Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
If you had told me two years ago that the new Ghostbusters movie would be the source of so much bitter, angry contention, I would have called you a liar. But here we are. The movie has been out for a few days. You’ve had a chance to see it. I’ve had a chance to see it. We can finally talk about it like civilized adults.
And I think it’s a good movie, maybe even a very good movie. At the very least, it’s colorful and funny and spooky and populated by actors I like watching. It’s certainly no disaster, despite what any wrongheaded internet campaigns are trying to tell you. Director Paul Feig has made a movie that feels right at home in the Ghostbusters legacy…even though it tries too hard to pay tribute to that legacy.
What Makes a Ghostbusters Movie?
Let’s break the mere concept of a Ghostbusters movie down to its basic elements.
There are the obvious components, like a team of people in jumpsuits who do battle with the supernatural. There have to be ghosts, of course, and they have to be just spooky and scary enough to provide a new necessary thrills and chills while being silly enough to stay in line with a comedic tone. Because yes, a Ghostbusters movie is first and foremost comedy, albeit a comedy where the jokes and gags are worked into a larger texture where the threat on hand actually matters. Perhaps most importantly, a Ghostbusters is an underdog tale, a story of overlooked and misunderstood geniuses who work to overcome the fact that every single person who comes into contact with them either thinks they’re charlatans or is simply embarrassed to be in their presence. This final ingredient is the knife that stabs 1989’s Ghostbusters II in the back – after the events of the first film, it’s impossible to believe that anyone would treat those four guys as jokes.
Paul Feig’s new Ghostbusters contains all of these elements and goes to the trouble and re-arranging them in a pleasing new order. However, at its core, it is very much in line with what has come before, which makes all of the outlandish hate the film has received from the so-called faithful so incredibly misguided. Like the original film (which remains a classic and still exists and you’ll be able to watch it forever), the remake is just scary enough and just dramatic enough to give just enough weight to villain and the supernatural beings that surround him. Against this backdrop, the four leads are allowed to riff and joke and interact with an environment that is more straight faced than them in clever ways. And most importantly, the film has found a way to make them perpetual underdogs, with the New York City mayor’s office acknowledging their contributions in private while going out of their way to treat them like charlatans in public. This is very much the mixture of ideas that worked so well decades ago fine-tuned and remixed for 2016. The only real difference between this and the original film is that the team is composed of four women instead of four men.
The thing about Ghostbusters ’16 is that it is no radical reinvention, and if anything, it holds the original film in too high regard for its own good (more on that in a bit). It’s a funny movie where funny people battle ghosts and save New York City. It’s silly. It’s broad. Some gags work and others fall flat. The character interactions help us power through any rough stretch. It’s such a Ghostbusters movie.
The New Team Dynamic
The dynamic between Venkman, Ray, Egon and Winston in the original Ghostbusters was that of colleagues, men who were friendly with one another in the workplace and functioned as an effective unit in the field. The dynamic between Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) is strikingly different: these four ladies come across on screen as actual friends who enjoy each other’s company. The result is a team that, by design, features a lot more heart. There are fewer scenes of vicious Bill Murray sarcasm and more scenes of four women bonding over their shared enthusiasms and troubled backstories. It’s impossible to imagine any member of the original four opening up about their pain quite like Gilbert does when she shares the origin of her obsession with ghosts.
This means Ghostbusters ’16 is a sweeter experience than the movie it’s remaking, which falls right into Feig’s wheelhouse. Ivan Reitman made masculine, sarcastic, anarchic comedies and he made them damn well. Feig makes raunchy but good-natured comedies about outsiders who grow together despite their differences. To understand what interests each filmmaker, you must simply look at how their Ghostbuster team functions.
In addition to being a friendlier line-up, the 2016 Ghostbusters also double down on my favorite aspect of the original film: these characters are scientists. Well, three of the them are scientists, but Tolan is well-read New York City history buff whose contributions to the team dynamic genuinely matter. Both Ghostbusters films are about science being taken from the lab and put on the streets. Both films are about lab coats being replaced with a working person’s coverall. Both films are about people with big brains being forced to get their hands dirty to pursue knowledge. Both films espouse the same message: being smart is cool and science exists far outside of the textbook you half-read in high school. Being an outsider, an oddball, is totally fine. Go for it. You do you. You do it well enough and maybe you’ll save the world.
Of course, the new team has to deal with an additional layer of sexism that the original crew did not, but Feig doesn’t overplay his hand on this angle. The sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle misogyny this crew grapples with is present in many scenes, often in the use of a particular phrase or even a carefully chosen word. If you take into account all of the hell the internet has put this movie through prior to its release, the movie starts to feel like a terrific guide for how to let casual sexism bounce right off of you. Ignore the haters and kick ass anyway. Every little girl on the face of the planet should watch Ghostbusters.