Ghostbusters – Ten reasons the 2016 Ghostbusters is better than the 1984 original. (film review)
I’ve had some large scale personal projects this year that have prevented me from reviewing films. But there are a couple of 2016 film experiences I think are important, so I will address a few of them before the year is out.
Initially I was just going to ignore the hate around the 2016 Ghostbusters. I’d seen this before with Fifty Shades of Grey, and while I am no stranger to a lucid observation of male hysteria, I didn’t want to labour my point with so many examples. But what I didn’t expect (more shame on me for it) was that the 2016 Ghostbusters would be so damned good! I’ve now watched it many times over, and count it as a fun go-to movie for my down moment. I, for one, am very grateful to all the film makers that I have this great movie.
So, seeing as we’re all post Trump and all; seeing as internet trolls have been exposed as idiots who propagate and believe fake news while thinking hand size is a judge for competence; seeing as us gals are getting used to haters, I’m going to say the thing we should all be saying about the Ghostbusters reboot…
It’s better than the original.
There! I said it. Haters, come and boost my google ratings all you like with infantile comments. The girlie Ghostbusters that laboured under a barrage of hate that was a huge financial success after all (despite Wikipedia’s predictable disinformation) managed to score 72% on the Rotten Tomatoes scale, which when normalised for the rampant sexism female friendly films receive, most likely puts it at around 99% on that aggregator. I know that site is not one to mark success (neither is Wikipedia) but I have to confess to being very surprised to see the reboot get such favourable ratings.
I loved the new Ghostbusters, and I didn’t love the old one. As a film critic, I always placed the original Ghostbusters in that marketing category. All those t-shirts and that song that came out before it and carried it through to success. It was the only way I could explain it. Dan Aykroyd’s idea was great, but the film fell short of it for me, particularly with his character and role. I saw it as like Jaws, in that hype was a new and interesting thing, and a films merit could be legitimised by it. Other films like this for me are Avatar, Transformers and Pretty Woman.
Bill Murray’s character was overrated – I liked his dead pan comedy, but always felt his character was “mansplained” and overwrought. He was better in Caddyshack and Stripes, but lost too much subtlety too early in his career in Ghostbusters. It was inconceivable that Dana Barret would want him, even if she was driven to insecurity by wearing that horrible red sack they gave her. Raymond and Egon are non-characters who serve as little more than foils for Bill Murray’s Schick, which (as I said above) has been better in other films. Ghostbusters was always a film I liked better in principal than in the watching, it had about five funny jokes that I liked, and the rest of it was patchy at best. Sections of the original Ghostbusters are a downright punish to sit through. Rick Moranis is the high point but his character is edited down and turns into the dog-thingy before we really get to enjoy him.
And I’m not the only woman who thought this. I was too young to be a reviewer when Ghostbusters came out, but Pauline Kael felt Bill Murray’s jokes went nowhere because of the lacklustre efforts of the other two cast members and Ivan Reitman’s special effects were amateurish and laboured with “kids-pacing.” Kael praised Weaver and Potts as rescuing the film and the men. Janet Maslin (New York Times) felt the jokes and characters lacked substance and that Bill Murray was used for who he “is” in place of a decent script. She recognised the screenplay as having “too many loose ends” because none of the side characters relate to each other properly. She ends her review with, “But Mr. Murray would be even more welcome if his talents were used in the service of something genuinely witty and coherent, rather than as an end in themselves.”
In short, I contend, particularly given the disproportionate male hysteria around the re-boot, Ghostbusters was merely a “boy film.” This is all fine of course – you’re allowed to make movies for boys, and I’m sure lots of girls liked it (no need to bombard me with comments) as loyal faithful girls always do. But the only explanation I can think of for its unnatural success and the hyper emotional response to the new film, is that many men had a moment of “recognition” with the characters (particularly Peter Venkman) that they adopted as symbols for some aspect of their boyhood psyche.
Which of course means, the girl version had to be made. And like always, it had to be made better to be legitimate.
So, five months too late, here are my top ten reasons the new Ghostbusters is so much better than the old one.
- Plot is better
All main four characters have more interesting backgrounds except for Haltzman who only has to compare with Spengler, so it’s an easy win anyway. Billy Murray sleazing all over women at Colombia, while probably accurate, isn’t as interesting as Kristen Wiig trying to get tenure and having written the book with Melissa McCarthy. Kirsten Wiig sleazing all over Chris Hemsworth (and the subsequent beefcake jokes) are funny. Ed Begley Jnr popping in as Wiig’s rehearsing her big day in class is exciting and better than Venkman’s classical conditioning experiments. As is her scene where she tries to hide her computer screen (followed by the hilarious you tube “I believe in ghosts” scene). The ghost plot is better, and Rowan North a much better “reason” for all the Ghosts than Zuul showing up randomly. Also, women dealing with the paranormal just makes more sense than men, considering history shows male religion icons and physicians being opposed to psychically powerful women from witches to midwives. Plus, the whole EPA thing from the first is really dumb and makes no sense.
- Holtzman is better than Spengler
One of the secret weapons of the new Ghostbusters, and a genuine threat to the male dominated narrative is Kate McKinnon’s Holtzman. She’s more dangerous than the innocuous Spengler, more technically savvy and has her own complete personality. She drives jokes, rather than simply being the butt of them, and we can totally imagine going to her house or some sort of lair and finding a million interesting things. Spengler never inspired that kind of interest. Even his love connection with Annie Potts felt tacked on and insubstantial. With Holtzman, all we want is more, more and more. She’s fun, powerful, whip smart and when confronted with a haunted house, finds Wiig’s high heels more confusing. We love her and we all want to be her!
- No love script
There is no need for a love script in the new Ghostbusters because that’s a device men need to make them feel “manly.” Despite the male-driven narrative that women like love stories and men like …. Well … anything else (forgetting love movies are the only ones tailored to female viewers or that woman can see all sorts of films, whereas most men are too scared of losing their masculinity to see all films) in a society dominated by the masculine perspective, it’s amazing how often they “need” hot women to fall for them as an affirmation of their abilities. No wonder all the little man boys are scared that women have started to look at themselves and stopped looking at them.
- Tech is superior
The tech is more complicated, varied and interesting. The scene in the back alley where they test Holtzman’s new equipment is one of my favourites, along side Holtzman’s slow-mo walk through the Ghost gauntlet with her hand held ghost guns. She invents the proton glove and the ghost chipper. Not to mention a host of other fabulous paraphernalia that little girls all over the westernised world will want to play with.
- Science is superior
In 2016 Ghostbusters, they are actually scientists. There is no room for a Venkman type lay about here. The science jargon is used, just as is it in the first Ghostbusters, but in the 2016 version its incorporated into the narrative and plotting rather than being a device to make Dan Aykroyd look nerdy. Plus, they are women, so their position as outcasts is believable and adds to the plotting layers. Patti is an amateur historian with a genuine role to play in discovering what is going on, and is called a genius by the group. Winstone was an afterthought who was placed as more of a “black sidekick.”
- Rowan North is better than Gozer
Who is Gozer? Why was she obedient to Ivor Shandor? What was she doing on the other side? What was her history? Why did she think humanity had to go? None of these questions are asked or answered in the first Ghostbusters. It’s just naively presumed that people are bad and ghosts want to destroy them. However, in the 2016 Ghostbusters Rowan North is a ghost who has been plotting for decades (possibly centuries) to bring about the end of the world. He’s a drone who is hurt that his genius isn’t recognised – a plot point for villains throughout story history. He makes sense where Gozer never did.
- Leslie Jones is better than Ernie Hudson
There is talk about Leslie Jones playing the “black foil” to the white leaders, and while I have empathy for that position, surely that comes from the baggage of Ernie Hudson who was never a properly formed character from the first Ghostbusters. Even when I saw Ghostbusters as an early teen I felt uncomfortable with his representation, and it never sat right with me. Leslie Jones is better in so many ways, but her character still suffers from the injustice of the first film. However, Leslie Jones has enough mojo and power house character to take it to the others in a brilliant performance that Ernie Hudson was never able to pull off. She’s a properly formed character, whose whole life can be imagined where Hudson was never that. He was a walking cliché. She is a powerful attempt to right that wrong.
- Jokes are funnier
I think they are. Melissa McCarthy is in fine form, as is Kristen Wiig. This is one of those things that is arbitrary and depends on taste, but I never thought the first Ghostbusters was funny enough to warrant its success. It looked more like a failed attempt at what Scream did successfully, to me (and others) at the time. Its only in its aftermath that we have “decided” it is so clever. I think time will be kind to this Ghostbusters as well, but the scenes between Wiig and McCarthy (who is truly one of the funniest people ever) will show themselves for what they are when the anti-hype dies down as it inevitably will.
- Women are better at paranormal than men
This point is already made, but within five minutes of the new Ghostbusters, I had the feeling that this just made more sense. I entered the film dreading it, terrified it was going to be crap, and my first assault on that imposition was to have an “ah-ha” moment about women and the paranormal. It taps into the whole witch, intuition, spiritualism thing that women have been branded with, but turns it on its head. In this way, it includes an enormous history that the first one couldn’t hope to emulate.
- Stay Puft ball breaker
I just thought it was incredibly funny when they aimed their proton weapons at the Stay Puft Marshmallow man’s testicles. It plays on the idea of ball breaker and defense against assault. The pro-female rhetoric is one of the great points of connection for me (and no doubt many women) when we watch Paul Feig films, and he has a real talent for nailing it.
I could go on here, but I promised only ten. I totally get that the first Ghostbusters “spoke” to men in a way that left women out. But surely, if you need that sort of film, you should understand the need to have a Ghostbusters that speaks to women and leaves men out? That’s called freedom of speech, which is an important statement about controlling the narrative of others. Political correctness sought to prevent one group being free to write the narrative of another group – that’s all. You can say all you want about yourself, just don’t tell me who I am. If you need a boy Ghostbusters, then I need a girl one, because we get to write our own stories. If you can’t cope in a world of genuine free speech, take up yoga and get some therapy.
Because we girls aren’t going anywhere, and this re-writing caper is only going to get worse.