Ghostbusters-2016

Uh oh… ladies!

I’m probably risking a lot of bullshit by endeavoring to post a (mostly) positive review of Ghostbusters 2016, but what the hell. Let’s lean into it.

First, some context: For those who don’t know, this has probably been the most hilariously and disproportionately controversial movie release in recent memory. Hate has poured onto this project before even the first trailer, and the common denominator always seems to be the fact that it’s a reimagining where the titular ‘busters are women instead of men. Look, I get it. People like to see themselves represented in things, and men (especially white men) now have to share space with people of color, women, and even men who prefer to have sex with other men. Gasp! Ultimately, this is a good thing for society but try telling that to some people. In the end, though, I’d never go so far as to say that someone who saw the trailers for Ghostbusters and wasn’t excited, or gave the movie a chance and left disappointed, is necessarily some kind of closet misogynist. You are allowed to dislike this movie, but you’re also responsible for the reasons why you dislike it. If it’s on any level down to the fact that the Ghostbusters are now women, you need to have yourself a think.

As for the movie itself, it’s a pretty good time. It’s less brazen, more middle-of-the-road (with some notable exceptions) in its comedy and quirkiness than something like Bridesmaids. It feels more like a Marvel film due to its tonal balancing, which seems intended for mass appeal. It has the same sense of fun, embrace of the colorful and cartoony, and the same tendency to undercut cheese or melodrama with a quick witticism or sight gag. That said, it’s as confrontational as a big budget movie can be about its gender politics. Visually, which was a big concern apparently, there are sequences and moments in this film that are simply gorgeous, and though it never commits enough to its characterization to achieve much depth, it feels like a really solid first entry/origin flick that nicely introduces characters, a world, some ground rules, and room for more down the line.

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Kirsten Wiig tries to be straight lace but she just caaaaaan’t.

Erin (Wiig) is a physicist with a dirty secret. Back in the day, she wrote a book with Abbie (Melissa McCarthy) about ghosts and ways potentially detect them. Now she’s trying to get tenure from a dour and perfectly used Charles Dance. The book is an embarrassment and prompts her to find Abbie, with whom she had a falling out, and get it put back under wraps. Abbie isn’t interested and has continued their work with the lovably deranged Holtzman (Kate MacKinnon, stealing the movie). They quickly agree to go investigate a ghost and when Erin finally sees her once beloved dreams and theories are true, she gets herself fired and joins Abbie and Holtzman to keep investigating the paranormal.

As paranormal events increase in frequency and the mayor (a weirdly used Andy Garcia) tries to keep things under wraps, they realize they need to capture a ghost to prove to everyone what’s going on. Erin is particularly interested in getting validation for their theories, while Abbie is more interested in the actual work. Along the way they encounter Patty (Leslie Jones), an MTA Agent and NYC buff who insists on joining up to figure out what the heck is happening.

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They also hire Kevin, an idiot who Chris Hemsworth plays to the hilt, sending up both his persona and the fluffy, “eye candy” roles usually reserved for women in genre movies. And yet he’s still very much included in the goings-on of the movie.

It doesn’t take long for them to discover that a really mal-adjusted nerd named Rowan (Neil Casey) is purposefully releasing ghosts using Erin and Abbie’s theories. His plan is to “cleanse the world” that has picked on and marginalized him. As he goes around making arch threats and treating humans with disgust and thinly-veiled envy, it’s not difficult to see why he hasn’t had an easy time socially. That said, it’s very meaningful that this movie has a villain of this kind. See, what most of the misogynerds like Rowan don’t recognize is that the women in this movie and in real life are often also nerds, and also often have trouble finding their place socially and in other sectors of life because their interests set them apart. They carry around the pain of being different too, only they (and most nerds in general… I hope) refrain from channeling that pain outwardly in the form of hate, intolerance, and violence. Unfortunately, Rowan is the kind of person who does turn that pain outward. He’s a school shooter, a jihadi, a bully.

Some reviews have been saying that the plot kind of falls apart leading to a disappointing third act. I disagree. I think the movie does start strong and then sort of flags in the middle, with stupid cameos (That Ozzy cameo is just pandering and terrible, for example) and many scripted-seeming jokes that don’t really land. Note: I did like the cameos from the original cast, they were pretty clever and fun.

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I really hope this movie paves the way for MacKinnon to break out huge. She’s amazing.

Ghostbusters does end pretty strong, though, with its action-heavy big ghost battle being a rarely beautiful set of heavy-CG sequences that manage to pop and make an impact through use of color, reflection, lighting, and energy. Some are calling Holtzman’s big badass pistolero moment “too much” but I disagree. In the sense that Ghostbusters is an effects movie, it is the singular sequence in the movie. It’s gorgeous on every level and I think it transforms Holtzman (and Kate MacKinnon) past the weirdo and into the action hero. Which is kind of a big deal. Even though it shouldn’t be.

The one criticism I’ll give the ending is that the conflict between Erin and Abbie is too quickly settled and set aside earlier in the film for the big “catch” ending to really feel earned. A little more drama and depth between them would have worked better for this, but it’s maybe a minor nitpick since it’s not like that moment is completely unearned or cheesy as a result. It just lacks a certain punch it definitely could have had.

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The Times Square finale is very cool.

Though Ghostbusters probably won’t be the quirky, unlikely classic that the ’84 film was, it definitely deserves some love. It’s also worth noting, since some people always forget this, that the original film hasn’t been destroyed or erased because this one exists. That’s always the clearest and most damning argument against those who get real bent out of shape about remakes: the original thing you liked better still exists. Blow some dust off the dvd or whatever and throw it back in. When people talk about the new shit, shrug and reiterate your preference for the old shit. Similarly, I can respond to people who earnestly love Ghostbusters 1984 with the same shrug and stated preference for the new movie. I can’t say the new one is a better movie. They’re both good at different things and aren’t really the same kind of movie at all, even though the remake certainly homages the original more than it needed to.

As long as everybody’s reasons for their preferences are free from closeted intolerance and the inherent subjectivity of liking a thing is acknowledged there’s no need for vitriol. If you don’t want to be labeled a bigot or a misogynist about this or any other product of the popular culture, you need to refrain from walking and talking like one in your interactions with those products and the people who create and support them. It’s really that simple.

On a final, personal note, I think what surprised and disappoints me most about the way people react to remakes in general and this movie in particular is that I think most nerdy people spend some time imagining alternate versions of stuff they love. I can remember writing out actors I’d want to see in a live action Watchmen or an all-women version of Predator. I remember drawing superheroes gender-bent, or my own versions of iconic costumes and characters from everything I loved. Hell, I probably had a “what if…” about Ghostbusters itself back when the all-female version was just a rumor. I think there’s room for this all-female version of Ghostbusters and room for other versions someday if the concept is recycled again for newer generations. Any concept that hits that special place will come back to us over and over again. There’s room for all of it. For every one.

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