A Ghostbusters film needs certain key things in order to work. Ghosts, for instance.
An all-male Ghostbusters team, or any kind of mandated team demographic, is not one of those things.
This is hard to keep that in mind with all the fuss surrounding the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, however. Movies don’t exist in a vacuum and most will have gone into this film with some exposure to the vile online campaign to bring this movie down, before anyone had even seen it, simply due to its choice of women in the lead roles.
In spite of this early ugliness, Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig has pushed forward in making a modern-day Ghostbusters film starring four talented comediennes that is both energetic and amazingly colorful.
But there is one thing missing that this new Ghostbusters needed to fully work: to be funny.
Comedy is subjective but it just doesn’t feel like anyone involved shot for A-grade laughs with this film. Normally, that would be something to shrug off but this is a remake of what’s widely considered to be one of the definitive comedies of the ’80s. There are higher expectations in calling yourself a Ghostbusters movie and anything less than being solidly funny will not do.
This latest iteration solicits more soft chuckles and acknowledging smiles than belly laughs. And it’s no real fault of the cast. Wiig, McCarthey, McKinnon and Jones do what they can with the material and sometimes even feel like a cohesive unit (McKinnon clearly has a lot of fun channeling some Jim Carrey-level mugging).
More so, it comes down to some select bad ideas from the filmmakers. Paul Feig’s previous works usually take the Judd Apatow approach of driving otherwise just-okay jokes into the dirt with repetition. He has not shaken this habit with Ghostbusters, nor has he done away with the basic trick of having characters comment on situations in “funny” ways instead of letting the humor speak for itself.
This Ghostbusters is seen as a big step forward for women taking leading roles in blockbusters/franchises. What does it say, then, when Chris Hemsworth is given the best, most consistently funny material in the film? It’s normal to have a buffoonish side character be comic relief, but it’s a problem when he’s THE comedic element in a movie that’s meant to highlight the strength of the leads.
Where Ghostbusters fails as a comedy, however, it does all right as a summer blockbuster. There are more than a few set pieces that really pop off screen with some fresh, well-designed spooks at the center.
The spectacle is silly, easy to follow and, best of all, amazingly colorful. I’m what you might call an apologist for the recent string of franchise films that adopt a drained color palette but it’s still awesome to see a film make such vibrant use of its visuals, especially in utilizing the 3D appropriately.
All this came together for an impressive finale that can stand among some of the more interesting final acts this season.
Yet for all the good blockbuster pieces Ghostbusters delivers on, it’s still plagued by genre demons, such as painful levels of product placement, a bloated runtime (thanks to all those repetitive observa-jokes) and perhaps the most cringe-worthy screen villain in recent memory.
There are a lot of heated emotions surrounding Ghostbusters, a film that doesn’t do much to inspire strong feelings in one direction or the other. It’s silly, great to look at and a harmless way to spend two hours, but it’s not likely to leave any big impact given how little the humor sticks.