There’s been so much MRM-ish vitriol, so much “How very dare the Ghostbusters people!” by now that it’s all a reviewer can do not to belabor the point even further. But such is the earth-shattering importance of a female-driven summer movie tent pole—one that treads on filmic holy ground, no less—amid global chaos. And so, who in fact are you going to call?
Paul Feig, for starters. The Bridesmaids helmer was a smart if obvious choice to direct the female-led reboot of the beloved 1984 classic. Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold are quick to poke at the online misogyny and the gender disparity of Hollywood’s time-honored boys club. Their Ghostbusters is self-aware while not at all bitter, copping to the unfounded hatred hurled its way by critics who doth protest, “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” as Leslie Jones reads of one YouTube naysayer early in the film.
Jones, who plays Patty Tolan, a former MTA worker turned tongue-in-cheek “ghost girl,” is one among an ensemble of casting masterstrokes that, again, gave much hope for the reboot. The current Saturday Night Live breakout co-stars with her sketch comedy colleague Kate McKinnon, SNL alumna Kristin Wiig and frequent host Melissa McCarthy. If you must draw reductive lines in this reboot—once more, not remake—Wiig’s buttoned-up scientist is the Harold Ramis of the group, McCarthy’s more manic smartypants the Dan Akroyd, McKinnon’s sarcastic oddball the Bill Murray, and Jones’ everyday New Yorker-turned-fourth member the Ernie Hudson (an unfortunate toeing of established racial lines—could she have also been on their intellectual playing field this time around?).
Wiig is Erin Gilbert, a professor at Columbia nearing the end of her tenure track, whose career security goes up in flames with the embarrassing reappearance (thanks, Amazon) of her long-buried book on the paranormal. She co-wrote the derided tome way back when with her since-estranged pal, Abby Yates (McCarthy), who has in turn taken up with McKinnon’s eccentric engineering genius, Jillian Holtzmann. But no sooner do reports start coming their way of spooky happenings all over the Big Apple do the old friends reunite, Holtzmann and, soon, Tolan along for the adventures. To really drive home the gendered script-flipping, the crew hires a dumb-as-rocks piece of eye candy, giddily played by Chris Hemsworth, to handle secretarial duties.
In shows of approval, members of the original cast make cameos ranging from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it posthumous nod (a bronzed bust of Ramis) to a few seconds (Akroyd) to a couple of scenes (Murray, in Very Murray Fashion)—the only one missing here is Rick Moranis (who apparently turned it down, go figure). Feig and co. make reference after reference to the first film that feel both familiar and fresh, and the top-notch special effects will look unsurprisingly newfangled for fans of the original in particular. That said, the 3D component is of little benefit here, comparison or not.
And that’s where I find it difficult to continue. Because there’s surprisingly, unfortunately, little of great benefit here. Not really.
It’s tough to be so tough on the new Ghostbusters because I really wanted to like it, and because the haterade was so woefully plentiful upon the first breath of this reboot. It’s hard to neg on a relentlessly good-natured film that so playfully tells the sexist contingent to, in the words of Steve Higgins’ community college dean, “suck it” (the quirky B- and C-list cameos here are arguably more enjoyable than the obvious ones). But if we’re judging this by the same standards as any [male-driven] movie—and we should be—Ghostbusters is little more than… fine. And that’s a damn shame.
A diehard fan who grew up with the original (and its underrated 1989 sequel), I was heartened by Feig’s hiring, and the casting of a comedic arsenal with the chops and chemistry to rival that of their predecessors. The reboot had about as much going for it as seemed possible to silence, or at least shush, the skeptics. The reality, though, is something that feels entirely serviceable and on occasion fun but often joyless, like it was good enough just to cast four women in traditionally male roles. These ass-kickers of ghouls/esteemed academics happen to be female. Cool, nonchalant girl power, but so what? The execution is a curious snooze, even clinical.
The back-and-forth bickering between Wiig and McCarthy grows tedious, fast. Wiig, so adept at playing the put-upon straight woman, here veers dangerously close to a Debbie Downer buzzkill, while McCarthy reins in her typically R-rated shtick—and more notably, her infectious energy. The PG-13 rating—no doubt a studio mandate—is perfectly acceptable, but why do the two main headliners get so resoundingly eclipsed by McKinnon, whose deliriously weird madcap scientist handily steals the movie; Jones, who makes the most of the “sassy” stereotype/persona she’s already elevated in memorable spots on SNL; and even Hemsworth, a game comedic performer who matches the leads note for note?
A packed preview audience seemed similarly confused. Half the jokes fell flat—met by awkward silences when you know Heig and co. thought they’d kill—and others simply played as lazy (the fart joke of male domain becomes a queef joke, hey-o!, though once again McKinnon saves it). As for the soundtrack, producers would’ve done better to leave the original Ray Parker Jr. hit (excerpted here) alone, or simply let Missy Elliott handle the new theme rather than pair her with… Fall Out Boy. More inspired is a moment featuring an old DeBarge tune-turned-pun, a rare belly laugh due as much in part for its ’80s-era nostalgia as its out-of-the-blue randomness.
Everything about Ghostbusters acknowledges the fact it has something to prove, and if the $145-million film makes a profit, well, I suppose that’s all the industry really cares about. But much of the charm of both the original and its 2016 reboot is a lack of cynicism that the previous statement shoots to the bowels of wherever Zuul and his otherworldly ilk originate. I’d rather tell the haters to suck it with something that’s less workmanlike and more than just “okay.”
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Paul Feig and Katie Dippold
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
Release Date: July 15, 2016
Amanda Schurr is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a culture writer in Portland, Ore. You can follow her on Twitter.