Review | Ghostbusters (2016)

$8.10 for the ticket. It easily passed the laugh test for comedies according to Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode: 6 laughs. I am guessing the individual number of laughs I had during Ghostbusters (2016) was in the 10-15 range, varying in immensity and length. Let's say for grins that I had 12 distinct moments of laughter, this means I only paid 68 cents for each moment of joy and pleasure attained from the film. That is cheap. If I were a fan of utilitarian arguments--and I assure you I am not, this remake far surpassed expectations especially in the light of the storm of outrage raining down on Paul Feig and the cast for shifting the genders of all of the characters (not to mention recent racism that has been thrown at Leslie Jones).

Because of the viral misogyny that has coursed through the veins of a male-dominated Internet over the last year, there was no way that Ghostbusters would get a fair shake from anyone regardless of what side of the argument they happened to be on. This outrage is just an amplified, depraved version of the human cocktail of bias, opinion and emotion that happens with every film. Every film has its supporters and detractors. People should be suspicious if there are not, at least some, naysayers in the audience of each film. However, with Ghostbusters there is only one way to approach reviewing the film in the wake of the online white noise: embrace your side. Like it or not, Ghostbusters is an important film in the battle for exposing male privilege in the film industry; the "Ghostbros" have already proved that. I am glad it has, even if I wish it could have been a much better film overall.

So let me lay it out there. I did not take even a minute amount of issue with an all-female cast. Even on a subconscious level, I never woke up in a sweat as if I was internally working out the seething rage about this remake that flowed underneath this calm semi-liberal exterior. I consider myself a feminist (where I fit on the "waves" is still up for discussion) and someone who defends remakes as a natural form of human oral tradition, telling the same stories over and over again to new generations. The smartest of remakes can recognize the blindspots and glaring privileges in the previous one and give it a new bent. Just like in 30 years, maybe our society will be in a place where the black Ghostbuster isn't stereotyped in a token role, which I still think is a valid critique even of this version. I went into the movie excited to see the new shape of an old story. I fully believe in killing the idols of my childhood. Nothing is safe, not even 1984's Ghostbusters.

I heard Kristen Wiig was in it and I smiled gleefully. I heard Melissa McCarthy was in it and I was conflicted. I heard the names Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon and I drew a blank. All of the living Ghostbusters were returning for cameos, awesome. Paul Feig was directing, excellent. I was the one individual per every million that didn't hate the first trailer--didn't mean I loved it either. I never even watched the second trailer, because, to be honest, I didn't care. I was going to see the film regardless.

I need to watch the original again to confirm a creeping suspicion I had on my last viewing: maybe my love of it was actually mostly nostalgia and emotion and, a small part, an argument about the quality and technical aspects of the film. I didn't enjoy it as much as I remember enjoying it. I think it still passed the 6 laugh test, but I don't recall with any certainty. I re-watched the trailer and I found it to be just as effective in touting the strengths of the film as the first trailer was for the new incarnation (come at me, Ghostbros!). Ghostbusters (1984) feels like a slightly better quality film made from an SNL skit (The Ladie's Man being in my #1 spot). If you don't agree, fine, but the original is no Oscar contender and certainly doesn't deserve the right of place as reigning monarch over the whole of your young life. That's just child's play. 

So now that you know where I stand, you can either write this review off as feminist "extremism" even though I will speak to some of the negatives aspects I had about the film or you can stay. However, I hope you stay to read about my take on the film, both good and bad, and not just because I have taken a hard stance in opposition to the rampant online misogyny and racism. 

Let me just say that there are three people that should be the focus of the positive aspects of the film: Leslie Jone, Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth. 90% of the laughter I had came from one of these three people. 10% came from incidental humor. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy who are clearly the big names of this film ultimately fell flat in delivering the humor that we are accustomed to from them. I could literally feel the silent thud of the moments in the theater when everyone knew that a joke was a "Wiig moment" or a "McCarthy moment" and there was no reaction. This saddened me. I don't blame either of those actresses. I blame the writers or whoever cast those characters wrong. Clearly the writing favored the eccentric Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann and the bold, bravado of Leslie Jones' Patty Tolan and it felt like, maybe, this was a place where they didn't need the two straight-ish characters like the original had with Ackroyd and Ramis. Maybe Ghostbusters (2016) needed to wave it's freak flag more than it did.

Nonetheless, Holtzmann's gun licking and Patty's "may the power of Patty compel you!" stole each set piece of the film. As far as I am concerned Holtzmann and Tolan anchor the film on every level and are the women I hope girls who saw this film take notes from. They are cool as hell and they don't take shit off of anyone, especially men. They even have terrific one liners!

And then there is Chris Hemsworth's Kevin, the male surrogate of every feminine stereotype, cliché and characterization that has plagued film since the beginning of cinema. I can't help but roll on the floor laughing when I see reviews of the film by men and they describe all that they hate about Kevin's character and it turns out that they are making the same exact observations that feminists have made about female roles for decades and, yet, it just goes right over their heads. Normally I would have said Kevin's character was a little ham-fisted, but considering the commentary inherent in his role went over the Ghostbros' heads, I can no longer say it was ham-fisted. Now, I can only call it brilliant and maybe a key centerpiece of the film. 

However, Kevin may be one of those examples of when a strength can also be a weakness. For all of the stellar comedy that Hemsworth's Kevin provides, part of me stands back and says...yeah, but isn't he a little too front and center at times. He nearly steals every scene he is in while the Ghostbusters are just riffing off the typical male reactions to beautiful women in other films. The main feminist critique of the original Ghostbusters would be that most of the women are either incidental to the story or are meant to be ogled by the men or will lose possession over their bodies and then crave the company of men all the while ultimately becoming nothing more than furniture in a scene. This certainly isn't the case with Kevin. He is ogled and treated like women get treated in film and every day life by men and, yet, he stands out. He is not merely furniture and largely forgotten in subsequent discussions of the film.

Besides Dana (Weaver), the other women are never really brought up. Yet I can guarantee that Chris Hemsworth will be remembered--unfortunately, front and center in many peoples' minds--maybe more than Holtzmann and Tolan. That may be a little too cynical of a take, but after the backlash about Ghostbusters (2016) is cynicism really that far off the bullseye? When I think of the humor and the overall success of the original, I think of Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis and Hudson. I don't particularly think of its strongest female character, Dana Barrett. I will be interested to see what is remembered most from the 2016 remake. I hope I am proven wrong, but in the current state of affairs, I think I will keep my money on Kevin being the central most remembered part of the film. And that is unfortunate. I really want McKinnon and Jones to be the most fully and clearly remembered parts of the film because their humor hit more than one note. It wasn't just a schtick, but succeeded on multiple levels: referential, sarcastic and otherwise. They should be the heroines of this remake and I will do my damnedest to remind people of that.

Even with these problems, I came out of the theater having thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I liked the pacing of the film and there were some great action scenes punctuated with great wit. The ghosts were fun and even Slimer made an appearance in the only funny scene with Slimer from any of the films. I laughed and I came out with new badass heroines to look up to as a grown man. Kill your idols, people. Life is too short to act like a nostalgic 80s film has the kind of power to destroy your childhoods. You're an adult now, grow up, and get new heroes. We need them and if that means pushing a film that I only gave 3.5 stars out of 5 because it is asking the right questions and creating strong female characters for the next generation of women then I'm in. I'll shout it from the rooftops. I mean, who else ya gonna call?

Ghostbusters (2016)
dir. by Paul Feig
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Language: English
Runtime: 116 min.
Rating: PG-13