The internet resounds with tweets and essays, thinkpieces and listicles, glorious .gifs and the yelling of grown men who claim to have had their childhoods ruined because women are now playing with ectoplasm and proton streams. In the midst of all this, how could I decline to put my own tuppence ha’penny-worth of opinion into the mix? Because you know I have one.
Ghostbusters is the best film I’ve seen since Mad Max: Fury Road, and one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen from the last ten years. I don’t fall in love easily at the cinema, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of films I have walked out of with the immediate desire to go back in and DO IT ALL ALL OVER AGAIN. (Pacific Rim, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Ghostbusters. I saw Fury Road three times in cinemas. Ghostbusters, I walked out of on a Saturday and went right back in the next day—dragging my mother with me.) And I’m generally not all that fond of comedy: what I expected from Ghostbusters was a moderate proportion of entertainment mixed in with a moderate proportion of cringe, and the opportunity to watch Melissa McCarthy yelling at ghosts with her usual verve and fervour.
But what I got was a leopard of another stripe altogether. If you want a subtitle for Ghostbusters 2016, it would be this: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC AND SCIENCE IS AWESOME AND BLOWING SHIT UP IS THE BEST. Kirsten Wiig is amazing as Erin, a professor who discovers her former best friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) has published the book on the paranormal that they wrote together when they were younger. Erin’s scientific credibility is at stake, so she tracks Abby down to the basement of the Kenneth P. Higgins Institute of Science to demand that Abby take the book off the internet. Up to this early stage, Ghostbusters has been an entertaining, if somewhat predictable—almost staid—ride. But in Abby’s basement lab, Kate McKinnon makes her first scene-stealing appearance as engineer and scientist Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, with complete self-possession and charmingly goofy weird-ass abandon: “Come here often?” she says to a startled Erin. And shortly afterwards, grinning broadly: “I’ve heard terrible things about you.”
Her facial expressions and deadpan delivery are some of the best things about a film that is full of high-octane awesome—not to mention her dancing, and Holtzmann’s delightful enthusiasm for playing with dangerous equipment and making weapons that make ghosts go boom.
What few scenes McKinnon doesn’t steal, Leslie Jones does. Her Patty joins the trio of scientific white girls after they’ve been kicked out by their respective scientific institutions for being so unscientific as to appear in YouTube videos claiming ghosts are real. Patty, an MTA employee with a local historian’s encyclopaedic knowledge of New York—and access to a car in the shape of her uncle’s hearse—brings a solid presence, even a comic gravitas, to the cast. It helps that of our four heroes at least one is not completely thrilled to be finding spectral apparitions walking around all over NYC.
“I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell.”
Ghostbuster’s weakest link is its villain, who is a sinkhole of anti-charisma, the basement-dwelling angry white male nerd who feels his genius is unappreciated by the world. But the villain merely provides a convenient excuse for our four heroes to get together and kick spectral ass—there is one truly great set-piece at a metal concert that is hilariously well-put-together—while wise-cracking, watching Erin drool over Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin (their pretty but intellectually challenged secretary—he was the only one who answered the ad), and encouraging Holtzmann to come up with ever-better gadgets. Despite the disbelief and disapprobation of scientific authorities, and the interference of the Mayor’s office and Homeland Security, our heroes are not going to be kept out of the running. Nope. They’re going to DO SCIENCE and save New York. Even if no one believes them—or believes in them—but themselves.
It is amazingly rare to have an action film—and Ghostbusters is an action film, as well as a comedy with a strong heart—that stars more than one woman. Here we have four (plus the woman who runs the Mayor’s office and a cameo from Sigourney Weaver). They support each other, they hold each other up, they get each other sandwiches—and when they argue, it’s not to break each other down. The main cast is predominantly white, and—subtext aside (and man there is a LOT of subtext)—could be read as straight in the absence of narrative confirmation to the contrary. But on the other hand, four women, not all of whom are conventionally beautiful in the traditional Hollywood sense (but heavens they are gorgeous)—this is a startling thing, a thing of wonder, a thing of beauty.
Why do so many men seem to hate it? I suspect it’s because they’re so used to being the centre of everything, the assumed audience, the default around whose lowest-common-denominator tastes all action films must orbit. But this is an action film—an action comedy—which puts women as the centre of its narrative and at the centre of its audience. Instead of being the butt of the jokes, women are the ones making them. Instead of being the sidekicks, the damsels in distress, the Obligatory Love Interest, women are the action-heroes.
And that? Makes a hell of a difference.