The new Ghostbusters, I am here to report, is not awful; it is merely bad.
With all the hubbub and controversy surrounding its all-female cast and almost chuckle-free official trailer, the film is expected to draw out a divisive motley of naysayers (justifiably, in my opinion) off-put by the reboot’s gender gimmick, and swarms of progressives eager to embrace the girl power. Likely, it will split the expectations of fanboys who embraced Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd’s 1984 original.
Some, myself included, may find it hard to buy the premise – even in the wacky, fictitious world of Ghostbusters – of three female engineers (plus one black female subway attendant–how liberal!– played by Leslie Jones) playing the heroes in a job sector (STEM) where women represent only a quarter of its work force. With this statistic in mind, Ghostbusters ought to be an underdog story – after all, genre movies always work best when they exaggerate yet reflect the real world.
For instance, you could tell a story where a ragtag group of women, underestimated by their work force, band together to best evil spirits from New York. This premise could serve as a credible form of “female empowerment,” especially if the characters demonstrated a certain degree of intellectual and physical acumen.
Unfortunately, director and cowriter Paul Feig does not make this supernatural comedy about anything or anyone. Rather, Ghostbusters’s all-female vehicle openly comes off as a politically correct reboot we suspected it might be, manufactured to appease the fashion of the day: grrl power!
That said, one would not categorically dismiss the movie if it was, you know, fun. Ghostbusters, however, lacks wit, heart, and humanity; it is pure Hollywood product prepackaged for Millennials who are incapable of articulating an emotional response over 140 characters.
Good popcorn movies are meant to emotionally engage and entertain, which in turn make them ideal vehicles for propaganda: studios can cleverly insert social and political ideas in the plot, making them difficult to detect for the escapist-driven consumer desperate to be immersed.
These ideas are then processed as “entertainment,” which the viewer, therefore, unconsciously accepts (conservative author Ben Shapiro wrote about this in detail in his 2011 book, “Primetime Propaganda“).
Ironically, Ghostbusters’s dumbing down of plot and narrative cohesion harms its left-leaning agenda. Due to this screenplay’s lack of structure (which I will get into), Ghostbusters’s progressive politics inadvertently come off harmless and self-effacing.
Ghostbusters puts itself above basic cinematic rules
You begin to wonder whether Feig and his cowriter Katie Dippold tucked away the man-bashing handbook and genuinely tried to make a fun flick with narrative pull – just, in the end, didn’t. Thus, what discredits this nouveau Ghostbusters is not its bad politics, per se, but its bad cinema.
Granted, the first twenty minutes show promise. After a bizarre opener (without the lead cast) that sets the stage for ghostly menaces to come, we are introduced to Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a mousy Columbia University professor desperately trying to get tenure.
As fate would have it, a past book of hers, co-written with old colleague Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), surfaces online and destroys her credibility in academia. Disgraced, Eric hunts down Abby only to discover she is working with a zany nuclear engineer (SNL’s Kate McKinnon) to eradicate Manhattan of troublesome spectres.
A fish-out-of-water, Erin initially serves as a sympathetic vessel for the audience to follow. Because on one hand she seeks redemption, but on the other she is skeptical of Abby’s supernatural beliefs – which should be a useful device as the story unravels.
But Feig, who directed other feminist fist pump flicks like Bridesmaids and The Heat, has no interest in character or story. Hailing from TV (Freaks & Geeks), Feig only knows how to craft a storyline by stringing together a bunch of loosely-improvised bits while piling a bunch of plot on top of them.
At 116 minutes, Ghostbusters pretends to have narrative drive – the ghostbusters must stop stubby, curly-haired occultist (Neil Casey) from breaking evil ghosts out of their (gender) barriers and letting them wreak havoc on downtown Manhattan.
Instead of using this as an opportunity to develop the characters, the script gets sidetracked with meaningless subplots and supporting characters who simply regurgitate laboured jokes and tired exposition.
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth joins the Ghostbusters as their clueless receptionist clearly hired as dispensable eye candy for the four female ‘busters. Hemsworth’s character is far too overqualified to be some sedentary receptionist – and that’s the point: his bodybuilder physique makes him an object of this film’s female gaze, set up as a feminist response to the traditional male gaze that predominates classical Hollywood.
Paul Feig’s name will go down in movie history
This notion plays into the kind of gender irony Ghostbusters is hinting at. Sadly, Feig is not a sophisticated purveyor of battle-of-the-sexes comedy like the great Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby) or Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot).
An opportunity is wasted when Ghostbusters drops a bunch of the 1984’s cast – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Waver, and Ernie Hudson – into its modern setting. The film, in fact, is full of secondary male characters, yet nothing clever is done with them. I would have liked if they all ended up being possessed spirits, to playfully riff on Hollywood’s anti-male sensibility. Instead, most of these characters pass by in a flash, contributing to the hectic hollowness of this Ghostbusters plot.
In addition to comedy, Feig fails to demonstrate any ability for scale. It is hard to care about New York when it is portrayed in a series of bland aerials and establishing shots likely a product of second unit photography.
Feig does not properly build this world or explore any particular mythology of these ghosts. We have no notion of their nefarious abilities – suddenly, the ghouls drive cars, vomit goo, possess the bodies of humans? This is all done without any set up or consistency. Heck, these otherworldly villains are so ill-defined they barely fit into the universe of a film called Ghostbusters!
Ultimately, this type of careless filmmaking only harms the progressive agenda because we are not given characters or a world that is three-dimensional and, thus, relatable.
Even the four comediennes selected to replace 1984’s legendary cast are not well drawn. While their characters are set up to be a bit kooky, their behaviour becomes so erratic you sense this is a result of contrived and lazy screenwriting. At one moment, Erin, Abby, Jillian (McKinnon), or Patty (Jones) are smart, then all of a sudden they behave annoyingly childish – without explanation.
Yes, Ghostbusters is not awful, it is just not very good. There is one moment that summarizes it well: Leslie Jones leaps into a concert crowd only for the goers to back away causing her to plummet to the floor. Stunned, Jones’s character gasps, “Okay, was that a black thing or a lady thing?”.
With respect to Ghostbusters, one should respond: “No, it is just a bad movie thing.”