by Josie Kafka
Robert Oppenheimer, mastermind behind the atomic bomb, quoted from the Bhaghavad Gita to describe his dubious accomplishments: “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” Paul Feig, mastermind behind the female-led Ghostbusters reboot, said something similar in a recent interview*: “I am become Death, destroyer of men’s childhoods.”
And, in destroying all that is sacred and right in this world, and probably contributing to America being so darn un-great these days, Paul Feig made an entertaining movie that was a pleasure to watch. I did not expect to enjoy the film as much as I did, since I liked—but have never venerated—the original two movies. They were funny in the 80s, but never held a special place in my heart.
Much of what is good about the 2016 reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise depends on the strength of the lead characters. In a plot more convenient than convincing, a confluence of events leads to four women teaming up to bust ghosts while working out of a slapdash office above a bad Chinese restaurant.
The girl-power team of Kristen Wiig (the scientist), Melissa McCarthy (the logical, brainy leader), Leslie Jones (the historian), and Kate McKinnon (Q from James Bond, not from Star Trek) had excellent camaraderie. You truly believe that Kristin Wiig might get over a tenure denial after just a few minutes with her besties and that Leslie Jones would immediately jump in to join these women on a wild-ghost chase. Kate McKinnon was a bit over my own personal top, but every team has to have a wildcard.
Melissa McCarthy’s Abby was my favorite character: strong-willed, intelligent, immune to Chris Hemsworth’s charms, fiercely protective of her friends, and rocking a variety of messy buns. A gifted comic actress, McCarthy sometimes takes her characters too far (Bridesmaids), but Abby manages to be both grounded and hilarious.
Chris Hemsworth, as the comic relief man-candy secretary, is not grounded. His handsome fool pratfalls his way through the film; Hemsworth has a light touch when he’s not weighed down with that hammer.
This iteration of Ghostbusters replicates the strengths of the originals, such as the mixture of humor, pseudoscience babble, and not-very-threatening ghosts. The dialogue is funny, the physical comedy delightful. The plot was not suspenseful: I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that everything turns out okay in the end. Many of the original cast members make an appearance, some in unexpected ways, and the iconic theme song is given a rousing makeover. (I got shivers.)
But no movie exists in a vacuum, especially not this one. And although there are those who believe that any person who dares to possess both a vagina and an opinion ought to be threatened with death, it’s worth pointing out just how much of this movie’s impact depends on the controversies surrounding its existence, which provoked much ire from the sorts of people who believe women ruin things by existing.
This is a movie about busting ghosts, but also about being a woman in the world and the risks that entails. This is a movie about making this movie about women. And this is a movie that has a subredditing troll as the Big Bad. Self-aware to the point of absurdity, Ghostbusters implies that we shouldn’t be afraid of ghosts, but we should be afraid of those who try to use nostalgia for the past to justify terror in the present. (For an excellent reading of the film as an allegory of the backlash to the film’s very existence, check out Matt Zoller Seitz’s article.)
That’s some heady stuff for a popcorn summer comedy, and that is perhaps Ghostbusters’ greatest strength: it can be many things to many people. For some in the men’s rights movement, it is a sign of the feminist Armageddon. For others, it’s an amusing movie to keep the kids quiet when they’re on summer vacation. Some of us just wanted air conditioning, and wound up getting an amusing film with a strong feminist undercurrent and snappy dialogue. If you’re in any group but the first, I recommend it.
Three out of four anti-Irish security systems.
*No, he didn’t say that. I made that quote up.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)