By Billy Russell
The elephant in the room prior to discussing the remake of the 1984 film Ghostbusters is the rampant, disgusting amount of sexism surrounding the film. Straight up: It’s not okay to write off a movie just because it’s starring women. If you’re the kind of person who becomes outraged over the idea of a beloved classic being remade with women in the leads, you’re more than likely a misogynist.
It’s easy to hate something. If a person is given an opportunity to dislike something, they’ll leap at the opportunity. Cynicism is easy. Look at the rise and fall of any given celebrity and the arbitrary means by which their hatred is earned. Right now, if something is a remake, it’s already assumed to be terrible. Before remakes ran rampant, people similarly rolled their eyes when a slew of movies based on books or existing property were being released. “No one has original ideas anymore,” people said of The Godfather, I’m sure, when the popular novel was to be turned into a film. Now, no one gives a second thought to a movie coming out based on a hit book, and people conveniently forget that remakes of films have been around since the very beginning. 1931’s Frankenstein, the classic film everyone loves, wasn’t the first version of the story to be told on film, so that movie is technically a remake.
I’m not saying the original Ghostbusters is on the level of, say, The Godfather or even Frankenstein, but the way people freaked out about this remake, you’d think it was some sort of sacred text. A remake is never going to ruin the original, unless somehow the remake found all copies of the original, like snuck into your house at night, and destroyed it. That hasn’t happened.
So, you have to just watch 2016’s version of Ghostbusters, starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as the foursome, on its own merits.
It’s not a good movie.
Ghostbusters, the remake, isn’t interested in telling a story. It’s a vehicle for jokes, but the problem is that only very few of the jokes are actually funny. The surprising thing is that Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones are all very funny women. Each one of them, in other, better projects, have made me laugh—sometimes uproariously so. Here, they throw joke after joke that rarely succeeds to land. It’s almost an impossible phenomenon, given their talent, to see such unfunny results. It’s like Ghostbusters was made in a bizarro universe where humor functions like antimatter.
Paul Feig, who directed this remake, is perhaps not the ideal filmmaker to be responsible for this remake. I’ve enjoyed his work before. I think he’s a good director of comedy and knows how to handle actors. He knows, generally, how to balance story and laughs, too. Last year’s Spy was a very funny movie that also told a large story, with twists, turns and intrigue. His version of Ghostbusters contains almost no story whatsoever.
Consider what happens in the original film: The team of ghost-fighting employees have a fall from grace, a redemption of sorts, another fall from grace, another redemption of sorts and in between all that stuff there’s time for a montage chronicling their success and a romance. Every character is given an opportunity to develop. We know their personalities.
In the new film, they all just sort of stagger around from one event to another, all loosely connected, and then there’s a special-effects-laden finale that is all pizzazz with no wonderment. Prior to the ending they bust one ghost. I don’t understand what the hell the filmmakers did with the runtime they had on this movie. Very, very little actually happens, and what does happen is almost excruciatingly dull. So much happens in the original! And the original is only about ten minutes longer. About five minutes of screenplay is dedicated to a subplot about Melissa McCarthy never getting enough wantons with her sweet and sour soup. It is utterly pointless and unfunny—those five minutes would have been better served to help flesh out the team or give them motivations that actually make sense.
Kate McKinnon’s character, the brains of the team, develops new versions of the proton pack, which seems odd to me. Why are they already creating deviations on the tool when they’ve spent absolutely no time, to begin with, on their titular goal of busting ghosts? And when they finally do get to it at the end, the energy from the proton packs appears to kill the ghosts and leaves ghostly corpses along the street. Why would a ghost leave a dead body? Didn’t they have a trap earlier? The movie raises questions it has no interest in answering.
By the end of it, I felt like I never got to know any of the characters. None of them are particularly unique in any way. The dialogue is completely interchangeable, with the exception of Jones’s character. Any line Wiig says could be said by McCarthy and the audience wouldn’t miss a beat. But if Bill Murray said a line intended for Harold Ramis, it wouldn’t have worked.
I feel like the remake just spends so much time with each individual scene and allows unfunny gags to run on for far too long. It’s never concerned with the overall scope of the narrative. If it were concerned with any actual aspect of storytelling, they would have had a much, much better villain. The catalyst to the film’s action, the bad guy they ended up with, is so uninteresting that I kept expecting him to be a red herring, a distraction until the real threat pops up. Unfortunately, that twist never came to fruition.
For all its faults, at least the villain of Ghostbusters II was memorable.
The remake also assaults the viewer with an unending parade of callbacks to the original. The only thing that the relentless cameos, homages and references served to accomplish was to remind the audience that a vastly superior version of the same story already exists.