At long last, it’s time for one of the most anticipated movies of 2016. They’ve been talking about Ghostbusters 3 for more than 20 years, and the announcement that they’d be remaking the first movie instead of bringing together a nostalgia-driven second sequel was met with outrage. The leadup to this movie has been filled with controversy, with fans railing against the concept for artistic, nostalgic and sexist reasons, and given that the cast and crew were clearly aware of the vitriol they faced and, dismissing it all as sexism, proceeded anyway, there was anticipation of that “fuck tha haterz” sentiment making it into the movie as well. This was going to be chaos. There was so much that was about to happen here — an explosion of special effects, appeals to nostalgia, heavy-handed misandry and possibly very bad or even very good filmmaking.
Well, it’s here, and it is so fucking boring.
Ghostbusters details the assembly of a new quartet of ghost-hunting wisecrackers. It starts with Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) being kicked out of her job teaching at Columbia University when a scientifically unfounded book about ghosts she wrote with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) several years ago resurfaces. Gilbert confronts Yates and her new research partner, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and they discover that everything in their book is completely true. At Yates’ insistence, they set up a company to help people catch ghosts. Later, walking stereotypes named Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) show up to help, and the group faces off against a men’s rights activist named Rowan North (Neil Casey).
Ghostbusters is so boring it’s exhausting. If it weren’t for the obnoxious IMAX lightshow, I would have had genuine trouble staying awake in the theater. This movie has less flavor than unsalted off-brand pasta. The direction is bland. There’s hardly any visual humor, or any humor at all beyond the lowest-common-denominator grossout gags. With the exceptions of Holtzmann and Beckman, the characters are completely lifeless. The movie is stale at the start but somehow gets worse as it goes along, as the second act is a smorgasbord of introductions, cameos, callbacks and the debuts of those ugly stereotype characters, and the third act becomes an absurd, invasive blitz of bright lights and loud noises, most of which convey little information.
I’m serious, I genuinely think I might have ear damage from the last act. There hasn’t been a more constant sound in a movie since the Eraserhead drone, but at least that had an artistic purpose. The final 20 minutes of Ghostbusters is a barrage of dramatic choral music dialed up well past 11, solid, for the full duration of the act. It’s the only part of the movie that isn’t deliriously boring, and that’s because it’s so annoying.
Fitting this theme are the action sequences. Most of the movie consists of 10-15 second dead-on shots of the actors doing their thing, because actors doing their thing is all director Paul Feig has ever brought to the table. Most of these scenes don’t work at all because nobody thought of anything funny to say, but some of them don’t work because you can tell where they edited different takes of the scene into each other. But when it comes time for an action scene, the cuts suddenly start coming in several times a second in an attempt to confuse viewers into thinking they just saw a well-choreographed fight scene, when it actually doesn’t look like it was choreographed at all. The worst is the last scene, where it looks like they cut together 30 different takes of McKinnon striking poses while CGI ghosts drop around her and called it good.
This complete lack of style is what a lot of people have come to expect from Feig, and it’d be pretty delicious if that expectation boiled over for this movie. He’s known far and wide for the success of Bridesmaids, a good movie but also a very lazily directed one. Most anyone in Hollywood could have taken that story a lot further. So when you take a director who didn’t contribute much to his biggest success and was propped up by a great story and actors like Wiig and Rose Byrne, then give him a mediocre story and make him rely on much lesser actors, no one should have expected anything different.
This movie puts itself in a terrible spot by begging comparisons to the original, still recognized as one of the funniest movies ever made. The policy with this new one seemed to be “improv and hope,” but the original had an actual script and a plan and jokes that weren’t about physical gags and is actually pretty rich visually, certainly compared to the new one. They acknowledge the original with a bevy of cameos, most of them awful, but that kind of begs the question — under what conditions would this have been a good remake? One of my favorite movies from a pure remaking perspective is the 2014 Robocop because it took the fears the original movie was satirizing and updated them, creating a movie that was anchored to 2014 in all the same ways the first one was anchored to 1987. But there’s nothing that ties Ghostbusters to 1984. It’s as evergreen a movie as there ever was. The only things that tie the remake to 2016 are their acknowledgments of the backlash and the fact that this is what people think comedy is now.
I was really expecting them to dial the sexism way up, but it’s mostly muted until the later stages of the movie. Feminism isn’t about hating men, but nuance isn’t exactly this creative team’s strong suit. So we have the sassy scenes with McCarthy talking about how Internet trolls should be ignored, referring to the Ghostbusters trailer being the most disliked trailer in Youtube history, and we have the scenes with Beckman being sexually harassed because “we should be able to do it too” is a totally OK way to address racial and gender divides, and we have the villain talking about how he wants to destroy the world because girls don’t like him. I would never expect a McCarthy-Feig-whoever from SNL movie to handle an issue like this with any kind of grace or poise, but it’s still disappointing to see, and almost made worse by the fact that it’s just thrown in there. There are a lot of movies, some of them really extremely good, about sexism and the pressures men put on women, but that would have required some sort of plan or overarching vision, so this movie was never going to be one of them.
It all plays into the cynicism at the heart of this movie’s making. This is a pure cashgrab by Sony, a company absolutely desperate for tentpoles but with some very poor decision-makers where that’s concerned — they were relying on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to make at least $1 billion, joining a club that still only includes 26 movies, and their only release last summer was the detested Pixels. Ghostbusters was announced as an extended cinematic universe recently after they surrendered Spider-Man back to Marvel. They’re relying on the success of not only this movie, but a myriad of sequels they hope will follow it, and given that that’s the case they shouldn’t have invested $144 million into it and then released it against The Secret Life of Pets, which is expected to top it on opening weekend.
Ghostbusters will release in theaters July 15.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.