The Ghostbusters reboot ‘pretends to be about sisters doing it for themselves, but merely follows what the guys did before’ says MacDara Conroy
Thanks a bunch, Men of the Internet. In your enormous misogynistic whining fit over the Ghostbusters reboot, you’ve seen to it that this film is virtually immune from criticism, lest anyone who says a word against it be lumped in with the fedora-wearing, basement-dwelling, keyboard-warrior hordes.
That poses a problem for good-faith criticism because even months before the first trailers appeared, a groundswell of opinion put the ostensible progressiveness of a female-driven tentpole action comedy above all other considerations. You know, the considerations that usually come with judging such a film’s merits, like ‘is it funny?’, or ‘is it any use?’.
Those are questions that need to be asked, seeing as the teaser clips, with their lukewarm gags and overly slick CGI, didn’t exactly whet the appetite. Also, this is Paul Feig movie. The creator of the incomparable Freaks and Geeks – still the finest depiction of geek culture on any screen – has taken a much less sophisticated path in his feature film career, smothering the genuine, earned laughs hidden within the likes of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy with the broadest of broad humour.
The latter two are especially sad cases, not least for Melissa McCarthy, a proven box office draw but also a gifted comedic actor who can riff with the best of them and shines when she can rise above the lowest common denominator. She and her fellow funny women might be doing it just like the boys, but they could also do it so much better.
That’s Ghostbusters Mark II in a nutshell. It’s film that pretends to be about sisters doing it for themselves, but merely follows what the guys have done before, always chasing that cheap pop.
Sure, the characters might be superficially different, but the dynamics are as familiar as the plot. McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are they Ray and Egon of the piece, only this time they’re front and centre, and not playing it so straight. Kate McKinnon is kind of the Venkman, the bullshitter who refuses to take things seriously, but to a parodic degree, like a weird sketch-within-a-sketch gone wrong. Leslie Jones as Patty, the normal one, gets a lot more to do than Ernie Hudson’s Winston did the first time round; the conceit here is that she knows the city like the others don’t, though the film never gets around to explaining why she’s such a history buff.
But character development goes out the window when you’re all trying to be the Bill Murray one, constantly competing with one another for laughs and attention (while lacking in chemistry, despite three of them being Saturday Night Live stalwarts). An entire subplot between McCarthy and Wiig’s lifelong friends that the climax hinges upon seems to have gone missing, unless it was that poorly written in the first place.
The very premise of this movie has caused offence for a whole mess of reasons, many of dubious validity; the results are offensive for different ones. Lay the blame with Paul Feig (and to an extent co-writer Kate Dippold). It’s his fault that the low-pitched, Anchorman-styled humour bandied about by the main cast clashes with the straighter world around them, and doesn’t work like he thinks it does. It’s his fault that gender-swapping derogatory stereotypes somehow makes them acceptable now? (Chris Hemsworth’s ditzy secretary doesn’t seem so funny if you picture the same character as a woman, does it?)
It’s his fault that the film cherry-picks concepts and gadgets from across the greater Ghostbusters franchise – the Extreme Ghostbusters spin-off in particular – but none of their storytelling nous. It’s his fault that it’s quite sloppily edited, with at least two egregious continuity errors. It’s his fault that with its constant callbacks and references to the original films, whether via cameos or visual cues or soundtrack choices, it refuses to stand on its own. It’s his fault that it’s simply not funny.
But if you want to fool yourself into thinking it’s brilliant just because there’s women in it, who am I to argue?