The groaning and griping started two years ago. A small but vocal army of whining man-babies and self-appointed nostalgia constabularies took umbrage with a newly announced adaptation of a hallowed film favourite, that crowning cinematic achievement of the 1980s, that undeniable, unparalleled masterpiece par none: uh, Ghostbusters. Yeah, the one where four grown men wearing coveralls fire laser guns at bad CGI ghosts. Collectively, we could only assume that these keyboard-crazy nimrods might have had a problem with the new film’s playful gambit: a gender inversion that would see Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as the four eponymous spectre-slayers. This was no radical overturning of Ghostbusters lore, the characters, albeit different, still fit the broad archetypes set in the original, and the story structure at the core of the latter’s remains pretty much the same: shamed scientists rekindle their dishevelled reputations by busting the hell out of increasingly salient supernatural entities and saving the public from an almighty cataclysm.
But this wasn’t, the bros said, about movies, or even about gender politics — it was about entire childhoods. Memories have been soiled, they told us! A travesty; a wrecking ball to the fragile order of things! They claimed that their protest was not against women, per se, but against the fact that a new Ghostbusters would be a reboot, and not a sequel or a more organic continuation of this sacred and classic story, so obviously a vital part of the western storytelling canon. Why mess with perfection?! The film’s trailer became the most disliked in YouTube history, and everyone who disagreed with this well-organised bloc of howling children (thanks, Reddit) was instinctively labelled a feminazi misandrist, or a PC-crazy social justice warrior. Really, dudes? A thousand lousy reboots in the last decade alone and this is the one you’re mad about? And it’s got nothing to do with gender? Ok. *sips tea*
Well, here’s the verdict: Ghostbusters 2016 is better than Ghostbusters 1984. (Hear that? That’s the sound of a million nerd heads exploding.) It’s more vivid, colourful, energetic, ambitious and emotionally satisfying that the original; basically superior in every regard, except, of course, originality. I don’t for a moment buy into the idea that Ghostbusters is sacred property — that the reboot has any obligation to ‘live up to’ or ‘capture the spirit of’ the original. Ghostbusters ‘84 is clunky, surprisingly lacking in jokes, badly aged and sexist, and to find the root of this recent wave of misogyny we need only look to the film itself. The movie’s major dramatic arc centres on Bill Murray’s figurative boner for Sigourney Weaver’s one-dimensional female lead, and his constant, creeping coercion is played squarely for laughs. (It must be added that she is later possessed by a ghost and turned into a hysterical sex monster. Oh, and the other major female character is a secretary smdh.) A female-slanted Ghostbusters redux is no left-wing conspiracy, it’s a welcome corrective to a stale but beloved franchise severely lacking in well-rounded female representation. Still, we ought to be judicious about whether the much-publicised gender-swap constitutes real progress, especially in an industry that tends to lurch forward only very glacially, and not always in the right direction.
Taking a franchise presided over by men and changing the characters’ genders can hardly be counted as a feminist victory tantamount to, say, original stories written specifically by and for women, but I suspect that Feig and Sony’s intentions weren’t quite as shallow as outsiders may perceive. I mean, look at the current comedy landscape: Ghostbusters is historically a Saturday Night Live-affiliated property, and, at present, women rule Studio 8H (Wiig is an all-time great, Jones has blazed a path to stardom in two meagre seasons, and McKinnon, an audience favourite and the show’s resident Hillary Clinton impressionist, just received an Emmy nomination, the only member of the current cast to do so). Melissa McCarthy is a genuine superstar, and probably Hollywood’s best mainstream comic performer (think about the male equivalents: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron and Kevin Hart all pale in comparison); and director Paul Feig, the industry’s most productive comedy director, works best (and almost exclusively) with casts packed with female talent (Bridesmaids, The Heat, etc). I’d wager that if you tasked any smart producer in Hollywood with choosing an ideal cast for a reboot of Ghostbusters, their choices wouldn’t have been much different to the cast we’re currently being offered.
So, let’s rejoice in what Ghostbusters 2K16 has given us: a kickass, neon-glow action comedy that features aspirational working women shrugging off the social stigma that comes with their profession and proving the whole fucking world wrong. It has given us breakout stars in McKinnon — who equals unhinged, mad-scientist schtick with a hearty dose of pathos — and Jones — a magnetic, firecracker performer, as she is on TV — as well as a dopey comic turn from Chris Hemsworth as, get this, their eyesome but dumb-as-doornails office secretary. Some of the arch throwbacks — including cameos from original cast members — are the worst part of the film, excruciatingly on-the-nose fan service. That said, late in the film a CGI-ed version of the Ghostbusters logo inflates to skyscraper size and wreaks havoc on our heroes, chasing them down a New York promenade, and there’s something beautifully metaphoric about a beleaguered modern incarnation of the Ghostbusters running from the loaded iconography of the original film.
As for the groaning hordes of regressive mouth-breathers who have vocally refused to see this new incarnation of their prized masterpiece, well, it’s likely they’ve done more damage to the original film’s reputation than an all-female reboot ever could.
Words by Jaymes Durante