It’s become impossible to talk about this film without addressing the Internet backlash that this film received since it was publicly announced. The backlash didn’t have any empirical data until this March when an article by David Griner for Adweek reported that the trailer for this movie, which was posted on YouTube and Facebook, had received a level of hatred not seen before. On both those platforms, users have the ability to express their like or dislike of anything. On YouTube, one can give a video a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” Griner noted that most movie trailers get a ratio of thumbs-up to thumbs-down that always favor thumbs-up to a significant degree. However, this movie’s trailer got a disproportionate number of thumbs-down and to a degree that immediately made it abnormal. It’s also received an inordinate amount of negative comments online that many have classified as misogynist.
This movie is being classified as a reboot, which is a type of remake but for franchises. Remakes have been done in Hollywood going back to the 1930’s and 40’s. There have been tons of remakes and a good number of reboots ever since, but generally any remake or reboot won’t change the gender of the main characters, and certainly not all of them. Some remakes have changed the race or ethnicity of the protagonists. Chris Rock’s remake of Death at a Funeral (2010) changed the white British cast to an all African-American cast. Changes like that are fine for smaller, more independent or foreign films. The bigger films, the Hollywood franchises with sequels and merchandising, are considered more sacred. People reacted badly when Johnny Storm was changed from white to black for the remake of Fantastic Four (2015).
The early reaction to Johnny Storm being African-American should have prepared people for the reaction that the protagonists here were now going to be all-women. The 1984 film, written by Dan Aykroid and Harold Ramis, was about four men in New York City who come together to fight mischievous or even demonic spirits that were running a muck. This movie is basically the same thing. The exception is the four men are now four women.
Katie Dippold wrote this reboot and Paul Feig directed. Feig and Dippold worked together on the hit film The Heat (2013) and a lot of echoes of that film is present here. As much as this movie involves four women, the focus is on two of them. One of them is the same co-star from The Heat, Melissa McCarthy, and the other is SNL alumni, Kristen Wiig. One of the actresses is different, but the dynamic is very similar.
Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids and The Martian) stars as Erin Gilbert, a professor at Columbia University who is trying to get tenure but who is not thought highly by her peers. She thinks her tenure will be threatened when people find out about her book, which is about the paranormal and the preponderance of spirits. Since writing the book, she’s become a highly skeptical scientist.
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids and Spy) co-stars as Abigail Yates, the childhood friend of Erin who co-wrote the book about the paranormal. She puts it back on the market in order to raise money to fund her work at an institute. That work doesn’t embrace skepticism, or run away from the paranormal. Instead, her work is gung-ho about pursuing ghosts and proving them real.
McCarthy isn’t playing the same character as in The Heat. Wiig, however, does resemble the other or opposite character, played by Sandra Bullock. Wiig is like Bullock’s character in that she’s bit of a prude, buttoned-up and a tad shy. She’s smart and good at what she does. She can stand up for herself, but she’s a stickler for the rules and as scientists go she’s become somewhat of a conservative. McCarthy’s character is somewhat of the reverse. She’s bold and adventurous, more energetic. Watching them bounce off each other is the fun here as it was in The Heat.
Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, also from Saturday Night Live, fill out the squad. McKinnon plays Jillian Holtzmann, the person who builds all the technology. Jones plays Patty Tolan, the person who provides the transportation and historical context. Both are comic relief in terms of comments or one-liners, or just funny reaction shots. Wiig and McCarthy are more straight-forward with Wiig arguably giving more a dramatic performance, but it’s funny given the absurd situation.
Wiig and McCarthy’s comedy here is peppered with the occasional pratfall and physical gag. A recurring gag with Wiig is kicked off with a jump scare and a direct use of 3D computer imagery. The film also revels in giving Wiig interactions with all the living cast members from the 1984 original in what is a slew of cameos.
Another nice spice of comedy here is Chris Hemsworth, the star of the Thor movies. He continues a trend, which started in last year’s Vacation, another remake of a SNL alumni-starring film from the 80’s, where his humor is derived from his attractiveness. Unfortunately, him being a dumb, muscular blonde doesn’t work as effectively as it did for Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy, although Bautista wasn’t blonde. Hemsworth is fine, but the reactions to him from others is what’s most funny. An example is someone calling him a “Clark Kent, stripper gram.” Yet, Hemsworth does do a great dance in the end-credits.
The visual effects are fine, especially at the end as it becomes a mix of Poltergeist (1982), King Kong (2005) and The Avengers (2012). Yet, beyond those and the aforementioned, superficial pleasures, it seems the filmmakers, while shooting, caught wind of the Internet backlash and built into it a kind of rebuttal. The main villain in fact feels like he’s an embodiment of all the Internet backlashes. Also therein are lines of dialogue about eschewing comments online doubting the ladies and even comments on television doubting them. It’s unsure if the filmmakers were actively combating the backlash or if it was just happenstance, but it was clever either way.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.