Oh crap. It turns out that the Ghostbusters remake is just an okay movie. The kind that is enjoyable enough, but just as easily a stream-it-later experience. That could appear to complicate the whole “deciding whether to see it is a political statement” thing, huh? (It doesn’t: See it. It’s not bad, and it’s the right thing to do, because fuck the dudebros.)
The remake’s success is in the casting of its plucky new band of heroes. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and especially Kate McKinnon, are the success of the new film. Alongside Chris Hemsworth as their empty-headed receptionist, these talented comic actresses produce all the film’s highlights. Unfortunately, they’re not served by a particularly inspired script, and overall, the film fails to be very interesting.
If we judge the film as its own thing, with no reference to the past, it’s kinda flat. Little flashes of humor and brilliance, a few real laughs, and a cast of women who are each funny in their own right, but never quite gel the way the script wants them to. And the story feels like bits from various drafts stitched together. You get a real sense of someone struggling to hit the outlined beats, whether they really work or not.
If we judge the film against the 1984 original, the inferiority of Paul Feig’s direction and his cowritten script really stand out. You get this in the first ten minutes. Each film opens with a mysterious haunting in a public location in Manhattan, before beginning the introduction of our main characters, who are called to investigate the incident, with startling results. The original is perfectly paced and sets comedy ahead of spookiness. The latter puts more emphasis on special effects and creepiness, with no real laughs. The 1984 version is just better. Also, I’ll put the original up against almost any film for one great line after another. This film just doesn’t have that caliber of writing.
Not your dad’s Ghostbusters
For the record, I think remaking Ghostbusters with female leads is virtually the only way to go. If you’re not going to try to do something different, why bother? The original, directed by Ivan Reitman and written by costars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, featuring a Bill Murray at the height of his patented sarcastic, self-involved persona, need not be duplicated. Probably cannot be duplicated. But it’s a fun concept, a fun franchise, so yes, revisit it. But try to go somewhere new. Cast the characters’ kids for a second generation; try an all-female mix; set it in Victorian London. For the love of god, bring something new to the table.
I liked that the new film somewhat parallels the original but does not try to replicate it. You can vaguely match McCarthy to Murray, Wiig to Aykroyd, and McKinnon to Ramis, but not quite. McKinnon’s bizarre inventor is much more outrageous than Ramis’s Egon, Wiig is much more serious than Aykroyd, and not committed to the supernatural, while McCarthy has some ofMurray’s iconoclastic “fuck all this” attitude, but is the true believer in occult work. Nice riffs.
Nor are the storyline or the relationships the same. Unfortunately, while the original cast coalesces around Bill Murray, this film is about Wiig’s character, and her character is boring and fretful. Wiig’s comic potential is straightjacketed by being forced to play the most boring version of a Jennifer Aniston character. And while it’s great that McCarthy gets to play a funny character who’s not her frequent bull-in-a-china-shop idiot riff, it’s a shame that one schtick wasn’t replaced with something more compelling.
The second half of the heroic quartet fare better. McKinnon is no more fleshed out than Ramis’s character, but she gets to be much zanier, and she’s fun. And Leslie Jones gets to do more, say more, and have more personality than Ernie Hudson ever did. She’s still the latecomer to the group, the black person who always feels slightly apart from the more closely tied trio of white characters, but her contributions, to the adventure and to the film are stronger.
Where the original started with the core trio already together, and followed their rise. This film puts a lot more effort into making its Ghostbusters underdogs—geek girls who get no respect (totally unrealistic, am I right?)—and is about their interrelationships, as childhood amigas McCarthy and Wiig have to repair a breach to their friendship, and it just gets in the way. Again, you can feel that someone started with a Screenwriting 101 approach to story construction, and struggled to arrange the pieces. It’s a shame that the absurd closing-credits dance scene, an outtake starring Chris Hemsworth, pretty much steals the show.
Less hugging, better one liners and more Zuul would’ve been a good route for this film to have taken.
That said, “Ghostbusters” is a rock-solid concept, and this is an excellent cast. If this effort only deserves a B grade, I’d still happily check out a sequel to see whether improved material might better serve these new heroes.