8.5/10 Stars. Spoiler-free until the break.
I had a fairly simple plan: buy a ticket to reward Paul Feig for putting four women in starring roles, and then forget about Ghostbusters. The trailers made it look like mindless popcorn fare, not my normal choice. When the reviews starting rolling in, I breathed a sigh of relief: my ticket purchase would probably entertain me, too. So I devoured as much as possible to learn what everyone hated, then purchased a ticket.
To my shock, none of the flaws hit home. I can see why people hated the third act, but to me it passed by quickly and didn’t dwell, nor feel as derivative as others warned me it would. I can see why people didn’t like Kevin, but he didn’t feel overused; he even avoided Sexy Lamp territory by playing a role in the plot. The villain was a cardboard cutout, true, but he’s quite plausible. Patty Tolan wasn’t as stereotyped as she came across in that first US trailer (which didn’t surprise me, everyone seems to have ignored her representation in the International trailers and second US one); she quickly became my second-favorite of the team. Only one of the cameos occupies a non-trivial amount of screen time, and it served a narrative purpose so this too didn’t bother me. While the plot and characters are inspired by the first movie, they were distinct enough to satisfy me and even improved on the originals by having fewer plot holes.
I was left struggling to find something to dislike about the movie, even after watching it a second time, even after re-watching the original 1984 version and the 1989 sequel. On the contrary, I pissed myself laughing at the mockery of YouTube comments, loved the chemistry of the leads, enjoyed the writing, teared up at the ending, and didn’t think of moving once the credits started to roll. I think it’s the strongest of the three, and wouldn’t hesitate recommending you watch it at least once.
[this is your last chance to avoid spoilers….]
Still, I shouldn’t give the impression Ghostbusters was perfect. The logistics of the fight to Rowan mystify me; Erin went to the Mayor, to Ghostbusters HQ to collect her gear, then to the Mercado Hotel, and did a significant amount of that on foot. Meanwhile, the rest of the team had to go from Ghostbusters HQ to the Mercado, and did some of it in their car. It explains why Erin found the rest of them, but leaves a big temporal gap to fill.
The Patrick Swayze bit got old the second time.
Umm… they didn’t show Holtzman detailing the car? The scene in the dean’s office dragged on a bit? Rowan should have known Kevin’s name if he knew Patty’s full name? I’m drawing a blank here, folks.
The story itself was fairly shallow (angry bad guy wants to end the world, he looks defeated but isn’t, then gets legit defeated), but what made up for it was the tight writing. “Ghosts From Our Past” got the story rolling in two ways: it drew Erin to Abby and kicked off the formation of the Ghostbusters, plus it gave Rowan the know-how to put his own plan into action. Making the Ghostbusters the instrument of their own downfall was a brilliant move, as in this universe they’re the only people with the know-how to effectively deal with the paranormal. Rowan’s transformation into the logo was foreshadowed in the diner. Unlike the original, the Ghostbusters don’t jump immediately from PKE meters to full gear; there’s an obvious tech progression, with failures highlighted and mined for laughs. The sequence which gets Erin to Abby and then slimed was smooth and natural. I kept looking for someone to pick up the idiot ball, and even Kevin refused. The team conflicts felt natural and unforced.
The original two don’t stack up nearly as well, on second viewing. A lot of that is due to Peter Venkman, a huckster with a high sex drive. We are introduced by watching him abuse an ESP test to win the confidence of a student he’s attracted to. He sees dollar signs about catching ghosts, and pushes so hard to turn the Ghostbusters into a business that he forces Ray to mortgage his house. Peter’s attempts to woo Dana are painful to watch, and left me wondering where he got those sedatives from. Does he carry them as a rule, or just when he’s visiting a woman he’s trying to woo? In Ghostbusters II, he outright confesses to being a scientific fraud.
There are other problems with the original Ghostbusters, though. I’ve mentioned the abrupt change in tech, but having only those “wands” to play with is limiting; watching them generate a trail of fire and explosions gets boring after a while. There’s a cute bit where Egon fires up Ray’s proton pack in an elevator and edges away after hearing the sound it makes, but that implies he’s never powered one up before that point and doesn’t trust the technology he created. The ending is a bit odd, too; the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man pops up out of nowhere, then is vanquished because the team seals off the gate with a giant explosion. There’s a line in there about reversing the polarity, but the 1984 movie never showed anything blowing out of the gate, it’s sealed with an explosion instead of an implosion, and we’re not given any reason to think a giant marshmallow, let alone a god, could be sucked back so easily.
That second movie is a mixed bag, too. The chemistry between the four leads is a lot better, but the plot strains credulity. Having the Ghostbusters barred from busting ghosts was odd, but forgivable; having a large chunk of New York hate or doubt them, despite experiencing ample evidence of the paranormal, is a bit of a plot hole; having three of the ‘busters openly drill into the street instead of researching the tunnels under it and approaching from there is out of character; riding the Statue of Liberty via a video-game controller, thanks to gallons of slime they didn’t have time to collect and somehow compressed into two backpacks, is less a plot hole than a plot canyon. And what sort of powers did the Vigo the Carpathian have, while stuck in the painting? Most of the time he’s limited to influencing minds and altering the canvas, except for that one time he turned his lackey into a flying British nanny with extensible arms. That’s a bit of a non-sequetor.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is high art in comparison. I figure I’ll be reading a lot of “I watched all the Ghostbusters films, and the first two don’t hold up” articles in a decade. Some are popping up early.
But for me, the strongest aspect of this movie is the meta-narrative. This goes well beyond listing “Ghosts From Our Past” on Amazon.
- It was rare to read a movie review that didn’t reference the hate campaign against Ghostbusters. Movie critics were asking us to “ignore the haters,” while IMDb user reviews were spouting “social justice,” “feminism,” and “liberal” like they were Bible verses. I’ve seen quite a bit of talk about the death of the author, where the audience’s interpretation becomes more important than the creator’s, but Ghostbusters makes the concept tangible and visceral.
- There are a few scenes that consist only of Kate McKinnon gleefully ticking off engineering features. This is a nod to something you see quite a bit in geek circles, the worship of technology and inanimate objects. It has a close tie to unboxing videos, where people excitedly open the packaging on some sort of technology and give a quick tour. These scenes might seem to distract from the main action, but they’re actually a character moment for Holtzman.
- There’s a quick exchange between Erin and her then-boss right near the start that bowled me over. As he’s leaving her office, Harold Filmore drops a comment about how Erin is dressed; Erin, in a professional-looking plaid suit, wonders if it’s too sexy for academia; Filmore says “nevermind” and exits. In just a few lines, it touches on the high and frequently arbitrary standards that women are held to, their hyper-sensitivity as a result of that, and how little say they have in those standards.
- Does Patty Tolan fall under the “sassy black woman” trope, or does she transcend it? Now that the movie’s out and we can see her character arc, a full accounting is possible. As mentioned above, I think she avoids it, but others disagree and I’d like to see more debate on the subject.
- More than a few people have suggested Jillian Holtzman is gay, given the way she acts. But there’s no explicit mention of her sexual orientation in the movie, and Feig is hinting nervous studio execs are the cause. Are we ready, as a culture, for a mainstream Hollywood movie to feature a queer character where their queerness isn’t a plot point? Or are there too many bigots out there to risk an open portrayal?
- At one point, Abby goes on an extended rant about ghost hunting TV shows, and how they poison legitimate paranormal research. Erin also has an impassioned speech about being a scientist and convincing people via evidence. For a Hollywood blockbuster about the paranormal, Ghostbusters is surprisingly pro-science. It breaks a lot of the tropes relating to scientists in the media, as embodied in a tortured anti-social loner who ignores the ethics of their work. While this fits with recent trends, putting women in the scientist role is still rare.
- Speaking of which, representation matters.
- Rowan, Abby, and Erin are all bullied geniuses. But while the man is turned into a bitter husk by it, the women shrug it off as the cost of following their passions. This touches on male entitlement and female minimization.
This movie could launch a thousand think-pieces, it’ll be talked about for years to come and may even trigger a Hollywood trend. You should set aside some time for Ghostbusters, and decide if you want to join in on that conversation.
Skip the tie-in video game, though, it looks like shit.