Dose of a Ghost: Feig Delivers Funny, Feminized Franchise Entry
Overshadowed by the ill will of an alarmingly misogynist fanboy culture since its initial inception, the all-female led reboot of the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters arrives with an effortless, ragtag charm, channeling the goofy energy of its predecessor without recalibrating the outline. Although short on inspiration (lifting freely from the template previously utilized), and never quite as deliriously funny as one might’ve hoped, it never falls short of its escapist promise of disposable entertainment. But then, by default, it’s a project which sets itself up for unfavorable comparison because despite the hook of its gender gimmick, it still cashes in on an inescapable nostalgia factor since this isn’t an original property, idea, or execution. Apart from these familiar critiques of endless Hollywood coagulations however, its quartet of headlining ladies are funny and carry their proton packs as dutifully as the men who came before them. To forget Ivan Reitman’s original film was also nothing more than a silly frippery may be the largest error when approaching the update, which is goofier and weirder than the usual assembly line tweaks we’ve come to accept as normal.
About to receive tenure at prestigious Columbia University, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is haunted by the reappearance of a book on paranormal activity she co-authored years prior with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Erin decided to pursue an academic career, abandoning Abby, who has recently tried to make money once more on their venture. Because it threatens her future at Columbia, Erin approaches Abby to request she stop peddling the book online, and finds her old friend working alongside engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). However, she’s soon roped into accompanying them to a reported haunting at a mansion, and they get to test their new technological advances in detecting the paranormal. As Erin becomes convinced to reteam with Abby, other occurrences are swiftly reported around the city, leading them to acquire a fourth partner, Patty (Leslie Jones), a transit worker who knows the outlay of the city and comes to the newly founded group for assistance.
A remake which uneasily references the previous film by allowing innocuous cameos from notable members of the previous cast, Feig’s screenplay with Katie Dippold doesn’t manage the same mastery of ambience. It doesn’t help the original film was a very textured, gritty portrait of New York City, while this latest feels like another glossy CGI enhanced escapade we’ve seen over and over again, replete with a neon green ghost dragon and Slimer getting a Mrs. Potato-Head cohort. McCarthy and Wiig are allowed the most leeway in characterization, provided with actual background details, which ends up being enough for to build some emotionally meaningful energy between them. Perhaps on purpose, the film seems fashioned as a tirade against the hateful, misanthropic fan culture which so bitterly damned this reboot in the first place. The cost of this is a cookie cutter villain with the same agenda as a cadre of other recent soap box inspired antagonists, highlighting the endless cycle of bullying wherein the victim becomes the victimizer.
Something many fans seem to forget about the original Ghostbusters is how significant the supporting characters were, with Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver scoring considerable notice alongside the titular paranormal mercenaries. Feig has attempted to showcase his four leads instead (despite throwaway roles for Charles Dance, Ed Begley Jr., Andy Garcia), leaving nominal comedic relief to sidekicks, mostly in the form of a doofy Chris Hemsworth as their hopelessly frustrating secretary (good looks do not hide a pervasive monotony here, as this character is on par with the mental capabilities of a little fish named Dory).
We can see each of the ladies tailing a persona from the first film, with Wiig and McCarthy standing in for Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, while Kate McKinnon walks away as a major scene stealer in the Harold Ramis vein. Leslie Jones gets less characterization, but she’s such a vibrant on-screen presence her overcompensating persona never feels belabored (and as the token black character, she gets a hell of a lot more to do than the mild Ernie Hudson). Why exactly she couldn’t have been presented as a scientist as well is definitely a gripe worth exploring at greater length. Worse, there’s an undefined but definitely noticeable queer energy to McKinnon’s idiosyncratic scientist, from the moment she’s introduced observing Wiig’s dowdy academic. Never forced to fawn over Hemsworth, several interactions read like a character whose identity has been partially left on the editing room floor (not unlike a pair of characters in the recent Independence Day sequel). Although the essence is there, it seems Feig’s Ghostbusters attempts to be ahead of the curve, but like the historical reality of all commodified film, has been sanctioned from being as daring or provocative as it could’ve been.