My dad’s armpit and a Twinkie.
Those are the two sharpest memories I have of seeing Ghostbusters in 1984. It was too scary for my 6-year-old self to process hence the armpit but I remember looking up when Egon told Winston and Ray about the Twinkie.
The Ghostbusters of 2016 replaces the Twinkie with “salty parabolas” (you’ll see). Our dudely foursome is now Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). But the adventurous spirit remains, propelled by that same sharp mix of comedy and jump scares.
This is a Ghostbusters movie. Do you appreciate the import of that? After years and years of false starts and broken promises, this is a real, actual Ghostbusters movie.
It’s great. The new foursome definitely treads its own path, with a story that nods appreciatively backwards while staking its own claim on the basic idea of four chums saving the world from paranormal threats. But that doesn’t diminish its value as a Ghostbusters movie.
Erin is a respected Columbia professor with a dirty secret in her past: she used to believe in ghosts, and she wrote a book about it with her old friend Abby. Not a good look for a professor seeking tenure.
Abby, meanwhile, hitched her wagon to fellow believer Jillian’s star. Working out of a crappy little lab in a crappy little school, the two struggle along as researchers and not-so-successful ghost hunters until a chance resurfacing of the book reunites Abby and Erin.
Finally there’s Patty, a New York-savvy metro transit worker. She initially seeks out the spook hunters for help with a ghostly problem, but decides to join them no arguments accepted after she takes a liking to their “club.”
McKinnon is in the midst of a breakout. She’s been an outstanding Hillary Clinton stand-in on Saturday Night Live and she plays “Holtz” as a quirky, oddball genius with hilarious results. McKinnon quietly steals every scene she appears in.
Wiig plays a variation of the soft-spoken wild child she’s known for. There’s no analogue to Erin in the original ghostbusting foursome; Wiig channels a bit of Venkman’s philandering and Ray’s ghost nerdiness, but plays it more awkward than charismatic.
Then there’s McCarthy, who tones her slapstick antics way down and serves as the brains of the team. While she’s not without her recklessness, Abby is the group’s voice of reason and de facto boss.
If anyone in the cast threatens to overshadow McKinnon’s raw comedy, it’s Jones. Abby is the brain and the SNL alum’s Patty is the heart of the Ghostbusters. She joins the team because she takes an immediate liking to the three woman, and her loud, playfully domineering presence gives every scene an added jolt.
Everything that works in this new Ghostbusters has to do with these four women. All of the humor and all of the dramatic tension is the product of a simmering chemistry. Whether they’re yakking about their beautiful idiot of a receptionist, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), or a grave spectral threat to NYC, the banter is both epic and quote-worthy.
Thank the script from Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, which plays like two-hour love letter by fans, for fans. There’s brilliance especially in wordplay that manages to acknowledge the series’ roots without triggering reflexive eye rolls.
There are the cameos. Yes, a plurality of them. If you love Ghostbusters, it’s evident that this movie was born out of a similar love. No spoilers. Stay for the credits.
It should also be said: the Ghostbusters of 2016 is a political movie in the way it inverts Hollywood’s traditional male power fantasy. The principal power players in this story are women not just the four ‘Busters while the men mostly serve as eye candy, comic relief and one-dimensional threats.
There’s plenty for a film scholar to pick apart, but in a passive viewing the politics aren’t any more front-and-center than they are in, say, an Indiana Jones movie. If they’re a problem for you, look inward. Ghostbusters simply swings the traditional balance of power to tell its story, and it does so in a cleverly critical manner.
Feig and Dippold don’t let their haters off the hook, either. Many self-described fans have written off the reboot before seeing it in vocal utterances across the internet. Ghostbusters takes the haters to task with some scorching one-liners.
Those reboot deniers have been working from a flawed base assumption all along. The Ghostbusters of 2016 isn’t meant to replace the 1984 film (or its underrated sequel) and it doesn’t. It’s a movie built from the same building blocks, but it also has something worthwhile to say in the midst of its hilarity and spectral hijinx.
Those specters aren’t just eye candy, either; this is a scary movie. Not to the point of overwhelming timid adult viewers, but just like I did kids are going to look back on seeing the Ghostbusters of 2016 decades later and remember shielding themselves from jump scares behind parent protectors.
That’s a beautiful thing. The original Ghostbusters was beloved by many, regardless of their gender. This one has the same potential to fire up young imaginations. It’s PG-13 for a reason.
Little boys will see four action heroes using cool tech to fight ghosts. Little girls will see the same, only those heroes actually look like them for a change.
Kids actual young people, not man-children stamping their feet on the internet don’t care about gender politics. They don’t have the baggage to feel rage over four women being in the driver’s seat. They laugh at slapstick comedy and funny faces, and they cheer when good people do good things.
Much like its progenitor, the new Ghostbusters is a kid-friendly-enough movie that promises to thrill forever fans while enthralling young viewers and igniting a whole new generation of fandom. The Twinkie is gone, but it isn’t forgotten.
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