The female “Ghostbusters” reboot hasn’t had it easy. From its inception, the film has been the subject of widespread criticism, some of it hateful and sexist, some of it thoughtful and legitimate. Director Paul Feig’s reimagining of the classic 1984 film has received so much attention that it seems either destined to triumph over the haters or to fail miserably.
In truth, the “Ghostbusters” reboot is neither a runaway success or a miserable disaster. It’s instead a so-so exercise in Hollywood unoriginality and hardly a justification for all the rhetoric about gender which surrounds it.
The story will be familiar to the initiated. A band of ridiculed paranormal scientists – Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) – team up with subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to battle ghosts terrorizing New York City.
McKinnon fares the best of the bunch, delighting with a devilish freakiness as the Ghostbusters’ pansexual tech expert. McCarthy has her moments as well, earning laughs during arguments with a food delivery boy who continually gives her mediocre Chinese soup. Wiig has the unenviable task of playing the group’s straight woman, but she handles herself capably. Jones’ performance is a misfire; she’s loud and brazen, but rarely witty or funny.
However, the Ghostbusters’ boneheaded secretary, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), deserves particular praise. He’s an inversion of the oversexualized female assistant, and Hemsworth gleefully indulges in his character’s inability to take calls or deal with a crisis without getting distracted.
While “Ghostbusters” boasts a big-name cast worthy of a large-budget feature, the ghosts themselves look like monsters out of a TV movie. They’re hardly scary with their bright neon colors and obvious artificiality, and there is zero tension when Feig throws them onto the screen by the dozen during the video game-like final battle in Times Square.
Surprisingly enough, “Ghostbusters” rarely engages in overt discussions of feminism. Yes, a naysayer at one point declares, “Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” and the finale has a hunk-in-distress, but there’s never a point where the Ghostbusters are held back because of their sex. These women are, refreshingly enough, more concerned with beating the bad guys than asserting their girl power. The movie wants us to take for granted that women can be action heroes, and in that regard it succeeds.
What “Ghostbusters” lacks, though, is its own identity. Unlike “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a nostalgia-laden picture that made up for its misjudged Death Star redux with new character dynamics and themes, the “Ghostbusters” reboot is nothing more than a lazy revamp of the original. It sits comfortably in the realm of harkening back without doing enough to look forward, repeating plot points with surface-level changes in the hopes that it qualifies as different. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver even make cameos as new characters, but if Feig was able to get them on board, why didn’t the studio just opt to make this movie “Ghostbusters III?”
By the end of its repetitive story, the “Ghostbusters” remake never proves why it was necessary. It’s a rehash of a movie that didn’t need to be redone, and it’s a missed opportunity to take the original franchise to new and exciting places. Nonetheless, it has enough strengths that each viewer’s response will vary, and kids will surely find this film more enjoyable than grownups. If you want a surefire crowd-pleaser, though, just stay home and call on the original “Ghostbusters.”
- Running Time: 116 minutes
- Rating: PG-13
- Score: 2.5/5 stars