Director: Paul Feig
The last sentence in my previous article about Ghostbusters (2016) is haunting my ass.
Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig, stars SNL comedy actresses Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, comedian Melissa McCarthy, as well as Chris Hemsworth in the re-incarnation of the 1984 cult classic Ghostbusters. The characters take the form of a Dr Erin Gilbert of Columbia University, Patty Tolan, an MTA worker, Dr Jillian Holtzmann, an eccentric engineer, and paranormal scientist Abby Yates. And of course, Kevin, the secretary. The film is also replete with cameos from multiple cast members from the original Ghostbusters—Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson.
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The film starts with Dr Gilbert up for academic tenure, however this is suddenly implicated by the re-print of a ‘paranormal’ book written years earlier by herself and childhood friend Abby Yates. The event reluctantly draws Dr Gilbert back into paranormal research and investigation once more. Following a jump in ghost activity due to occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey), the Ghostbusters (including Dr Gilbert) soon band together to stop the imminent paranormal invasion of Manhattan.
There were moments like the Ghostbusters’ logo being spray-painted on a train-station wall, or the way that Patty joined the team, that were predictable and you could see coming, but were just as enjoyable to watch being realised. There were some cool effects, some fancy gadgets, some neat music, some nice call-backs to the original. But overall, the film was entirely uninspiring.
The plot was just… lacking. The motivations driving the behaviour of Rowan, an off-beat occulist who falsely recognises a spike in paranormal activity, were never properly explained—beyond a clichéd need for revenge due to perceived mistreatment. They didn’t seem legitimate to me. Additionally, he completely changed personality as soon as he got into Kevin’s body, in a way that was neither justified nor executed plausibly. It wasn’t that Kevin’s personality was slowly infecting him, which could’ve been an interesting and potentially comical struggle to watch. And it wasn’t that he was just showing a different facet of his nature; instead it was an abrupt, unexplained, and complete shift in temperament.
It would have been more accurate to have more ethnic diversity in the cast, among the scientists and otherwise. However, I don’t think that in order to do so Paul Feig should sacrifice Leslie Jones’ character, because she was fantastic. The problem is that by reducing representation to only a few roles, characters have to somehow be emblematic of an entire race, which resorts to basic stereotyping and ignores their individual complexity. We should be able to have more than one character of colour, you know? And they should be seen in jobs as various as air traffic controller to president, because that is a true reflection of reality.
Just because objectifying women is off the table doesn’t mean we need to introduce an appealing and dumb male secretary for the women to ogle. While some of the gags were amusing, in my opinion it was taken too far: there’s subverting the male gaze, and then there’s undermining your position by disregarding that men are also dehumanised as sex-objects enough already.
If doing justice to the original meant a film with a washed-out plot, and a call back to the original tech with a shiny modernised twist, then Ghostbusters achieved its purpose. But there wasn’t any bold storytelling, but in the end the film didn’t deserve all the controversy it has received (and the actresses certainly don’t deserve hate for taking the job).