I’ve been hyped for Ghostbusters since I first heard about it. My excitement has only grown as the hate has increased, but then, I started to get worried. What if the movie isn’t good? Or worse, what if it is good but people don’t go to see it? Why were only half the theatres in the Greater Los Angeles playing the movie at all? I asked other WWAC staffers around the globe and they reported the same strange phenomenon in other parts of the US, Canada, and the UK. Why has China decided not to release the movie at all based on a presupposition that no one in their country would want to see it? What is so dangerous about this movie that there is an active campaign to engineer its failure?
Now, after seeing this movie, I still have some questions, but I also feel very relieved. It’s not a bad movie. There are fair criticisms to be made of the movie, yes. Some of the jokes fall flat and should have been cut. And in terms of pacing, the movie goes out of its way to include references and original cast members which, although I cheered at every one, the little girls sitting behind me had no idea why the manager at the Mercado Hotel made me applaud. Also, I think the visual effects at the very beginning might be a little too intense for all the kids under 13 who we know are going to go see it, judging by the “whoa that was scary” I overheard from the girls behind me. But when I was 10 and my family went to Disneyland I got so freaked out in the elevator to The Haunted Mansion that I clung to my dad until they relented and let me ride in the elevator back up instead of continuing on the ride.
I was also concerned about Leslie Jones’ character Patty Tolan since she was, as others have pointed out, not only the only WOC but also the only member of the Ghostbusters team who is “street smart” (aka without an advanced degree). To that end, I will say that I felt slightly uncomfortable with a couple of the jokes at Patty’s expense that just weren’t funny. (And I think there are jokes for each member of the cast that just don’t land, for some reason or another). But I was pleased to see that overall the team never treats Patty as dumb, unwanted, or as less than a valuable member. Acceptance and appreciation for people as they are is one of the morals of the story, and I was glad to not see it undermined.
And that’s what I love about this movie. This isn’t just a nostalgia reboot of your favorite cartoon from the 90s with better special effects (Looking at you, Michael Bay). This is a movie that has an important story about friendship woven inside a nostalgia reboot with better special effects. Everything I wanted from a Ghostbusters reboot is here, down to the actual music that they use, and the appearance of all my favorite actors from the original (and even Harold Ramis, in absentia). But it’s what I didn’t expect that makes it better than the original, in my view.
Ways that Ghostbusters 2016 is Better than the Original
The nerdy guy doesn’t get the girl. That was a standard trope in the 80s, and the Ghostbusters of 1984 was no exception. The lack of consent factor that makes all of the Zhoul-possessed Sigourney Weaver scenes difficult to watch is not an issue here, because there is no romance in the new Ghostbusters, creepily possessed or otherwise. Yes, Erin (Kristin Wiig) awkwardly hits on Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) but it’s generally met with disapproval from her fellow Ghostbusters (if not laughter) and Kevin seeming to be oblivious to it. And even better than the nerdy guy being the hero is the fact that the nerdy guy is the villain and the nerdy girls save the world. Boom.
An appreciation for their receptionist by the Ghostbusters. I loved Janine as a kid. As a child, I thought that Janine pining quietly for Egon was romantic. Now it pisses me off. That and the fact that nobody paid any attention to her, generally speaking, because she was competent and therefore invisible. As doofy and dumb as Kevin is, and even though Erin hits on him, the team still values him and learns to work with him because they genuinely care about him. That’s not subtext. That’s actual text.
Using the “ghost” as an allegorical commentary. One of the themes in this movie is the importance of being believed. Yes, in this movie, it’s about being believed about ghosts. Erin talks about how she saw a ghost when she was 8, every night for a year. Her parents didn’t believe her, and she went into therapy. Abby (Melissa McCarthy) was the only one who believed her, which was one of the reasons they became friends. It’s not that much of a stretch to think about all the things that women are also often not believed about, as children or as adults. And that part of the movie, thankfully, and pointedly, doesn’t devolve into comedy. It lets the moment of remembered trauma be serious.
Real friendship between the Ghostbusters. The other moment of seriousness that is allowed to be serious is at the very end, when Jillian (Kate McKinnon) stands up to give the gals a toast. Up to this point, the majority of Kate McKinnon’s screentime has been devoted to sight gags and making straight girls question their sexuality, both of which she excels at.
Which is why I’m so glad this moment of seriousness is given to her. Her awkward speech is perhaps one of the most beautiful speeches on friendship and science that I’ve ever heard, and it made me cry. And I hope someone remembers to write it down when they go see it because it’s seriously amazing.
But despite of all its very good qualities and the high entertainment factor, the reason why I want this movie to succeed so hard is because of the row of girls who sat behind me. It’s because of the little girl, probably no more than six, who hid behind her dad and whispered to him, that I was “dressed up like the lady from the movie” when she saw me in my Ghostbusters coveralls and then smiled shyly when our eyes met. It’s for the teenage girl who rolled down her window and yelled “GHOSTBUSTERS, YEAH!” as I was walking to my car after the movie got out. It’s for this entire generation of girls who now, because of this movie, think that Ghostbusters can be women. Because it’s not something that I, even a few years ago, would’ve believed possible, even in cosplay.
I consider myself a pretty smart person, but it never occurred to me when I was a child that I could be a Ghostbuster. I could be Janine, sure, and pine awkwardly for the scientist. It never occurred to me that I could be a scientist. Or that it didn’t have to be a boy I was pining for. And that’s why these movies, these reclamations of childhood favorites retold as something more than just a male power fantasy, are so important. A new Supergirl that features a Cat Grant who is an intelligent media mogul and not just The Daily Planet’s gossip columnist. A new Xena that has Xena and Gabrielle as textual (not subtextual) lovers. A new Ghostbusters that doesn’t just feature a singular woman as part of a team, but a new team wholly composed of women who decide for themselves to do this not because of any male legacy, but because of who they are, and who doesn’t wait for anyone’s permission to exist, especially the patriarchy’s.
That’s why it’s so important to go and see this movie. Not for your sake, necessarily, although I doubt very much that anyone would go and not at least leave smiling because it really is very funny and enjoyable. But I want this movie to succeed because so many want this movie to fail, simply because of what it represents. I implore you, take your daughters to this movie so they can see these women as action heroes and friends and genuinely good people who care about each other. But also take your sons, because I want to know what the world looks like when men grow up in a world where women can be Ghostbusters, and scientists, and action heroes. I already know what it looks like when they don’t.