As much as I would rather ignore it, it’s impossible to discuss Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters without referencing the controversy it has provoked. The news that the Bill Murray starring franchise was to be updated with female leads became a sounding board for male chauvinists to spew vitriol at the opposite gender. The film’s IMDB page became flooded with one-star reviews from illiterate men, who can barely string a sentence or a concrete opinion together, referring to the movie as “a man-hating mess”, “Ghostbuster tampons” and “reverse sexism” (all from the first three reviews I saw on the site). This hate was then fuelled by a widely accepted poorly cut trailer, giving these men’s rights activists in waiting ammunition.
When this type of phenomena happens, one wants the film to be enjoyable and profitable in order to prove that it is possible for women to headline in the male-dominated blockbuster market (where is Marvel’s Black Widow movie?). What a pleasure to report that, despite some flaws, the reboot is an overall success.
The film begins with Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods (always a welcome presence) as a tour guide in a luxurious haunted house featuring a “face-bidet” and an “anti-Irish fence”. He is spooked by a spectral entity and inquires for the help of Erin (Kristin Wiig), a college professor and former ghost enthusiast. Erin, who has struggled to be taken seriously in academic circles due to her past obsession with paranormal activity, is angered when the book she wrote: Ghosts from the Past: Both Literally and Figuratively – has found its way to Amazon. She tracks down the book’s co-writer Abby Yates (Mellissa McCarthy) and through a series of events, has her belief in ghosts restored. The two, as well as Abby’s new partner Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty (Leslie Jones), a witness to the ghostly antics, begin to investigate the reason for the ghoulish resurgences.
While the film suffers from the lack of belly-laughs associated with previous Feig/McCarthy collaborations, it does deliver in terms of quick zingers and memorable one-liners (one in particular addressing the sexism controversy is very funny). Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation, The Heat) manage to earn a lot of mileage out of the casts obvious chemistry (the four have all worked on SNL together, either hosting or performing). I’ve always thought that Wiig and McCarthy are far funnier toned down and Ghostbusters wisely places them as straight-women to Jones and McKinnon’s more OTT performances. The whole cast, particularly McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth (as the group’s dim-witted secretary), look as if there having a lot of fun and that adds a warmth to the viewer’s experience.
Feig also stages some stylish and creepy set-pieces. A scene in which a ghost possesses a mannequin garners as much as spook as possible out of its uncanny valley inducing premise. Also, when the finale of one’s film involving an inter-dimensional rescue evokes memories of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, the filmmakers are doing something right.
The only major gripe I have with the film is the character of Patty. While Leslie Jones is very good in the lead role, her character is essentially a collection of black female stereotypes. There is certainly a feeling that Feig and Dippold are trying to counter this problem by making her a very necessary and important contributor to the ghostbusting team (she has an extensive knowledge of New York the others do not). However, when comparing her to black actor Ernie Hudson’s role in the original (where his ethnicity was never played for laughs), Patty feels like a step-back in terms of race politics.
The new Ghostbusters skates by on its’ lead actresses winning charisma and is far from the failure Internet trolls and sexists desired. That said, it’s not as hilarious as Feig and McCarthy’s previous collaborations and the character of Patty is problematic.