Whew. What a ride we’ve had with Ghostbusters in the past year or so! Its detractors really have had the social media battle of the century with trying to get it campaigned against, sabotaged and cancelled, haven’t they? And like anything on social media, the focal point of the whole sorry PR debacle surrounding Yet Another Hollywood Reboot(™) has been driven by the worst kinds of people the world has to offer us - primarily, bawling man-children crying about their favourite movie franchise getting resurrected with an all-female cast, in what was certain to be a dire cavalcade of snarky jokes about the male gender, told with the cringeworthy air of militant feminists attempting to act like men anyway. Naturally, us normal folks did our best to turn a blind eye to it all - it’s a shared sentiment amongst us that misogynists and misandrists, both equally obnoxious in their toxicity, can just as equally go fuck themselves with a rusty fork. They might even enlighten their world views a little if they went and fucked each other, too - but that might be too much to ask for in a 21st century online society primarily driven by mockery, hate and raging insecurities about one’s self.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much, because all the protesting and the whining is off target anyway. Ghostbusters 2016 isn’t actually that bad an action comedy. In fact, it is occasionally a downright riot that is worthy of its legacy. Take away its funny bits though, and you’re left with a pretty half-baked franchise revival (see Independence Day: Resurgence) that is likely to only be remembered in history by the needless tornado of hot air that surrounded it, than for anything else.
Let’s start with the good stuff: the film has at least managed to pull off its all-female angle in the most disarming, measured way possible. It is always a sign of good writing that you could switch up the fundamental traits of a protagonist - race, gender etc. - and find that they still work as characters. In a twist of fate that will force basement-dwellers to regurgitate their Cheetos in denial, Ghostbusters has managed to give its female-centric cast a likeability that transcends any kind of feminist angle that its critics were certain it was produced for. Naturally, there are still going to be a few jokes at the expense of men - after all, even with such subtleties, the film holds no qualms about its major selling point. But to suggest that it tries to be anything but an earnest attempt at returning to the paranormal hi-jinks of its predecessor would be absurd, because it literally is that - no underhandedness about it. It’s just that this time, it happens to instead have a group of everywomen taking center stage.
Melissa McCarthy (playing Abby Yates, paranormal researcher and unofficial leader of the eventual team that is formed) is no stranger to such roles - she’s practically built a career on it. With her over-zealous pursuit for all things supernatural, turbo-charged in no small part by the chaos element provided by her mad scientist / partner-in-crime Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon - the unquestioned stand-out performer of the whole film), it is unsurprisingly their shared mission that kickstarts the film in the first place. Unfortunately though, that’s only because it’s drawing them nothing but cynicism from the 21st-century New York they reside in. It’s specifically drawing ire from a certain Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), whose previous connection with Abby was a joint book collaboration on proving the existence of ghosts - a project she’s no longer very proud of. With the book enjoying an unexpected upturn in exposure on Amazon (primarily thanks to Abby’s efforts to get it noticed again) and the prospect of her position at Columbia University being up for tenure, Erin wastes no time getting in touch with her former co-author to get her to quit flinging skeletons out of the closet. Little does she realise that Abby and Jillian’s pursuit of folly is on the verge of revealing actual fact. As the three of them get drawn into visiting the Aldridge mansion (a landmark notorious for its legends of ghostly activity) on the request of its curator (Zach Woods), they suddenly find that - surprise, Hollywood surprise - the place is haunted, and they’ve finally found the vindication for all of their previous paranormal pokings-around.
It seems that the sudden rise of ghostly activity in the city isn’t just tied to creaky old mansions either. Elsewhere in the city, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) encounters another phantom while going about her day shift on the New York subway, inevitably tying her path up with the other three. She eventually winds up consulting them to try and make sense of the supernatural phenomenon she’s witnessed. All agree that the city now has a pretty big ghost problem - but why now, and who’s orchestrating it all? It’ll take the alliance of the four of them, plus their newly-hired secretary, the affable yet idiotic Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), to figure these mysteries out. Little do they realise how paltry the time they have left too - with occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey) pulling the strings of it all by attempting to bring spiritual and physical worlds together, New York faces an apocalypse of phantasmic proportions unless somebody can stop him in time.
Admittedly, there is a certain - for lack of a better word - childishness that runs through the veins of this remake’s plot. It also sounds pretty close (ahem, lifted) in nature to both the movies it succeeds as well. But it’s hard to deny that the movie carries a light-heartedness that has been sorely lacking in other action movies of late, and it is at least refreshing in that regard. The quartet of McCarthy, McKinnon, Wiig and Jones is genuinely tons of fun to watch on-screen. As a collective, they flourish under a script that favours jovial silliness, but together their characters also possess the same sense of nerdish eccentricity that certain members from the originals also had. This, above anything else, actually does a lot more to help this movie keep within the same spirit than its constant blasts of the classic theme tune ever could.
The film’s opening half - the team’s union, and their discoveries of the ever-familiar creepy glowing specters that are so integral to the franchise’s style, really do make this feel like the producers paid solid attention to what made Ghostbusters work in the first place. It sticks to this original formula in the outset so well in fact, that you’re almost distracted enough to not be listening when the mildly snickering jibes at the expense of us blokes eventually do come in. With both Hemsworth and Casey playing perceivedly shallow, negative male stereotypes - the good-looking airhead and the creep - the more sensitive of those still butthurt by the all-female cast appointment may feel like they have feasible ammunition for their online protests. What actually transpires though is that Hemsworth is simply too good an actor to let such a criticism take hold. His injection of both awkwardness and glib amiability into his role allows the punchline of his character to traverse any gender boundaries, while Casey is solid enough to be an effective kook for the role of a straightforward, if simplistic, main villain. Neither of them allow their characters to be mere strawmen for a feminist agenda - and neither does the script, whose ultimate lack of depth is clearly intended to go solely for universal laughs, rather than serving up some kind of social commentary.
The uncluttered pace of its initial act and the reverence it handsomely pays allow Ghostbusters to come charging out the blocks - so much so that it becomes all the more frustrating that it eventually stumbles and falls flat on this very momentum. For all the initial investigations and the unadulterated geek-pleasing coolness of seeing those proton packs back in action, the middle act - a meandering mish-mash of forced character exposition and New York’s mayor stepping in to cover up the Ghostbusters’ actions - delivers a stifling hurdle the movie struggles to clamber over. Jokes begin to repeat themselves. Any new one-liners begin to fall flat. Bad ideas begin to be thrown onto the current franchise stack (proton gloves, really?) Even the emergence of Bill Murray as a de-mystifier of all things paranormal can’t prevent the curious malaise that sets into the film as everything slows down, and the film loses its early sense of wit. It’s almost as though the script was halfway through a re-write before director and producer alike decided to wrap everything up and just shoot, given the drop in plot quality that suddenly becomes apparent as things wear on. It is such a decline that by the time the climax eventually reaches itself, you couldn’t possibly imagine that Ghostbusters’ pleasing start could crawl into further mediocrity - and then it surprises you by doing so, in the worst way possible.
If the advent of the proton glove as a piece of Ghostbusters tech - which yes, can be used to both punch and shoot ghosts into oblivion - was world-ruining enough (no need for the traps any more!), then the film’s climax - a reasonless, random parade of all the franchise’s themes that were yet to be used - definitely confine this reboot to the discard pile. Without trying to spoil too much, the return of both the Marshmallow Man (for no explanation whatsoever) and Slimer (for even less logic and even less humor) fail to inject chills into the film’s uninspiring close. But it’s the final villain encounter itself that caps off proceedings in the blandest, unscariest, tired way possible. Like I say, no spoilers will be mentioned, but if you could think of the lamest way they could concoct a final conflict, using whatever scraps of existing IP they had left, then quite possibly you have a good idea of what I might be hinting at.
2016’s Ghostbusters had a lot to live up to, especially with the risks that it took in the outset with its casting decisions. Heroically (heroine-ically?), it clears this initial obstacle by hiring just the right individuals to pull its gambit off, and then throws on a generous helping of hilarity and cameos to make you hopeful it’ll end as a worthy successor to its still-popular legacy. The pitfall it then bafflingly falls into therefore does not come from its initial aptitude for comedy, or any attempt to goad with its gender-political stance. It is that once you strip away all the ha-ha moments and slapstick, it’s just a super plain action movie that ultimately doesn’t know where to go with either its good start or its ideas. And no matter how many things you can level at the 1984 original, two things you could never say about it were that it was confused, or average.