Let’s get this out of the way right up front: the new Ghostbusters remake/reboot/whatever isn’t a bad movie because it stars four women instead of four men. It isn’t bad because it somehow tarnishes the legacy of an alleged 80s classic either (honestly, there isn’t much to tarnish; Ivan Reitman’s 1984 film is merely fine). It’s bad because Paul Feig directed it. Feig is quite evidently good at collecting some very talented performers and getting them to improv a bunch of one-liners while they stand around on sets, but he is just as evidently awful at stringing those scenes into an actual film. He indifferently plops the camera down and lets them riff, and the generally very funny women he’s gathered here (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones) are brutally underserved by his seemingly active disinterest in narrative, making most of the jokes feel mailed in from some other modern random-gag comedy, like one of Adam McKay’s Anchorman movies.
Only McKinnon really gets away clean. Her tech-genius character Holtzmann seems genuinely unhinged and even dangerous, even if Feig can’t resist having her mug into the camera in nearly every shot in which she appears (not to mention allowing her to do an entire scene eating a nicely displayed can of Pringles). Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold seem to think that the gender-swap alone is reason enough to make this movie vital, even making the villain (who only appears in four or maybe five brief scenes) a bullied man-child nerd angry that the world doesn’t take him seriously. But in failing to really do anything — anything at all! — with the core concept here, this new version falls into the same trap as the old one. The idea of a bunch of funny people fighting ghosts is still pretty bulletproof, instantly generating any number of possibilities, but none of the Ghostbusters movies have ever bothered to actually create a story to explore that richness, and have instead opted, each time, for a breezy hangout comedy. That’s not intrinsically a problem, but at least Reitman had Laszlo Kovacs for a cinematographer and an army of genius effects folks busy inventing brand new techniques to bring this world to life, whereas Feig’s film degenerates into a smear of endless CGI sludge and cameos from the old gang so strained you’ll be longing for Stan Lee to show up. It’s weird that nobody involved seemed to care about crafting an interesting Ghostbusters movie, which will ironically make all the misogynist trolls who hated it, sight unseen, probably very happy.