I wasn’t expecting to like Ghostbusters. You hear something repeated enough and it starts to be true, no matter what set of sensible beliefs you stack in your heart. Lines like “you’re not qualified for this position” or “you react too emotionally.” A detractor doesn’t have to sell you on his hatred. He merely needs to germinate the tiniest fleck of doubt.
The vitriol for a remake of a movie released while I was still a second-trimester fetus has been thunderous at every incremental stage of its release: the project announcement, the cast list, the trailer, the remixed theme song (which, admittedly featured Fall Out Boy, so I’ll give that outrage a pass).
The rage frothed from the usual places: Twitter, video comments, the geek culture blog and podcast sphere. These concerned citizens banded together to organize review boycotts and torpedo the ratings on the remake trailer to earn the title of Most-Disliked Trailer in YouTube History. Don’t worry, Battlefield Earth, Glitter, and Freddy Got Fingered! You’re safe. Critic James Rolfe declared on Cinemassacre that he wouldn’t be covering the film, asking, “If you already know you’re going to hate it, why give them your money?” Though media critics don’t usually pay for tickets to the movies they review, I’m sure that’s a digression. To me, it’s the filthy principle of the matter. So loud and indignant, it was enough to brand the film as “controversial” in MSNBC and CNN’s coverage. A conversation you expect attached to, say, The Last Temptation of Christ or The Birth of a Nation, not a comedy remake with a summer-wide release designed to sell tickets, popcorn, and Key Lime Slime-filled Twinkies.
The central argument against the movie—that director Paul Feig and his 2016 cast of women are desecrating the 1984 original in a grab for money, fame, and Illuminati application points—is awfully curious given the ubiquity of Hollywood recycling projects. Where were these indignant hordes during the release of Star Trek, the hundredth Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Ghostbusters II? Reviews and response may have been “meh,” but not fevered. Not irate.
Midway through the new Ghostbusters, Kristen Wiig’s character Erin describes her obsession with the paranormal. As a child, she was haunted by the ghost of an old neighbor, who would visit and stare every night from the foot of her bed. Her parents and therapists dismissed her as “crazy” and as word inevitably leaked to her schoolmates, she was branded “The Ghost Girl.” The term resurrects itself years later to mock the new Ghostbuster squad on social media and in the press. “Girls ain’t gonna catch no ghosts,” the men meta-scream from the keyboards. Feig, his writers, and his cast remain hyper-aware throughout the film about their audacity to touch a property made famous by God of Chivers Bill Murray and fill it with ladyparts. Ignoring the trolls would mean ignoring the experiences of all women who have dared to participate in or critique cultural properties traditionally hoarded by men. Brianna Wu. Anita Sarkeesian. Lindy West. The Gamergate culture is too pervasive and damaging to ignore. So Ghostbusters doesn’t refuse to read the comments. It takes aim and proton-shoots them in the balls.
I don’t see a lot of movies in the theater because they tend to be the kind of terrible, bloated messes the Ghostbusters detractors ranted about in their comment manifestos (I’m looking at you, The Avengers). I am a small-screen girl preferring the on-demand perks and long-form nuance of her favorite TV shows to making an appointment with a multiplex. But a friend called me on opening weekend with cancelled Saturday night plans; I was at home, making pastry for tomato pie. Sushi and a movie were instantaneously more appealing. And Ghostbusters was more appealing than any of the other options stacked with child-bait Pets and way-too-close-to-home The Purge: Election Year.
While we stood in line, my friend Lyz Lenz’s Friday tweet kept reloading in my head: “I don’t like seeing movies in the theater. I didn’t like the original Ghostbusters. But I am going to the new one just to make a man cry.” There was something sadly subversive about giving Regal Cinemas eleven of my dollars to see a film described as, “Four fat ugly women with penis envy pushing a political agenda” (IMDB) or only enjoyed by “those that date a vibrator and embrace abortion” (YouTube). Women have been doxxed for less erogenous offenses against the chauvinistic status quo. Writing or starring in or going to see a movie starring female actors in roles played almost thirty years ago by men shouldn’t be a political statement. Just like we shouldn’t have to be repeating that Rape Is Rape or that Black Lives Matter. An agenda can only exist when there is a contingent opposing it. We only push for representation when so many hours and characters of wrath are poured into keeping us out.
And dear reader, I laughed.
I laughed so hard, I gave myself stomach cramps.
I laughed until my eyes watered and I almost lost a contact.
For two magical hours the world of daily terror attacks and police brutality and the tide of nationalism eased off my shoulders while Melissa McCarthy ran a perfect running gag on the proper wonton-to-soup take-out ratio. I laughed when Kate McKinnon delivered a friendship monologue that put Zach Galifianakis’s wolf pack Hangover speech to shame. When Chris Helmsworth’s Zoolander-level doofus covers his eyes to block out loud noises. When the entire gang is priced out of the original firehouse due to the New York rental market. It wasn’t perfect—the middle sequences were choppy and random, as if edited together to meet a focus group checklist (did we explain how all the weapons work yet?)—but considering the continuity sins of other blockbuster-caliber films, these are forgivable gripes.
Wearing the very same utility suits of their predecessors, Wiig and Co. did little in the way of reinvention—to the movie’s benefit. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the 2016 Ghostbusters was more concerned with making the original’s fans happy versus veering off into revolutionary new territory. But with a cast of women, it’s impossible to strike a duplicate tone to the first version, in which Bill Murray swaggered through New York with self-assured scientific authority. This is most evident in the restaurant scene, when Erin bursts in on New York’s mayor and staffers having lunch to warn them of an impending supernatural attack. As she blurts out a string of warnings, the mayor and his press secretary (the winking Cecily Strong) exchange knowing glances. The Ghost Girl is CRAZY! It’s easy not to believe Erin or her fellow Ghostbusters because they are women claiming to have seen and experienced something that doesn’t fit within the culture’s narrative. She’s fired from her job when her history in paranormal studies comes to the attention of Columbia University. Her unconventional talent further marginalizes her.
Meanwhile the movie’s villain (played by SNL and Inside Amy Schumer writer Neil Casey) is a textbook Internet forum troll allowed the privilege of skirting undetected between New York subway tunnels, backstage at concerts, and historic landmarks to plant nefarious ghost-summoning devices. With lines that could easily have been nothing but a Found Poetry project with Gamergate tweets, he rants about his life of mediocrity and powerlessness. I WILL RULE THEM ALL! He vows, apathetic to the well-being of anyone else in the city. If he isn’t the center of the universe, the universe is not worthy of existence. Kind of like sharing, say, a cultural property that has been viewed and adored by millions.
In the end, after our evil God-complex villain stumbles into an abyss of his own hubris, the Ghost Girls transition. No longer are they dismissed by the press and government as “Ghost Girls”; they have graduated into the gender-neutral title of Ghostbusters. In the final moments of the film, all four gaze over the Manhattan skyline, where every skyscraper is illuminated in the message I LOVE GB. A hundred likes. A fiction only achievable in movie magic: converting an army of haters on their talent and wits.
A ghost girl can dream.