Women Ghostbusters? What’s next, a female Slimer?
by Thom Yee
Do you guys actually think the original Ghostbusters was that good? ‘Cause I don’t. It’s overly casual and fairly shallow, it’s slow and meandering, and its ultimate resolution, crossing the streams, is a placeholder of an ending that ties into nothing else in the movie other than an earlier passing mention not to. No, it’s not a great movie in most of the usual, identifiable, quantifiable measures we like to apply to movies, and there’s only one significant reason why anyone likes it. Luckily, it’s the only reason that matters, and that’s that it works. For some reason, the 1984 Ghostbusters just works in a way that engages you, keeps you watching, makes you laugh, and even gives you an odd sense of contentment, and that’s an extremely rare thing to create let alone recreate.
As a movie, the original Ghostbusters is the culmination of many of the emerging new comedy forces of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s — Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon, Second City, and like that — and you can tell by watching it that it’s operating on a different level than most other comedies of the era. There were, of course, numerous other comedies before it that featured high levels of improvisation and astutely juvenile humour, but few other comedies successfully achieved such an assured and easy pace of laughs (not to mention combining comedy with sci-fi and action movie trappings), and most of its success just comes down to the people involved doing what they do best. They had the tools and they had the talent, but let’s not go nuts. Ghostbusters isn’t some holy grail or unified field theory of comedy, it’s just a funny, original, well-liked movie from a decade that’s become so revered today partially because it seems like all that Hollywood can turn out lately is sequels, adaptations, and inferior reboots.
Inferior reboots like, y’know, the new Ghostbusters.
What’s it about?
Parapsychologists with nuclear guns go into business ridding New York of poltergeists. And this time they’re women! They’re all women! Everybody panic! Panic because they’re women!
There’s a lot to consider about everything going on, in, under, and around the brave new world that this 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters has found itself in, so much to unpack about the Internet culture, feminism, and misogyny surrounding its release, and so much to discuss about the never-ending battle of the sexes that keeps men and women fighting each other like cats and dogs trying to live together. And, honestly, it’s all bullsh*t, and we all know it. Men and women can be found on both sides, either decrying the absolute travesty of a movie the all-new, all-female Ghostbusters will be or lionizing it as an important step in furthering female equality when the truth is the only thing that’s really wrong is that this female cast is such a distraction from what’s. Just. A movie. Without question, there are important discussions to be had on gender equality (as well as all the other inequalities that persist and somehow even grow today), and there will continue to be a need for these discussions as long as people keep putting their own pride ahead of not being an a**hole. But that seems to be a big ask these days. A huge ask. And I have yet to be convinced that the new Ghostbusters is the right forum for these discussions anyway. On the other hand, talking about the new Ghostbusters as a movie, well… that might not be much fun either.
Is it any good?
One thing I really like in this new Ghostbusters is that there’s now a specific reason why there are ghosts seemingly everywhere and in such visible numbers that they’d become indisputable public knowledge. It always kind of bugged me in the original that, all of a sudden, there was a need for the Ghostbusters when there was none before. Sure, the 1984 Ghostbusters establishes that a host of infernal machinations amounted to an increase in ghost activity, but it still felt kind of abrupt and coincidental, whereas the 2016 version gives us a very specific reason why these things are happening now, mostly localized to New York.
When it comes right down to it, there are actually a lot of little things like that that are better in the new movie. The group’s fascination with and pursuit of knowledge on ghosts is a better foundation for the team’s formation, we learn about the backgrounds of the individual Ghostbusters and their essential motivations, and it feels like there’s more of a reason for these people to come together (and probably stay together) as a team. But none of those things mattered in the original, and, frankly, it was actually funnier when the Ghostbusters were an almost random group of people slapped together mostly because they needed jobs and Venkman mostly just wanted to cheat people out of their money rather than help people. In fact, the original Ghostbusters directly benefits from not knowing a lot about our heroes and things not really adding up in their world. It’s funny that it doesn’t make sense, it’s funny that Ray had to sell the house his parents left him to pay for everything, and it’s even funnier that the rate of interest on their loan likely would have ruined him, and that’s because the original movie wasn’t built on a realistic foundation.
Judged purely as a comedy, the new Ghostbusters isn’t very funny, and all of its humour is very much surface level. Chris Hemsworth as the role-reversed secretary (the new Janine Melnitz) is really dumb and that’s the joke. Kristen Wiig is obsessed with him based on his looks and that’s the joke. Kate Mackinnon (who I normally like and I love the way her character looks from a graphic design sense) is weird and does wacky things. And that’s the joke. Those kinds of things are where the jokes are supposed to come from, the jokes then have to be written based on them, but in this Ghostbusters, most of the jokes stop at the earliest possible point. I made it through the entire movie without laughing once, not because women aren’t funny but because almost all of the humour felt incomplete, and eventually even cringeworthy and disengaging. There was even a point during the movie’s climax that I literally caught myself thinking about what to buy for supper that night that would go well with my leftovers. I’m generally not the type of reviewer that includes odd anecdotes like that to emphasize my point, that’s just what happened, and it’s one of the most vivid memories I have left from my experience with the new Ghostbusters (that and how rainy it was that day because I walked to the theatre).
So should I see it?
At first I left the theatre with a three-star rating in mind, thinking that it was a fine movie, nothing great, but passable, but I’ve actually grown to actively dislike the new Ghostbusters the more I’ve considered it for review. This 2016 Ghostbusters isn’t an offensively bad movie, it’s a fine movie, passably entertaining and basically funny, but I have to not think about it to feel that way, because as soon as I do think about it I start hating it. It’s about the closest I’ve come to a true “shut-your-brain-off” movie, a label I’ve always disliked because I think it’s wrong to willfully not think about anything no matter how dumb, but in this case it’s absolutely necessary to not get angry at the thing.
The problem with Ghostbusters is that it not only lacks the essential cleverness of its predecessor, but it’s not even trying to be clever at all. It’s fun-ish, but not fun-ny, not in any way that sticks with you. Though I went in with an open mind, that’s actually kind of what I was expecting, not because of its gender-inverted cast or even the base incredulity of rebooting such a beloved, apparently exulted franchise, but because of it’s director, Paul Feig, whose movies have rarely been more than mediocre, and mostly just happen to fall just on the right side of not bad. He’s a very shallow, basic, entirely conventional shooter, and here in Ghostbusters he almost seems afraid to spend too much time in one place or on one beat for fear of revealing how little is really going on. From his interviews, he seems to be a nice, charming man, and he seems perfectly capable of holding a conversation, but I don’t think he can be counted on to hold down a franchise.
Also, women ruin everything and should never be paid as much as men. Had to be said.
Thom’s Ghostbusters (2016) final score
On the Edge
- Amid all of the controversy over women Ghostbusters, I see the movie also continues the trend of no good roles for the Chinese. Half the movie takes place above a Chinese restaurant (their headquarters) and they couldn’t give a Chinaman a speaking role?
- Pringles have been going downhill for years, get Stax!
- Papa John’s? You’re in New York and you choose Papa John’s? Even I have higher standards and I live in… the eighth best pizza city in the world?
- I see you there, Milana Vayntrub.
- I’ll admit, I did find that first ghost kind of scary, but then I’ve always been frightened by women [ghosts].
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