Pull on your jumpsuit, strap on your proton pack, and get in the hearse. Ghostbusting is about to become a national pastime again.
What a time to be alive.
Spoilers for Ghostbusters below.
The controversies around the Ghostbusters reboot have been so varied and often upsetting that talking about the film itself unfortunately seems like small beans at this point. I’ve been getting into polite disagreements with folks on the internet (yes, polite) ever since the film was announced, and particularly once it was clear that the crew would be all-female. Detractors have run the gamut from concerned old-school fans to out-and-out hostile trolls who are determined to make certain that no one finds a “chick Ghostbusters” film funny or worth anyone’s time. (They are currently on Reddit, planning to tell everyone that all positive reviews were paid for. Guess I’ll be added to that list, then.)
But if we throw all that aside, here’s my simple verdict: The movie is great. And not just because it stars a female cast (though that’s a big plus). It’s actually because—get ready for my confession—the original Ghostbusters drove me kind of crazy.
Before people descend to pick over my bones, allow me to clarify. I thoroughly enjoy the film. Nostalgia rightly situates it as one of the best sci-fi/horror comedies on offer. But I learned that I didn’t have quite the same reverence for it as my friends and colleagues due to one niggling little catch: The film had practically no worldbuilding or set up. Zilchy-zilch. None-zo.
That’s not a dealbreaker for most fans, clearly, but it was for me. I was irritated by the fact that the film refused to answer so many basic questions: Why do these guys know each other? How did they start doing this research in the first place? Who gave them funds for their equipment? Was the paranormal common enough, but ignored in their world? I know, it’s a comedy and I’m not supposed to care, but I did. I cared. “Watch the cartoon, then!” everyone said, and I did sometimes, but I could never get over the fact that the film itself refused to build out at all. Also, the cartoon was way different.
The new film does all of this legwork. It doesn’t allow those choices to displace the humor or the action, but it tells us who these women are, and how they come to work together as friends. It tells us why the world ignores the paranormal, and who helps to keep it that way. In effect, it erases every qualm I had with the original. That likely won’t matter to many viewers, but boy, did it matter to me. So on that note alone, I was prepared to look on it favorably.
But that’s not all.
This movie is funny. And it’s funny in the same way that the first films were, being that the humor all comes down to the cast’s individual quirks as comedians. When you add the fact that all of the team are women, it’s brand new territory, particularly in the realm of SFF comedy. They are a dynamic and unique crew, and every single one of them is hilarious. The standouts here are Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon; after the post-trailer concerns that Jones’ character was the only woman of color in the group and also the only non-scientist, it was rewarding to finally see Patty Tolan in all her history nerd glory. Her know-how isn’t down to stereotypical street smarts, but a genuine love of New York history, and she inserts herself into the group by sheer force of logic and pragmatism. “You need Patty,” she tells them at one point, and it’s indisputable. Yes, we do. We need Patty.
Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann offers a character I’ve been searching for my entire life—a female mad scientist, with all the oddities and deeply questionable decisions/experiments that persona comes with. This sort of character is practically always conceptualized as a man, and here we have Holtzmann, unmistakably strange, totally reckless, likely queer (she hits on Erin multiple times, is all I’m saying), and possessing no filter whatsoever. She’s perfect. I needed her when I was twelve, but I’m just as happy to have her now.
The biggest thing I can fault the film for is Paul Feig’s editing style, which can often muddy the progression of events. There are far too many scenes in this film where the jump to another frame reveals that something happened in the space of two seconds… that we never witness. It can make following the action a little rough at times, but it certainly doesn’t distract from the laughs.
Fascinatingly, the film seemed to divine precisely the sort of people who were going to have a problem with its premise. The villain of Ghostbusters is in many ways a reflection of the exact type of fan who railed against the movie’s inception in the first place. Rowan North (Neil Casey, Inside Amy Schumer) goes on about how he’s been overlooked and bullied, planning to bring about an armageddon of his own making to punish the world for being cruel to him. But of course, he has chosen to respond to this bullying by becoming a bully himself. And then there’s the fact that the Ghostbusters—all of them pointedly women—understand what it’s like to be bullied and disbelieved and disadvantaged, and stand there as a tribute to the opposite philosophy. All of them stand up to him and stop his plan from coming to fruition, even though the world refuses to believe them or treat them with respect.
There’s Kevin as well, the group’s dim receptionist who is hired mainly for his good looks (and for being the only applicant), who offers an extreme comical inverse of the “token female in a guy movie” trope. Kevin serves practically no purpose to the plot whatsoever. He’s there to be pretty and get caught up in the antics—but he has very little initiative, and the one time he shows a bit of agency, he only causes more problems. Chris Hemsworth makes the role work by clearly understanding exactly what joke he’s contributing to, grinning and posing and occasionally getting in a sly nod to his superhero alter ego, Thor. Though there are bound to be folks who think that reversing this particular trope is a mean move, it works precisely because everyone is aware of the gag.
So, the movie is compelling and entertaining. If that’s your only concern before stepping into a theater (as it should be for an action comedy), then there’s no reason to avoid it. If your concern is lack of respect for the source material, it’s basically a non-issue; this Ghostbusters is very much its own film. While it gives the occasional nod to fun gags from the first movie, the universe is entirely different and has another story to tell. It doesn’t hurt that the cameos made by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts are all fabulous, and that the late Harold Ramis gets a sweet nod, too.
But most important of all, this film delivers on something that is still often denied to women on pop culture terms—basic accessibility. So many people who didn’t want this film claimed it had nothing to do with an all-female cast, but more a lack of originality—why do we have to remake great things? they said. Why can’t you just come up with a new idea? Why do you have to take something I love and make it something else?
The answer is simple, in my opinion. When something is a cultural touchstone, you want to participate. The other primary reason I never liked Ghostbusters as much as so many of my friends? It was a boys’ club, intensely so. I could no more relate to those characters than I could relate to Rambo, but the premise of Ghostbusters was still something that I had a passion for. It was a fantasy, a ghost story—that I could only play secretary to. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that hurt, especially as a kid.
And now that’s no longer true. Now there are women who are Ghostbusters, and they are every bit as fun as their male counterparts. The barrier has been broken—and it was fun to kick down.
So if you’re looking for a little more than “that was so funny!”, there’s your answer. Ghostbusters is a funny summer flick that everyone can enjoy… but it’s also more than that. It’s a restructured touchstone. It’s a bigger club. It’s a little girl in a gray jumpsuit on Halloween who comes to your house to defend you from the paranormal, rather than collect candy.
Who you gonna call? Everyone.