Let’s get something straight first. If you’re someone who contributed to the vitriol this movie received during the months leading up to its release this past weekend, I implore you to read no further. This will not be a venom-spitting rant that allows you to take a warped sense of joy in the hypercritical condemnation of an objectively harmless exercise in cultural re-appropriation. If that was what you were looking for, please go mourn the “death of your childhood” elsewhere.
For the rest of us, there is much to talk about.
Regardless of whether you’re too young to have dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween or old enough to have known the stars of the original movie from their turns on Saturday Night Live, there is something for everyone here. Director Paul Feig and Co. offer an uncanny balance between original comedic content and obligatory homage by tailoring the writing to the strengths of the cast and exercising restraint with the number of references and Easter eggs. Those too young to be in-the-know won’t be left feeling lost, while fans of the first film can still enjoy a healthy number of winks and nudges.
Fans will also be the first to notice the ripple effects of the choice to cast four women in the leading roles. For instance, while the original had no gender-specific agenda, it is perfectly clear in both big and small ways that this new movie wants very much to empower young girls. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, how many movies have you seen where female scientists are the main characters? They’re dealing with the paranormal, sure. But that’s mostly beside the point. The characters themselves show a devotion to the scientific method, as well as an aptitude for engineering on par with Q from the James Bond movies. The sad fact is that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, and the trend is going down – not up – despite colleges enrolling more young women than ever on the whole. So any movie that encourages girls to take a greater interest in these subjects deserves points for good intentions.
Granted, such good intentions probably won’t determine how much you enjoy the movie overall, but parents should consider them nevertheless. And non-parental fans of the original shouldn’t find them distracting. Additionally, I imagine younger female viewers will appreciate how none of the leads seems obligated to exhibit sex appeal – not that this is a criticism of how they look. Katniss, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman each have their value as female action heroines, but shouldn’t it be refreshing to see others who aren’t required to look good in a tight onesie?
In any case, while the feminist vibe is real and pervasive, the overwhelming majority of the film’s gags are grounded in the premise and respective story contexts. So while you’ll find the occasional joke about female-specific bodily functions, there’s nothing to repel general audiences. All fans of the 1984 original should feel welcome – and yes, that includes men.
Perhaps above all such matters, there is the issue of reboot/remake fatigue. When news first broke that the film had been greenlit, many people reacted with a collective eye roll. “Oh goody, yet another unnecessary exploitation of an established brand from the ‘80s.” And to those whose fatigue has prevented any enthusiasm from germinating, I can’t really blame you. The unfortunate reality is, however, that even if a more original story was part of the initial pitch, the project wasn’t going to be funded until it better resembled what was already familiar. Hollywood is simply too risk-averse these days because its investments have been starkly divided into two tiers: under $40 million, and over $100 million. Point of fact about familiarity, 2016 is set to see a record number of sequels, with reboots and exploitations of well-known brands (see: “The Angry Birds Movie”) also acting as straws on the proverbial camel’s back. And considering the recent greenlighting of movies like “Tetris” and “Trolls,” it seems the worst is yet to come.
Now let’s move on to the elephant in the room: the outrage over the all-female cast of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Since you’re reading this review you’re almost certainly aware of the avalanche of defamation this movie has borne. The film’s trailer has a record 957,000 “dislikes” on YouTube, along with tens of thousands of hate-infested comments (hundreds of which had to be deleted). In fact, the uproar against the film became so intense since its announcement that even the actual news felt compelled to recognize it. Many of the pitchfork-wielding zealots insist their anger is not bred through sexism in any way. However, a quick scroll through said YouTube comments speaks for itself. And while the number of these outspoken “nerds” is relatively small, they’re part of an unnerving trend that includes 2014’s Gamergate scandal, which helped expose the very real and longstanding problem of sexism within geek culture. It’s important to resist generalizing, but it does no one within this community any good to deny the legitimacy of the issue.
What could be a costly unintended consequence of the groundswell spawned by people who “only” expressed outrage over the alleged perversion of their childhoods is that if this new “Ghostbusters” actually does fall on its face at the box office, it’s the sexists who will take credit for it. And what’s more, their “victory” is only going to encourage them to spread more hate speech about other female-centric movies, or even hijack other irrational outrages started by would-be fans looking to safeguard their nostalgia. If the truly innocent members of so-called nerd culture want to avoid being associated with their more disreputable members (or MRAs for that matter) then the only solution is internally policing these rage-fueled vendettas against empirically inoffensive re-imaginings of beloved franchises.
Not liking this movie doesn’t mean you’re a misogynist, nor does it mean you’re sense of humor is somehow out of whack. If nothing else, we should all agree it was risky to invest $144 million in a comedy, seeing as how the genre has a well-known history of especially unpredictable returns. But the important thing is to make sure the movie is judged fairly.
As a man I still found the cast and their female-centric humor exceedingly funny – and that’s not to imply that most of the comedy isn’t objectively gender-neutral. I’m also someone whose fourth birthday party had a Ghostbusters theme, and I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling as though my childhood was tarnished forever. This new “Ghostbusters” both was and wasn’t targeted to me, and if you’re like me you’ll probably be accepting of that and have a good time. If you aren’t a fan of the film’s talents, are sick to death of remakes, or simply can’t accept that the movie exists at all, then forget it ever happened and move on.
If we can agree on nothing else, it’s pretty cool being able to wash down our popcorn with Ecto Cooler.