Ghostbusters Movie Review
For all the outrage and debate, and the countless words written about the Ghostbusters remake, the saddest part of this whole affair may end up being that so much passion was wasted not on some daring reimagining, nor a fascinating failure, but on just another run-of-the-mill ill-conceived remake failing to do much more than cash in on the brand. The only thing that separates this remake of Ghostbusters from other recent remakes like Robocop or Total Recall was the choice to genderflip the cast, and contrary to what most of those opinion pieces spent on this movie would have you believe, all Ghostbusters has done is prove that lazy remakes can star women too.
I’m getting ahead of myself though aren’t I?
The good news is that whomever at Sony handled the marketing for this movie needs to be sacked, because Ghostbusters is not nearly as bad as the trailers would have had you believe.
The bad news is that unfortunately, that still doesn’t mean Ghostbusters is any good.
In what’s quickly becoming one of 2016’s defining trends in movies, one of Ghostbusters most damning flaws is that it’s too busy trying to set up a franchise to remember to sell us on this movie. Ironically, it falls place to most of the same weaknesses that sank Ghostbusters II, in that it’s essentially just a weaker version of the first movie, playing the same origin story that played out in the original Ghostbusters nearly beat for beat. If you have seen the classic Ghostbusters, the remake will offer you precious little other than a palette swap, a weaker villain that makes the painting from Ghostbusters II seem menacing in comparison, and much worse pacing, grinding to a near halt for much of the second act of the movie.
Given that Ghostbusters was made by Sony, the same company that cranked out the Robocop remake and The Amazing Spider-Man, movies that were more concerned about selling a brand than they were about telling a story, it’s much of the same here. One more sin we can tack onto those awful trailers is that they spoil some of the movies biggest moments, including the closest things that come to plot twists in Ghostbusters. Toss in an attempted sequel hook baiting the return of Zuul and you’ve got the gist of the movie.
It’s not helped that the movie itself isn’t very funny, offering a handful of chuckles, but very few of the belly laughs offered by the original Ghostbusters, or even some of Feig’s other movies. Feig may have been a bad fit for the movie, given his wheelhouse seems to be entirely R-rated raunch comedies, and you can absolutely tell he’s pulling his punches with Ghostbusters.
Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig form one of the highlights of the film, which should surprise nobody given the two work so well together, and actually play against type here with Wiig playing the more skeptical Erin and McCarthy playing supernatural true-believer Abby. The two play well off each other, and its a shame the rest of the new Ghostbusters team don’t share that same level of chemistry. Andy Garcia is enjoyable as the skeptical Mayor of New York City, if only because he lends himself to the best line in the movie (Wiig lambasting him not to “don’t be the mayor from Jaws”).
On the other hand Jillian, played Kate McKinnon, while initially pretty great, wears thin over the course of the movie due to the quirky and inconsistent nature of her character. I’m not sure if it’s the script, or if McKinnon’s sketch comedy roots hamstrung her, but she’s good in small doses before rapidly wearing our her welcome, becoming what feels like the studio mandated “quirky one”. It also doesn’t help her character seems to serve up most of the Sony mandated product placement in the film.
As for Chris Hemsworth as the team’s secretary Kevin… look, just because you gender-flipped a dated sexual stereotype doesn’t hide the fact you’re using a dated sexual stereotype as a running gag, especially when its not even a funny one. Given how one of the things that made the original Ghostbusters memorable was that it treated Janine, the sarcastic secretary played by Annie Potts, as a three dimensional character, it actually makes it worse.
Yet even that pales in comparison to Patty, played by Leslie Jones, who an offensive stereotype so racially insensitive I’m half relieved they didn’t just cast a white actress in blackface as Patty. Patty is a loud, bug-eyed, sassy, superstitious and street smart black woman who yells every line of dialogue, which is made worse by Leslie Jones’ delivery, making the character a screeching annoyance even when Patty isn’t being a racial stereotype that would have been dated even in the 1950s, much less in the original Ghostbusters.
Part of why that rubs me so wrong, aside from the obvious use of racial stereotyping, is that yet again, this remake screws up one of the things that the original Ghostbusters got so right. In the original Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore wasn’t presented as the token, he was “the normal one,” the average joe and audience stand in contrast to the three oddball scientists on the team. Leslie Jones’ Patty is never anything more than “the black one”, made worse by the stereotyping and lack of chemistry among the leads. How a movie that makes such a big hairy deal about its representation of women can be so ass-backwards about its representation of racial minorities is beyond me, but maybe some of the folks writing those op-eds should read up on intersectionality.
Oh, and there are cameos from the original cast, and sadly a good chunk of them actually marking some of the worst parts of the movie – Bill Murray’s in particular should be enough to put off any fans of the original on its own.
The biggest let down though may be the direction and special effects though, given how the special effects in the original Ghostbusters were Oscar-worthy and still hold up today, while despite thirty years of special effects improvements at their disposal, all the remake offers badly done CGI. This is especially seen during the effects-laden finale, which is much more reminiscent of fellow ill-conceived paranormal romp RIPD than it is Ghostbusters, where they seemingly throw everything they can into the climax to make up for a plodding third act. It doesn’t quite work though when the CGI ghosts all look so much worse than the effects in the original Ghostbusters. Even the New York setting that is so central to the original film has been ripped out of the remake – probably because it was filmed almost entirely in Boston, and makes precious little effort to hide that. Forget that a big budget remake pales in comparison to the $30 million original, it pales even compared to some of Paul Feig’s other films, given how much he did with Spy with a much smaller budget.
Oh, and that remix of the Ghostbusters theme from Fallout Boy is simply retched, and remaking the iconic Ghostbusters theme song may end up as much of a poor choice as remaking Ghostbusters as a whole.
What does in the Ghostbusters remake ends up being the same things that have made countless other remakes give up the ghost before this. A lazy script. Bad acting, and characters that largely range from annoying to offensive. Uninspired directing and cinematography. Crude special effects. A forgettable villain. A soundtrack that gives you ear cancer. At its best moments, Ghostbusters is forgettable, and at its worst, its painful.
In the end, the closest comparison to Ghostbusters that I can draw is that Robocop remake from a few years back, and not just because it was another classic franchise Sony tried to cash in on by remaking it without much success. For all the outrage that they were remaking it, and general agreement that it wasn’t a complete trainwreck like we’d feared – that distinction belongs to Sony’s remake of Total Recall – the fact remains it still wasn’t a very good movie, and it certainly couldn’t hold a candle to the original. Yet for all our concern, a few years later, the original Robocop is in the Criterion collection, while the remake is collecting dust in Walmart discount bins, largely forgotten. As it was with Robocop, so it shall be with Ghostbusters.
It’s bad enough that what we should have instinctively written off as another lazy remake has instead wasted so much ink and argument over the past few months. In the end, the Ghostbusters remake is barely a spectre of the original, with hardly a spook, a smile or a scrap of originality to be found, so don’t let it waste two hours of your time as well.