Ghostbusters was always facing a mighty tough battle. Rebooting a beloved property will always cause backlash, and swapping out the gender of the leads will, unfortunately, stir the pot even more. Like every movie, Ghostbusters deserves to be judged on its own merit rather than being crucified for its roots. Unfortunately, even when the film’s controversial production and marketing are stripped away, it’s impossible to escape the fact that Ghostbusters is at best unenjoyable and at worst borderline unwatchable.
One of Ghostbusters‘ biggest issues is how inconsequential the whole thing feels. Each ghost the team encounters does little more than appear menacing and at worst covers them in a harmless slime. The audience is constantly promised that more deadly phantoms are around the corner, but when this paranormal apocalypse finally commences the otherworldly spectres feel just as toothless. The ghosts are more pests than genuine threats and the foursome little more than glorified exterminators. In one scene, a flying dinosaur like ghost is unleashed at a rock concert, which should be thrilling, but instead is dull, as the apparition does little more than fly about and shriek irritatingly, not harming a single soul. Almost every ghost the film features seems as dangerous as a common pigeon.
Narratively, the film is poorly paced and simply far too dull to justify two hours of your time. Kristen Wiig’s Dr. Erin Gilbert starts the film as a lapsed believer in the paranormal, reluctantly being sucked in the world of ghosts by her childhood friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) soon after starting a Paranormal Investigators company alongside two other women. The plot skips along at a brisk pace, but each development isn’t given enough time to breath, resulting in a movie that moves so fast that nothing feels satisfying. The lightning-quick pacing is used by director Paul Feig in an attempt to mask how dull and formulaic the movie really is, but it’s a technique that ultimately fails.
Classifying Ghostbusters within the comedy genre is being highly generous. It’s not even that the jokes are bad (though they pretty much all are), it’s that there’s a painful lack of them. Great stretches of the movie pass with almost no attempts at comedy and the gags on offer are either predictable or insultingly smug. It’s as if Feig and the cast are so arrogant in their comedic abilities that they believe being witty or clever is below them and instead they can just say anything and it’ll make their audience howl with laughter. Never before had I sat in a reasonably busy cinema auditorium and watched a comedy film during which not a single member of the audience laughed, and with Ghostbusters that’s exactly what happened.
Until you experience it for yourself, it’s hard to comprehend just how terrible the screenplay for Ghostbusters really is. The cast so often talk absolute nonsense that by the time the credits roll you’ll actually feel stupider for having listened to them. Scientific jargon is used far too frequently, Kate McKinnon’s Dr. Jillian Holtzmann being the main culprit. Between the uninspired narrative, the almost complete lack of humour, and the toilet paper nature of the script, it’s a real chore to actually see Ghostbusters through to completion. Frankly, if you do you should be eligible for some form of certificate, or at the very least, a refund on your movie ticket.
The new team that has been assembled is flat out awful, but none of that has to do with the fact that they’re women. Kristen Wiig is the best of a horrible bunch, purely because her character is so boring that there’s almost nothing to say about her. Melissa McCarthy tones down her whole bull-in-a-china-shop shtick, however she’s still frequently unbearable delivering sappy lines and groan inducing jokes all too frequently. Granted, she’s been ten times worse in many other films so at least that’s a silver lining. Kate McKinnon has very little to do overall, aside from the aforementioned spouting of nonsense, but her character is responsible for making the team’s equipment, which is one of the few areas the film gets right, so I suppose her inclusion can be forgiven.
Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan is a whole different beast. She isn’t just the worst character in the movie, but one of the most offensive and harmful in recent memory. Patty embodies every single stereotype about black women right down to one scene in which she genuinely shouts, “ah, hell no!” while slapping a ghostly spirit out of Dr. Yates. Patty is so appallingly written that you have to hope she’s supposed to be a satirical character. Unfortunately, the film makes no indication of this and I genuinely believe that Feig and writing partner Katie Dippold believe this representation of a black woman in 2016 to be okay. Jones should have taken one look at the script and refused to play the role in disgust.
The all-female team is supported by Chris Hemsworth as the pretty but dumb receptionist, in a clear play on typical gender stereotypes. Hemsworth’s Kevin being really, really stupid is the punch line to many of the movie’s “jokes”, but it’s a gag that isn’t especially funny the first time and certainly isn’t the twentieth. There isn’t much else in the way of a supporting cast, even the iconic Slimer only makes a brief appearance, and the human antagonist is so underdeveloped that he might as well have never appeared on screen. There are cameos from some of the stars of the original Ghostbusters including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver, but these serve only to remind us of the 1984 original and how much we’d rather be watching that film instead.
While the ghost designs are a bit lacking, in particular the final apparition which doesn’t have anything on the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the effects are generally high quality. There’s a short–but-sweet fight scene in the third act in which the four women throw down against a horde of ghosts, which is fun and thrilling in equal measures. Of course straight after that the cast reopen their mouths and speak more drivel, but that five or so minutes is well worth watching on YouTube in a few months’ time. At least visually the film feels very respectful of the original franchise and fans of the series will surely get a kick out of all the little nods to the Ghostbusters cannon. That is of course assuming they can see through the tears they’ll be shedding thanks to the bastardisation that this reboot is.
Ghostbusters is truly worthy of all the negativity that has surrounded it since the day it was announced. Its awfulness has nothing to do with the gender of its cast but everything to do with how unfunny and flat out boring it is. Director Paul Feig has made the worst film of his career (which is no small feat considering he also directed The Heat), instilling a sense of arrogance in every single second of Ghostbusters. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts but the thought of a sequel to this train wreck of a movie entering production completely and utterly terrifies me.
(Read Ellis Whitehouse’s dissenting Ghostbusters review: here.)