‘Ghostbusters’ Is One of the Most Important Movies of the Year

Ghostbusters reboot

Written by Katherine Murray.

There’s a scene that takes place during the final credits of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot, in which the Ghostbusters look outside and see New York skyscrapers lit up with messages thanking them for saving the city. They’re moved to realize that, after everyone talked shit about them for weeks or months on end, someone actually appreciated what they did. It’s a moment of art imitating life that mirrored my experience with Ghostbusters so perfectly that I basically just started crying as soon as it happened.

Straight up: I saw this movie out of spite. I remember watching the original films and cartoon as a kid, but I wasn’t overly excited about either of them, or the news that the franchise was getting a reboot. I thought, shooting ghosts with lasers is pretty much the same thing no matter who’s doing it, right? I was wrong.

As the release date for Ghostbusters neared, the backlash against it grew. Apparently, there are a group of men who are offended by the idea that anyone would try, on purpose, to combat sexism in popular entertainment. In this worldview, making hundreds of movies that star groups of men is just natural and good – something with no political implication at all, because it’s what every reasonable person would do by default. Making a single movie that stars four women means you’re going to hell.

After watching this build over the past six months, I decided to vote with my wallet and pay to see Ghostbusters, even though I was still pretty sure I didn’t care about shooting ghosts with lasers. What I can report is that, while it’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, it’s a pretty good action-comedy. I also vastly underestimated how powerful it would be, and how great it would feel, to watch an action-comedy with only women in the leading roles.

The nuts and bolts of the Ghostbusters remake are very similar to the original in terms of pacing and content. It takes a while to get going but, once the four main characters have met and resolved to start fighting ghosts, the action picks up, and the story gets a lot more exciting. The special effects are more intense than the original, and they’re gorgeous to look at. You’ve already seen a lot of the funniest jokes in leaked clips on the internet, but, while it’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious, the movie stays fun and amusing. The filmmakers are extremely diligent in making sure to reference the most famous scenes and set-pieces from the original series – one might argue that they’re diligent to the point of not letting the reboot step out from the shadow of the original – and most of the original cast members return for cameo appearances in one form or another.

All the evidence suggests that this was a very carefully considered and carefully planned reboot, designed to win over fans of the original. It’s not executed as well as the 2009 Star Trek reboot, but it’s executed better than Star Trek into Darkness, and better than I expected it to be, for sure.

Ghostbusters 2016

Ghostbusters is very careful about gender presentation – there’s no sense that this is “the girl version of Ghostbusters” in the same way The Chipettes are the girl version of The Chipmunks. This is probably due, in part, to Feig’s preferred approach of allowing actors to improvise and draw on their own personalities to create characters. My favorite example of this, and the one mentioned in the article linked above, is that Kate McKinnon’s character, Holtzmann, comes across as having an ambiguous, vaguely queer sexuality in the film – something that McKinnon, the first openly gay women to join Saturday Night Live, brought to the table herself. There’s an amazing sequence, late in the film, where Holtzmann fights a cloud of ghosts and even as I was watching it part of me thought, “This wouldn’t have existed thirty years ago. If people like me got to shoot ghosts with lasers when I was a kid, maybe I would have thought shooting ghosts with lasers was more cool.”

Other aspects of the film felt more disappointing. The first is that, just as in the original, the only Black Ghostbuster is also the only one who doesn’t know anything about science and acts as a plain-spoken audience surrogate. Leslie Jones easily delivers the funniest performance in the movie, and it’s hard to imagine that she would have been able to do that if she were playing a serious, straight-laced scientist. But it still feels awkward that a film that’s so thoughtful in challenging Hollywood stereotypes of women didn’t think at all about the stereotype that white people are book smart and Black people are street smart, when it comes to forming action teams in movies. While Jones is defending the choice on the basis that there’s no reason why she can’t play a working class character, the concern for me is less about this individual movie and more about how it fits into a pattern.

Similarly, there is some weirdness around Chris Hemsworth’s appearance as the team’s pretty-but-stupid receptionist, Kevin. Kevin is clearly intended to be an inversion of the pretty-but-stupid female stock character, but it might have been more interesting not to use that stock at all. It’s funny that Kevin took the lenses out of his glasses so he wouldn’t have to clean them and that he keeps reaching for a decorative phone that’s kept behind glass. But when that’s coupled with Kristen Wiig’s character objectifying him, asking him inappropriate questions during a job interview, and sexually harassing him in the workplace, it starts to feel uncomfortable. I’d be willing to accept that the Ghostbusters are stuck with Kevin, even though he’s dumb, because he’s the only one who applied for the job. The movie would work just as well, and maybe better, without placing so much emphasis on how he looks.

Ghostbusters isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s one that’s claiming important ground for women in popular culture. By the end, I felt a lot like the citizens of fictionalized, ghost-ridden New York – pleasantly surprised and grateful that these women made an effort to do something I didn’t even know was needed, while the haters tried to tear them down.

Katherine Murray is a Toronto-based writer who yells about movies, TV and video games on her blog.