It’s not often safe to judge a screenplay by its movie – particularly if it’s a big studio film that was surely shaped by piles of notes from lofty executives – but if we grant that the director stayed fairly true to the screenplay he co-wrote then I must say that this is surely one of the worst-written films I’ve seen in years. At a certain point, I was getting upset when something in the film was really impressive or enjoyable, because I knew it was giving me false hope that was about to be crushed. Most of the jokes were either too predictable or too stupid to be predicted, with many of the biggest laughs oddly coming from the film’s laziest running gag: Chris Hemsworth. (The Hemsworth running gag is strange because it was received by some as being rather progressive, switching out the brainless female eye-candy of some male-oriented films with brainless eye-candy for women, but this actually just fits into two old stereotypes: the idea that women are completely hypnotized by brainless hunks, and the standard trope of sitcoms that men are myopic buffoons who would be helpless without women.) Very little of value is added to the original story, and the way the screenplay tries to present the lead character (Wiig) as someone who follows the scientific method and relies on good evidence while portraying the skeptic as narrow-minded – even though thinking skeptically and thinking scientifically are the exact same thing – is not only ignorant, but irresponsible in an age of science denial. Maybe if the four leading women had been given more room to show off their ad-lib skills there could have been much better humor, and I know I’ve seen at least three of them display great comedic prowess in the past, but the film usually sticks to material that does not work well for the Ghostbusters franchise, and that doesn’t work well as comedy.
What’s unfortunate is that I’m not convinced that it had to be a bad film – it certainly had a lot going for it (at least with its cast) – so here’s my laundry list of random things that could have been better. I suspect that the film could have been much better had it been a sequel; that way there could be a stronger sense of the passing of the baton to a new generation, and the mayor and his assistant could have been handled very differently, making for a more-believable and generally less-stupid story (in which I don’t think all of the characters are total morons). The fact that they got Bill Murray to come back for the film amazes me, although most of the cameos from original cast members were wasted on needless and unfunny parts. I do, however, find Neil Casey’s villain to be an intriguing and well-played character whose story offers the most irony and originality to the film. It’s fairly obvious that the musical number that plays behind the credits was meant to to go into the movie itself, and while I understand why it was cut, the movie appears to have a hole in it, which left me rather confused when the set-up for the number was awkwardly left in the middle of the scene without explanation. I admire the attempt, however, as it was one of the main ways that the director tried to have fun with the project, which he also did with the visual style to some extent (particularly with the wonderfully Burton-esque parade). I can very much appreciate the fact that the film has a lot of color, which has been frustratingly rare since shortly after I was born, but the fact that everything on screen either has the look of something that’s been recorded digitally or something made with CGI means the colors have less of a feeling of Technicolor and more of a resemblance to Raja Gosnell’s Scooby-Doo films from the early 2000s.
I don’t know if I can really say I was disappointed seeing as how I didn’t expect much to begin with, but I really wanted the film to be better than I expected. My hope is that we will soon reach a time when good, funny comedy centered around women is at least as common on the big screen as it is on television, but I don’t see how we’re going to get there if we give Hollywood the message that we’ll settle for this kind of mediocrity. I know that these performers can be funny, so let’s give them better opportunities to show off their skills. In the meantime, skip this movie and re-watch the original – it’s a much less frustrating experience.