Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth
Spoilers Within: Yes
Originally posted 14th July 2016 on Letterboxd.
I’ve closed, opened, closed again, and reopened my word document when writing this review because as much as it makes sense and expresses my opinions with clarity, Ghostbusters has become more than just a film and more an unfair way of painting critics in a particular way. It’s become more about the politics of cinema and the unfortunate pettiness that it’s garnered since it was announced, and fitting squarely in the demographic that has expressed the most unreasonable disgust, I feel that my opinion – and many others – are not welcomed nor acknowledged. This conversation definitely needs to happen, but it won’t be by me, nor should it be by anyone who seeks to review the film objectively.
Objectivity suggests that you should go in without feelings or prejudices, and whilst that’s correct, in the light of so much publicity it’s certainly difficult to do so. Find me a person who doesn’t have one single preconception of a Ghostbusters reboot, and you’ll have found me a liar. Ignoring all the politics and gender-fuelled hatred this film has received since first mention,Ghostbusters is simply not a good film.
Let’s start with those in the ‘Department of the Metaphysical Examination’: the quartet are perfectly suited to their characters, and despite two of them being unknowns to me (Mckinnon and Jones) they all befitted their characters to the best I can imagine. After seeing them play off each other I can’t envision someone else in their roles. Their chemistry is definitely well-realised, but in honesty, that’s where it ends for me. Everyone’s new flavour-of-the-year (after McCarthy experienced this ‘title’) Kate McKinnon was – for me – the weakest link: her delivery being 90% eccentric enunciation, and 10% fist-pumping and gurning, and the overall zaniness just didn’t work. McCarthy is sufficient, but can’t seem to escape the pattern she’s known for, Wiig is terrific but seemingly restricted acting her naturally funny self, and Jones jumps in with both feet, but surfaces as neither funny nor lifeless. It’s a weird dynamic that is unbalanced by Hemsworth’s simpleton, who steals the show through surprising, randomly inserted absurdity. After being a fan of Feig’s writing credits (Freaks and Geeks and, sporadically, Spy) I’m more stunned to realise that he and co-writer Katie Dippold have given this foursome very little to work on, with what could possibly be one of the poorest scripts of the year. The majority is ad-libbing from the clearly talented cast, but there’s nothing wrong with a tight script, and having someone reign in the improvisations could have paid dividends to the jokes which nearly all fell flat.
If the magic shone through when the goo hit the fan, then with the chemistry of the leads the film could have at least been an entertaining spectacle with great set-pieces, but regrettably, Feig cannot direct action for shit. The set-pieces – if they can indeed be called that – are instantly forgettable. The pre-credits scene was wonderful and went part of the way to set the tone with the ghouls and spirits, but the following battles were bland, and I place the blame purely in Feig’s corner. The rock-show scuffle was abysmally framed, jumping from close-ups to wide shots to back again within seconds, blurring the action and confusing the moment, but it’s at the denouement that the film could’ve pulled out the real threat of destruction, and whilst it was fun seeing how they worked in the restructuring of the city into the narrative (reverse-polarity of a vortex), the stakes felt so low that it just seemed like a way to showcase the new gadgets in a video-game-style playing field (again, all messily shot).
As much as it tries to be something new, by holding on the franchises’ old identity and throwing in cameo after cameo after nod after wink just means Feig and co. haven’t been able to let go of its roots. It was something I was worried about from the moment it was announced: would it be cameo-laden fan-service, or would it have its own entity? Unfortunately, it’s the former, and it couldn’t be worse. Perhaps the best ‘cameo’ is that of Harold Ramis, a bronze bust in the corridor to Wiig’s office, but the rest are simply in-your-face characters (Murray), deliberate “it’s him!” moments (Hudson, Aykroyd), or last-minute “hey look!” scenes (Weaver). Other, subtler references were made, but it’s the forced ones that people will remember this for, and that strips it of the uniqueness that it craves.
I can’t see why it wouldn’t be deserving of a good sequel, but for it to work as a continuing franchise then I hope they get a new team of writers, and perhaps a director more attuned to high stakes action than the tension-free brawls that this incarnation of Ghostbusters consistently delivered.