It has always been a fight for writer/director Paul Feig and his comedy troop. In Bridesmaids, it was the general idea that women could 1) be funny 2) be crass and funny and 3) generate a profitable film. In The Heat, it was the idea that the buddy cop movie is not a genre completely overrun by the Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys of the world. In Spy, it was the idea that a woman could be James Bond or Jason Bourne and throw in a few laughs along with the action.
Each of his previous recent films has a small cry into the entertainment industry void and its perception of women on screen, and his latest (and largest) effort, Ghostbusters, is not different. It is coincidental while on his biggest stage yet, Feig decides to fire his largest shot as well.
The re-invented Ghostbusters stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the latest iteration of the team as they follow a similar mold to the previous two films and must save New York City from an approaching paranormal attack. Armed with some of the funniest people on the planet, Ghostbusters carries many of the same qualities of the 1984 classic — likable and charismatic leads, a sense of comradery, and witty and entertaining banter between them — while still forging its own path for a perceived new franchise.
The movie carries many of the qualities of a Feig comedy (down to regular faces such as Zach Woods popping up in small parts), but is hindered by its lack of an R-rating — something that Feig has used to its best abilities with his last three movies. The lack of f-bombs being thrown around shouldn’t deter you from seeing the movie — there are still many laughs in it — but it does create a hole where Feig would go to mine the majority of his humor. It also doesn’t help that he has one of the best curse-flingers in the business — longtime collaborator and comedic muse, Melissa McCarthy — in the cast, armed with the ability to take someone down with words better than most in the business at this time.
Instead, Ghostbusters leans on some subtle jokes (thanks in part to the scene-stealing performance by Kate McKinnon) as well as some zingers coming from Leslie Jones, who also pronounces herself as a future comedic talent in film. McCarthy and Wiig — both previous Feig contributors — are relegated to the straight role, which they play well even if Wiig seems to lack the spontaneous intensity that made her character (a very similar one) so much fun to watch in Bridesmaids.
The plot moves as fluidly as possible with a noticeably chipper pace than his previous movies. A trend in most recent studio comedies is to top-heavy the laughs in order to make up for the lack of humor or story happening for most of the second half and beginning of the third before blowing you away in a grand finale. Ghostbusters seems to buck this trend with a relatively slow beginning that burns gradually into a finale that seems to fall limp.
Even in his very action-packed, Spy, Feig didn’t show much action know-how and Ghostbusters doesn’t do much to change that tune. The heavily-CG conclusion has its moments between characters that gain a rise from the audience, but for the most part is a forgettable retread into battles we’ve seen before. Not even a Chris Hemsworth dance number can save you now!
But for all its flaws and disappointments, Ghostbusters still carries enough spunk and spark to generate a good time at the movies this summer. It also allows Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold to explore a theme they’ve been poking at over the course of three movies (or at least Feig has) — the perception of women in the entertainment industry.
It is explicit in one scene where the Ghostbusters team is sent to the Mayor’s office to speak about a recent ghost catch that caused a stir around the city. The Mayor (Andy Garcia) applauds the ladies for their help with eradicating this issue and says thank you for the work they’ve been doing. That praise is short lived after he quickly pulls the rug out from under them and asks them to please stop with their ghost research and removal.
Even after the climactic battle where they save the city, the tune is still to keep this business on the down low (even though a nice incentive is offered this time around). In these moments, a theme of women in the industry — which Feig has been harping on since day one — seems to simmer to the surface with his most overt examination yet.
In these scenes, Feig and Dippold are playing out reality-based sequences of being a female director, writer, or actor and the pushback that comes from being a creative as well as a woman. In a film that doesn’t always hit its marks, there is something admirable about Feig and his crew making this bold a statement in his biggest project yet and one that would bring more people (theoretically) to the theater than the other movies he’s made.
Ghostbusters has all the laughs, scares, and cheers that a fan of the franchise, or just good comedy, would enjoy, but it also takes the time to remind us of the issue hidden behind the curtains. In a time where this film was chastised by impotent, delusional, mother’s basement-dwelling rodents that would rather we boycott this movie than tarnish their childhood nostalgia, it is nice to see a movie using its platform to say something that has plagued the industry for longer than the 32 years since the original movie came out.
In that sense, Ghostbusters is stronger than its predecessor and has more to say going forward with even greater promise than it really should’ve.