Over the summer I was pretty disgusted by so-called “men’s rights activists” or MRAs and their campaign against the new Ghostbusters film and specifically actress Leslie Jones. This follows similar stupidity over Mad Max Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Racism (why is there a black storm trooper/Ghostbuster?) and misogyny (why is there a female imperator/Jedi/Ghostbuster?) are not valid forms of film criticism, and if they’re upset at Hollywood strip-mining its intellectual property for endless sequels and reboots, there are worse franchises out there. Additionally, these dummies have missed one great film and one good film – some even brag about the millions of dollars they’ve cost the BILLION dollar grossing The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, despite some talented people involved, the new Ghostbusters is neither good nor great.
I’ve enjoyed the work of the cast and crew before, albeit under slightly different circumstances. It’s easy to see how everyone thought it would come together, but the film ends up being less than the sum of its parts. The cast mainly plays it straight in that they play somewhat tamer versions of their previous on screen personas. Leslie Jones has by far the most to work with, but too much of her dialogue is wasted on exposition. Kate McKinnon, whose performance I’d heard the most about, brings a weird energy to every scene she’s in, but she’s underutilized just enough to make her seem just slightly strange rather than achieving a Kramer-esque level of bizarre charisma. (While understandable, the PG-13 rating probably doesn’t help.) The biggest comedic highlight is Chris Hemsworth as the ladies’ very dumb receptionist. Unfortunately, even his appeal quickly fades after a killer first scene.
I never considered the original Ghostbusters a masterpiece of plot or pacing. Michael Tucker’s great YouTube channel Lessons from the Screenplay described its somewhat unconventional take as “the story of four ghost exterminators who save New York City told as a going-into-business story.” But by framing it as a conventional business story, it established easy arcs (inspiration, struggle, success, setback, and triumph) and plot drivers (new characters are added as they are hired, new ghosts are introduced when customers respond to their ads, and so on). But in the new Ghostbusters – or Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, as it’s been renamed in an apparent sop to the MRAs whose childhoods were ruined – the story is about a deranged loner who builds devices to destroy the barrier between the human and ghost worlds and the three scientists and one subway worker who try to stop him. Despite the lack of similarity, the new film still tries to echo the plot points of the original much as The Force Awakens did with A New Hope. But since the two films don’t share the same theme, a lot of it, like why Jones joins the team or even how they go into business, feels forced (although not as forced as some of the cameos or callbacks to the original). It probably didn’t help that the only option available on iTunes was the extended cut, and its 135 minutes feel like 180. What I wouldn’t give for a “de-extended” edition that was a tight 90 minutes . . .
That’s too bad, because there is probably a decent movie in there. A better screenplay that played to the cast’s strengths, put more emphasis on the solid action scenes (remember, director Paul Feig is no slouch when it comes to fight choreography) and special effects, and was less slavishly devoted to the original could have made this a solid action comedy, a 2016 version of Men in Black. Instead, it’s a bland copy of something better, so more like 2016’s RIPD. As for a Shocktober movie, it is definitely not scary (or at least not nearly as scary as my eight-year-old self remembers the demon dogs in the original) – and yet my wife still liked it better than The Witch!