With the announcement of the Ghostbusters reboot and its all-female, all-SNL veteran leading cast, the internet divided in two. Or potentially a few more pieces. People mostly either embraced the idea of a new take or angrily rejected it entirely, all before the first trailer. There has been plenty of back and forth about the underlying and venomous sexism at work in a lot of the loud online backlash to the film, with most of the reasonable responses buried in a sea of fan entitlement and prejudice that exposed all the worst things about the internet echo-chamber. When Ghostbusters was finally released this month, and the reception was warm rather than terrible, many critics and fans were accused of being paid off, or “pandering to SJWs and feminists”. Like “pandering” to feminists is a bad thing.
An admittedly terrible first trailer only threw fuel on the fire. It became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube and the 9th most disliked video overall; which began to pose the question: why this reboot, and not any others? A new version of Ben-Hur is coming out next month to no visible outrage, a reboot of The Magnificent Seven is also in the works – even the Oldboy and Robocop remakes were met with less vitriol. Leslie Jones has recently suffered an onslaught of abusive and racist messages following the film’s release, and half of the Ghostbusters marketing campaign was forced to address the ongoing controversy, with director Paul Feig and the others hitting back at the hateful minority now affectionately/condescendingly known as ‘Ghostbros’.
And in the end, it isn’t really worth all the hatred. Ghostbusters is a fun, breezy and pretty much harmless summer blockbuster. It’s not without its flaws but is charming nonetheless. Feig and co’s sense of humour holds up surprisingly well against the restrictions of the 12A rating, combining Feig’s trademark goofy wit with a lot of weirdness, slime and even more heart. Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth stole practically every frame in which they appear, McKinnon’s pitch-perfect peculiarity proving ideal for the role of the eccentric Holtzmann. Hemsworth, in a fun twist of stereotypes, plays a ‘dumb blonde’ secretary for the Ghostbusters, his employment often toeing the line of sexual harassment. While these two run away with the film a little, the chemistry among the main four is excellent – the best parts of the film are the ones when they all get to riff off each other.
Melissa McCarthy plays somewhat to type in her role as Abby Yates but sells it well anyway, Kristen Wiig nails the suppressed weirdness of Erin Gilbert. Leslie Jones is quieter than usual as Patty Tolan, who arguably shows the most heart and savvy out of all of the cast, despite the fact that her individual casting drew the most controversy over her apparent perpetuation of African American stereotypes in her comedy. This may well be true, but it isn’t here – Patty is a fully realised character, not a piece from a sketch. If I had one complaint, it’s actually just the references to the other Ghostbusters, and the online controversy itself.
It’s a good enough film to stand on its own, and I quickly forgot all about the anger and bone-headedness once I saw the four Ghostbusters working side by side. Even the chaotic, neon-drenched and visually cluttered third act had a lot to enjoy – Kate McKinnon’s slow mo, guns blazing action sequence standing out in particular. The film is far from the misandrist or self-congratulatory disaster that many people assumed or, unfortunately, hoped it would be. The new team just work, the fact that they’re women kicking ass is rarely in discussion throughout the film – a vision of a type of Hollywood film that the industry sorely needs, for pretty much every demographic outside of the white male.
It’s a shame that the controversy will likely overshadow the film’s merits, because without the sudden crushing weight of the Ghostbusters ‘legacy’, the film is far from the worst that Hollywood has to offer. At this very moment people are arming themselves with a keyboard to reduce the film to nothing but a ‘gimmick’ or a ‘shameless cash-in’ (which, if no-one had noticed, are two of the fundamental pillars of Hollywood anyway). But even if the decision to make the Ghostbusters all-female was inspired by the thought of cold hard cash, it makes sense in so many other ways. Ghostbusters 2 tried and failed to recapture the underdog spirit of the first – in fact, everything people are accusing the new film of doing, Ghostbusters 2 actually did – so why not try a new tack? Women are unquestionably marginalized in Hollywood cinema, so an all-female team of Ghostbusters already makes more thematic sense from that angle. Along with their characters’ humble beginnings, there is real investment in the strive for the new team’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public.
The new Ghostbusters have provided heroes for countless girls and women already, something that is sorely needed with the general lack of any female lead ensembles in action blockbusters (for example, there are 2 females Avengers out of 8). Ghostbusters is a smart and welcome step forward, which has shown the way for future blockbusters by other studios. While remakes of classics or cult films are rarely a good idea, Ghostbusters actually brings something new to the table with its different style of humour, fresh cast and generally progressive attitude (Leslie Jones has a far more prominent role than Ernie Hudson ever did – she’s even on the poster!). It’s a reboot done right, and it’s hard to fault Feig and co. for the passion and ferocity with which they produced, and then defended the project from those set on seeing it fail. Let’s hope people look at it again with a level head some time soon.
DISCLAIMER: Sony did not pay me to write this. In fact, I don’t get paid at all.