can be. Remember the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? That made a fantastic Godzilla-style villain because of the contrast between its cuddly nature and its malevolent smirk. Also, the camerawork cunningly made sure that every shot of that big fellow was from an angle that made it seem as if the shot was seen through the eyes of someone either fleeing in terror on the streets or being held hapless on a floor at eye level with that creature. That technique made the big fellow’s rampage a scary one. Here, there is a similar big giant thing rampaging in New York, but the shots are the usual aerial-view style, and the CGI in this movie on the whole is even more cartoon-like and fake than it should be, so the end result is a rather underwhelming climax.
For a movie made up to be about girl power, this one also ends up making the Ghostbusters seem more kooky and silly, and their victory seems to happen more by chance than any premeditated planning. Unlike Egon, Erin seems more scatterbrained than smart, and it’s hard to take Abby in large doses as Melissa McCarthy’s take on a gender bendered Ray Stantz is more loud and obnoxious than earnest in a bumbling, endearing way.
And this movie’s treatment of Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin is perplexingly more demeaning and insulting than the way Janine was treated in the original movie. Egon was smitten with Janine, but Erin makes no pretense that she only likes Kevin for his looks, and there are plenty of cracks made about how Kevin is hired solely for the eye candy. All that would have made the usual proponents of this movie – who also see sexual objectification and misogyny at every angle, real or imagined – foam at the mouth and scream rancid murder if Kevin had been Janine. The end credits see Kevin doing a stripper dance while shirtless shots of him follow. While I personally have no objections to this, I find it amusing at how hypocritical the marketing of this movie can be. It claims to embrace diversity – when all it really does is to just turn the main characters into women – and is better than those movies that woman-hating dudebros love, but it has no problems sexually objectifying men and portraying women as clumsy, slapstick ninnies for laughs.
But that is Ghostbusters in a nutshell. It’s a clumsy, plodding, and dumb movie that is saved by the ladies in the main roles, whose delivery elevate the cringe-inducing script into something better than it is, and thus, making the movie more entertaining than it otherwise would be. Which isn’t much, but still, that’s a good thing considering how bad this movie may end up being with a different cast. The shallow side of me doesn’t mind the presence of Kevin here, and the dancing during the credits is a nice bonus considering that they put that dude in tight jeans and all, but does it have to be Chris Hemsworth? He may have a nice body, but I am constantly distracted by his neck which seems disproportionately ostrich-like compared to the rest of him. Is Chris Evans too expensive?
At any rate, this is one movie that one can take or leave – it’s good enough for some fluffy entertainment when one wants to just switch off the brain for a while and just have fun, but then again, there are many movies out there at the moment that can do the same thing too, arguably better. I’d give this one two oogies because I feel that it really comes off poorly compared to its predecessors, but folks who are unfamiliar with those older movies may find it a passable three-oogie flick.