Does swapping men for women really make that much of a difference?
Of course not. This new Ghostbusters film is inferior to the original, but having female leads is not inherently the problem. That comes from a poor script, lack of characterisation and missing charm.
Or maybe tired female stereotypes telling puerile jokes is your thing? Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy do their standard schtick as Erin and Abby, two scientists exploring the paranormal and dropping a fart joke within the first fifteen minutes. Then there’s Kate McKinnon as the “quirky” one and Leslie Jones as the token black character who amounts to little more than sassy catchphrases. With such a great opportunity to write some interesting comic characters, the lack of originality is disappointing.
Then again, the film does pay homage to the original. There are plenty of cameos by actors from the 80s films, and instead of the giant marshmallow man there’s a clever twist on the Ghostbusters logo. The plot itself also follows a similar trajectory – it’s familiar yet just about different enough.
If there’s one thing that gets these women more excited than ghosts, though, it’s men. The mere sight of Chris Hemsworth and his bulging muscles as dim receptionist Kevin is enough to make them go all googly-eyed. Cue jokes about women lusting after men and men having little to offer except their bodies. Maybe that’s a twist on the usual gender politics we see in the media, but it doesn’t make for strong characterisation. If anything, Hemsworth steals the film with his comic performance and glint in his eye.
Ultimately, though, this is a film that plays on its own meta-narrative, a film about female hysteria and audience expectations. Just as the public believe the women are frauds for chasing ghosts, most viewers will be looking to pick holes in their performances. They do, of course, come out on top in both narrative layers: the scientists save the day and these actresses prove they are more than capable of holding up an entertaining enough summer action blockbuster. It might not do much in the way of strong writing for women, but perhaps seeing women taking the lead in such a high profile film is empowering enough.
Watch: Ghostbusters is out now.