Hands up who remembers the tidal wave of vitriol that greeted Paul Feig’s announcement that he was going to reboot Ghostbusters with an all female cast? C’mon now, it was only two years ago. I remember it quite well because of the perniciousness of the hatred. It’s hard to write a review of Feig’s movie without mentioning that phenomenon. It’s well documented if you feel like checking it out. I don’t want to speak too much of it, but it reminded me of the same brave souls who took to the internet to issue death threats against critics who slammed The Dark Knight Rises – a movie that deserved all of the criticism that came its way. On a personal level, I recall being in a crowded theater when Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was revealed to be Khan during Star Trek: Into Darkness, and a guy who was old enough to know better loudly exclaiming his displeasure with some expletives.
There’s a sense of propriety that causes certain personality types to latch onto pop culture like leeches, and somehow feel ownership. How many times do you see a Tweet composed along the lines of “you ruined my childhood!” You can almost hear the feet stamping, the hands bunching into fists, the bratty manchild at his keyboard shaking with an impotent, Rumplestiltskin-like rage. It’s clear that childhood has not yet run its course for these people – where grown ups can criticize things (even angrily) there’s something oddly unique about the self-aggrandizing temper tantrum of the keyboard warrior.
When I heard Paul Feig’s plan, it stirred in me some mild interest, but not a lot more. I can honestly say I didn’t think too highly of the original Ghostbusters, a movie that’s since become somehow a legendary cult classic (riding on the coattails of Bill Murray’s legendary cult status, I think). I found it to be mostly worthwhile, and kind of funny, but that was it for me. The Act 3 Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man climax was just stupid, I thought. But not a terrible movie – mostly fun, mostly funny in a mildly ironic sense. I imagine there’s not too much love for the 1988 sequel, which mostly felt like a contractual obligation to me when I saw it. Forgettable, unfunny, and a commercial and critical flop, it’s where the franchise ended.
26 years later, Feig’s idea to resurrect it with an all female cast could have been a genius move. Just three years earlier, Feig’s Bridesmaids was a massive hit – and it’s one of my all time favourite comedies – and while the casting inevitably included his go-to star Melissa McCarthy, it also included Kristen Wiig, whom I love to bits. Rounding out the cast were Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, two current Saturday Night Live cast members, which is in itself a kind of historical nod, given both Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were early cast members of SNL themselves. It sounded pretty good conceptually, not anything that would automatically turn me off and go screaming to my keyboard. I won’t mention Chris Hemsworth except to say that he probably got a decent payday for playing a buffoon, and good luck to him.
Unfortunately, that’s the best part of the review. I’d seen The Heat, another Feig movie featuring McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, and I smiled a little throughout, but the script was flat out terrible. A collection of tired cop movie tropes with some bawdy one-liners and “awkward comedy moments” between McCarthy’s raucous no-rules cop, and Bullock’s strait-laced partner. This does seem to be McCarthy’s schtick, and it’s clear that Bridesmaids aside, it’s Feig’s too. The rebooted Ghostbusters is an uneven mess that just did not work for most of its running time for me. Bridemaids (written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo) featured not only a great central performance by Wiig, but also a terrifically written character for Wiig to play. Broad in places, Bridesmaids works because it’s a movie with a beating heart at its center, and an organic throughline from start to finish.
Ghostbusters has no such good points going for it. The humour is embarrassingly weak, and mostly consists of one liners that miss the mark way more than they hit it. Situationally, the movie is disjointed, and the script is horrendously contrived. Completely independent of the creation of the Ghostbusters, a fiendish (and weirdly lacking in motivation) plot is already underway to break the dimensional barrier between us and the ghost world so that the ghosts can, what destroy New York? Or something. Boy, it’s a good thing this plan wasn’t executed just the day before! Totally contrived and amateurish, it’s a real embarrassment to screenwriting. When Feig decided to reboot the franchise, he didn’t spend much time at all on either the actual story component, or the characters. The plot moves along from one lame set piece to another with very little connective story tissue, and even less character work. I am sick and tired of watching two dimensional parodies of people in movies. When writing, they are doled out one character trait each, and remain unchanged throughout the movie. Moviemakers like Feig totally understand that regardless of this, the general public will still go to watch a movie if there is CGI and/or it stars a favourite actor, but it’s shitty for Hollywood to be that cynical. I get that plenty of people say they don’t care about depth of character, but deep down I think they know a soulless movie when they see one. It’s like eating a Big Mac and knowing you could have gotten a better meal somewhere else.
I didn’t particularly approach this movie wanting to defend it against trolls, nor by writing a negative review do I want to bolster trollish ignorance. The movie just doesn’t deserve that level of vitriol, but it does deserve to be called out as a lazy reboot that requires people put their minds on autopilot for two hours and forget that they’re watching inconsequential, cynical fluff. Among all the dumb jokes and half-baked plot points, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Feig directed with a “good enough” attitude, because it doesn’t really try hard to do much of anything.
© Andrew Hope, 2017