At this point, Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters has become more of a debate concept than a movie. On one extreme, you’ve got radical feminists who are thrilled to be inheriting the classically male-lead franchise. On the other, there are heartbroken Generation X internet dwellers furious that the chances of a ride with the original cast died with Harold Ramis. If the narrative of the internet is taken as gospel, one may even believe these sides make up everybody. Hell, they may even forget that what is at the center of all of this controversy is simply a remake of a silly 80s comedy. On that metric, gender becomes a non-issue. All that matters is if these Ghostbusters can deliver the laughs that their predecessors did. After all, the new HQ needs some good Yelp reviews.
The film begins by introducing us to Columbia Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). She’s a former paranormal investigator gone legit after a rift with former partner and best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). However, when Yates posts the book the two co-wrote on Amazon, Gilbert is thrown back into the world of the paranormal. Following Abby and quirky inventor Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin happens upon her very first full-on ghost sighting. Thrilled, the three start a business to track down paranormal entities and catch them. Their force grows when subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) becomes enamored with joining the team, offering her expertise of New York City. Meanwhile, Rowan (Neil Casey), a disgruntled hotel clerk, plans to open a portal so that a horde of spirits can destroy the world.
The vital part of the 1984 Ghostbusters was the chemistry amongst its incredible cast. It’s a chemistry that has become so iconic, that it essentially drowns out any parts of that film that may not work. While the chemistry between the four ladies in this film is nowhere near that level, it does carry the proceedings. Unfortunately, that is simply because these are some of the funniest people in show business, and they can wring laughs out of anything. The characters themselves are mostly flat, completely relying on the talents of their respective actress. This is especially true for Wiig and McCarthy, who are forced to carry a contrived “old friendship renewed” arc. Neither Erin nor Abby has much personality, so it’s difficult to root for their camaraderie. Meanwhile, while Jones isn’t quite the stereotype the trailers made her out to be, Patty doesn’t have much range. She alternates from being the team’s navigator, to their screaming coward. Only the wildly talented McKinnon does strong character work here, throwing everything she has into Holtzmann’s unhinged geekery. She’s fascinating to watch, but unfortunately, she’s also given the least to do.
Paul Feig’s direction here is completely vanilla, a major disappointment after all the personality he brought to Spy. While Ghostbusters is certainly never unwatchable, it never quite bubbles past average either. Feig is a huge proponent of improvisation but seems lost without opportunities to have long scenes where the actors simply riff on each other. In fact, the only scenes where the jokes consistently land are the ones featuring the hysterical Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ inept secretary, Kevin. Not only is Hemsworth having a ball, but his dialogue driven moments are the ones where Feig feels most in his confront-zone. Meanwhile in the larger set-piece moments where the jokes would have needed to be planned, Feig gives up and lets the visuals do the talking. He’s been living in the world of dirty comedy for so long, that he’s afraid to let this film be the goofy romp it should be.
While there certainly are some impressive ghost designs here, none of them have a strong personality. There’s no creature in here who will attain the iconic stature of Slimer. Most of them are just accessories for the Ghostbusters to throw around in the action sequences. It also doesn’t help that Rowan is painfully conceived. He’s an amalgamation of Feig’s idea of old guard Ghostbusters fans and never gets to move beyond that. Casey is painfully thin in the role, never allowed to move beyond the Jamie Foxx as Electro level of cartoon nerdy-ness. Without a worthy antagonist, the stakes feel very low. Despite all the cool effects, the climax is simply an excuse for the Ghostbusters to dance in a light-show.
However, despite all of Ghostbusters’ flaws, it is never truly hatable. There is clearly an earnest effort by Feig and especially the main cast to reinvigorate this franchise. At times, they even come pretty close to doing so. In fact, with another director who is more confident in the material, this cast could even be in a great Ghostbusters movie one day. For now, we’re left with a down the middle introduction that will leave many perplexed that something so average caused such vitriol. With that said, I can’t help but remember the eight-year-old girl sitting next to me in the theater. As the film hummed along, I could tell that what was a mediocre blockbuster in my eyes just may have meant the world to her. Busting will always make somebody feel good, and perhaps it’s time to hand over the proton packs to them.