Very few films have ever been met with the same degree of skepticism as Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS reboot. Whether it’s because the filmmakers dared to remake an established classic, or because the first trailers didn’t look particularly good, or because the film features a cast of female heroes (instead of the usual team of all-male heroes), a lot of people seemed determined to judge the new GHOSTBUSTERS sight unseen.
I, however, have actually seen the movie and I can attest that those fears were unfounded. It may not be quite as good as the original (because very few films are as good as GHOSTBUSTERS anyway), but it’s an excellent time at the movies, with a rock solid cast, great visual effects, a smart sense of humor, some entertaining social commentary and a very good heart. I loved the original film – I’ve probably seen it more often than any other movie, which is saying something – and I consider the reboot to be a worthwhile addition to the franchise.
So I encourage all of you to see this movie for yourself and make your own judgments, free from spoilers of any kind, but for those who still remain skeptical and need a bit of convincing, I now present eleven reasons why the new GHOSTBUSTERS kicks ass. (Mild spoilers ahead, but nothing major, I assure you.)
Back Off, Man, They’re Scientists…
The original GHOSTBUSTERS was about a team of scientists, but they treated science like a day job. (“The franchise rights alone,” Venkman said, “will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.”) That’s all well and good, but the new ghostbusters treat science like an actual science, and are instead dedicated to proving the existence of ghosts for the betterment of mankind… not to make a buck.
This puts them in the position of a lot of contemporary scientists, of course. The new ghostbusters campaign for rational study into paranormal phenomena, only to be shot down by ignorant internet commenters, talking head pundits and the government. They have scientific evidence of the afterlife, but nobody wants to listen because it’s easier to naysay than to consider the actual proof.
It’s a subtle but important shift in focus, one that stays true to the previous franchise while adapting it to fit a contemporary landscape. These ghostbusters are analogues for scientists who still get shouted down when promoting ideas like evolution and climate change, and that makes the characters more sympathetic, and which infuses the story with dramatic weight.
They’re The New Working Class…
But one of the most effective aspects of the original GHOSTBUSTERS was still the fact that, even though they hunt ghosts with futuristic equipment, the heroes were still working stiffs. They looked and acted like urban exterminators, making their fantastical exploits more accessible to every possible audience member.
The new Ghostbusters are scientists, yes, but they’re also working class. It’s just that the working class has changed in the 21st century. It’s not uncommon to be overeducated and underemployed. Three of the ghostbusters are scientists, the other one is a historian. The scientists can’t hold down a job at an accredited institution and the historian is reduced to working for the MTA. Times are hard, damn it. They can’t just mortgage a house to rent a badass firehouse base of operations, because nobody owns a house anymore.
What’s more, abandoning their jobs is a huge risk. Ghostbusting doesn’t pay the bills in Paul Feig’s movie. These are four women who gave up on (or were fired from) comfortable jobs and chose to follow their passions. Ghostbusting is a startup company, and not a lucrative one. It’s a major risk and they’re taking it anyway, making them underdog heroes purely from an economic perspective, and making them all the more relatable.
Paranormal investigation is not generally considered to be a dignified profession. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is fired from her university for saying she believes in ghosts, and her lifelong friendship with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) is based largely on the fact that they supported each other’s interest in the supernatural. As adults who dedicate their lives to geeky pursuits, they are marginalized, criticized and underappreciated.
This is a mentality that can be shared by most nerds, or geeks, in the world. For generations we have assembled at comic book conventions to find solace in like-minded individuals. Granted, times have changed now, and geek culture now runs the world, but there are limits. If a presidential candidate spent all of their time talking about how ghosts and aliens are real, they probably wouldn’t get elected very easily.
But these women are able to connect with each other, to pursue their dreams together, and change (or at the very least save) the world because of it. It’s an inspiring message for all of us, and one that – once again – makes their story seem universal.
And So Is The Villain.
Neil Casey plays Rowan North, the bad guy in GHOSTBUSTERS, and his story and persona is suspiciously similar. Like our heroes, he believes in ghosts and has spent his life studying the paranormal, and like our heroes his obsessions have turned him into an outcast, unable to hold down a decent job.
But unlike our heroes, he is all alone. His isolation has made him a cruel, mirror image of the protagonists. Heck, since he uses ghostbusting technology in a bid to empower ghosts and eventually destroy the world, we can safely call him an evil ghostbuster, and that’s a really cool idea for a villain.
It’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time, if only to flesh him out further, but conceptually he may be the best villain in the live-action franchise. He isn’t an unspeakable godlike entity, he isn’t a haunted painting that summons goo, he’s a person who represents the downside of geek and nerd culture, and the power that intelligent, passionate people sometimes have to make the world a terrible place instead of a good one.
It Doesn’t Look Like Every Other Movie
Visual trends come and go in the film industry. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re in the thick of it, but there are distinctive color palettes, editing rhythms and production design qualities that are pretty specific to the era in which they came out. The rapid-fire MTV cutting of the 1990s, for example, or the washed out color schemes of the early 2000s.
And then there’s this new GHOSTBUSTERS, which ignores the oppressive trend of orange and blue-tinted blockbusters in favor of cool greens and neon pinks. The ghosts are translucent but they glow and pop with pronounced, attractive, otherworldly colors. It’s an unusual look that makes them feel especially unnatural, because the majority of contemporary visual effects have an entirely different aesthetic.
It’s not innovation for its own sake. It serves the plot of the movie, and it also helps sell audiences on a distinctive new personality for the rebooted series.
Jillian Holtzmann is a New Kind of Awesome
The original GHOSTBUSTERS was an ensemble, and so is the new one, but both films have their breakout heroes. In Ivan Reitman’s film it was Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), a confident jokester who seemed nonplussed by even the most remarkable circumstances. In Paul Feig’s film, the standout is Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), whose personality is distinctive and pretty danged remarkable.
Holtzmann is the scientist who builds the ghostbusters’ many gadgets, and that – along with her appearance (tall blonde hair, circular glasses) – makes her seem like an analogue for Egon Spengler, particularly the version from the TV series THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS. But whereas Egon was an introvert, and Venkman was an extrovert, Holtzmann is both. She acts out, she attracts attention, she sings and dances and screams. She’s trying to be the class clown, and she takes every opportunity to act like a total badass when the spectral shit hits the proverbial fan.
In fact, for a while at least, Holtzmann seems like an implausibly kickass character. She’s cool, smart, funny, stylish, and eccentric in the most attractive ways possible. In the film’s big climax she carves her way through an army of ghosts like Chow Yun-Fat in HARD BOILED. But then, afterwards, we hear her say something emotional and genuine for the first time… and she’s a total wreck.
Holtzmann is cool on the outside, awkward on the inside. She invites attention to her superficial antics because it distracts from her insecurities. You can look up to her and feel bad for her at the same time. She’s an intriguing new creation, acted beautifully by Kate McKinnon, and one of the most important reasons why the new GHOSTBUSTERS works.
Bustin’ Feels Better Than Ever
There’s an interesting difference between the new GHOSTBUSTERS and the original GHOSTBUSTERS. Whereas the previous team used their proton packs to lasso ghosts and guide them into traps, the new team discovers that trapping ghosts is really hard but reducing them to harmless ectoplasmic goo is relatively easy.
From a plot perspective, this makes sense: if ghosts could be captured, easily no less, then there would no longer be any doubt in anybody’s mind that ghosts were real. And since it’s dramatically valuable to keep our heroes as underdogs – especially given the film’s extended allegory for the plight of contemporary scientists – it works on a thematic level as well.
But more than that, the time it takes to rope a ghost and slowly drag it across a room into a trap isn’t necessarily conducive to great action sequences, particularly if your storyline demands a lot of them. This new approach to ghostbusting allows for several awesome, action-packed sequences in the film’s climax, in particular, as our team of heroes does battle with a city packed with violent dead people. It changes very little about the concept but expands on the entertainment value.
Besides, those new ghostbusting gadgets look really, really cool.
It Plays Like THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS
The original GHOSTBUSTERS spawned one of the greatest spin-offs ever produced, THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, which (for a while at least) expanded on the characters and their supernatural exploits with clever storylines, scary villains and awesome technologies. But the films always felt like isolated incidents. GHOSTBUSTERS and GHOSTBUSTERS II were two distinct situations in which the ghostbusters were necessary to save New York City, and in between those moments the city had no need for them whatsoever.
Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t work that way. We learn throughout the film that unexplained phenomena is more common than most people realize, and that there are probably countless paranormal situations that demand the ghostbusters’ attention in future sequels, spin-off shows, video games, you name it.
What’s more, the wide variety of supernatural creatures are actually present in this GHOSTBUSTERS movie, as opposed to being reserved for the animated series. Ghosts take on a wide variety of unusual forms – like demonic dragons and malevolent parade floats – implying that there may be a lot more to this particular world of the supernatural than just dead people floating around and projectile vomiting slime.
Yes, it’s obviously setting up a proper franchise, but that’s what GHOSTBUSTERS always was, and it was done so well that the animated spin-off (the first one, anyway) is nearly as beloved as the original blockbuster film. Taking a cue from that successful animated series and using it as a framework for future installments isn’t pandering, it’s smart storytelling, and gets this series off to a great start.
It’s Just Funny, Damn It
Comedy has changed since the early 1980s, and so it only makes sense that the new GHOSTBUSTERS would play more like contemporary comedies than films that are decades old. Fortunately, Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS takes what works from the current trend of blockbuster comedies and mostly eschews the gimmicky stuff, like stories centered around 30-year-old children and comic set pieces that consist of rapid-fire riffing that kills the pacing of the film.
Paul Feig’s film has a conversational comedy dynamic, one that should be familiar to fans of his earlier films, and for the first act it effectively introduces us to the cast. They are allowed to communicate naturally and to be funny based on the clash of their personalities. But as the film progresses and the plot takes hold, the situations begin to drive the humor. By that point we have been introduced to the characters, we know who they are and we like them, so all Feig has to do is put them in unusual situations and let their reactions drive the humor, while the story drives the film in entertaining directions.
The cast is superlative. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are all exceptional comic performers who bring genuineness to their characters. And credit also goes to Chris Hemsworth as their handsome but air-headed receptionist, Kevin, who steals a lot of his scenes. There is a moment when he’s deciding between two head shots – one where he’s playing the saxophone, and one where he’s listening to the saxophone (by holding it up to his ear) – that is fall down funny.
And yet he’s not just comic relief. The heroes develop a lot of affection for their dopey assistant, and his over-eager effort to join the team in an official capacity reveals that there might be more to him than just chiseled features and a complete inability to figure out how phones work. He’s got a good heart, just like our heroes, which makes even the film’s silliest jokes work.
GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t call much attention to its existence as a feminist piece of cinema, and that’s one of the things that makes the film particularly progressive. The characters are underdogs, but not because they’re women. They exist in a world where women can be heroes and – with the exception of a couple offhanded insults from the villain (and the inherent nature of the world we live in) – nobody questions it. They don’t have to stand up for women’s rights, they simply have to exercise them. They get to save the world by virtue of their talents, and they do a damned good job.
This is a natural evolution of blockbuster storytelling. Just as the FAST AND FURIOUS movies don’t call constant attention to the fact that they’re a multibillion dollar franchise with a broadly multicultural cast, GHOSTBUSTERS is a major summer release with female heroes, and it just wants to be accepted that way. It takes the fact that all its heroes are women for granted, just like the original GHOSTBUSTERS took for granted that all of its heroes as men.
There is a larger conversation to be had about the gender politics of a film like GHOSTBUSTERS, but the film’s attitude towards itself as a social document is significant and impressive. You are simply watching a cool blockbuster film starring women who save the world. They don’t have to be objectified, they just have to be awesome. GHOSTBUSTERS is casually revolutionary, and it deserves our respect for that.
It Leaves You Wanting More (in a Good Way)
Every reboot is trying to set up a future franchise. That’s the whole point of reboots. But if your characters aren’t fun, and if the world they inhabit isn’t interesting, then ending a movie with a sequel tease comes across more like a threat. We have to want to visit these characters again, and again and again, not just to find out which classic character they’ll do battle with, but just to hang out with them because we love them so much.
And although the new GHOSTBUSTERS does end with a sequel tease, that’s not why it leaves us wanting more. These characters are sympathetic, likable people who make us laugh and make us cheer. The world they inhabit is rich and vibrant and full of monsters. The gadgets are cool, damn it. We want more of this, and we want it now.
And yes, maybe we’ll want it a little more refined in the sequel, but there’s no reason to think we won’t get it. Lots of sequels to genre movies are better than the original nowadays. The fact that there’s room for this series to grow is a good thing, not a bad one. Paul Feig’s movie gives us lots of great humor and tons of ghostbusting action, but there are plenty of ways it can be improved with future installments.
This film is a solid foundation for a franchise. Now, all we have to do is build.