Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

The Ghostbusters team in from of the Ghostbuster's car

I ain’t afraid of no ghost!

Ghostbusters is officially the most fun I have had in the cinema for a very long time. It may not be the cinematic masterpiece that was Fury Road last summer, but it is hilarious from start to finish whilst also delivering on an appropriate amount of genuinely scary ghosts.

I was a real fan of the original Ghostbusters films and I am not generally in favour of remaking great films just to rake in more cash, but ever since the success of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot I have been wholeheartedly in favour of films and TV that take something I loved from my childhood and update it in genuinely interesting ways – specifically, to make it relevant to a new generation and to improve on things that now stand out as problematic in the originals. So when I heard that this was to be an all female Ghostbusters, I was interested. As much as I have great affection for the original films, they were uncomfortably misogynistic. The fact that we are expected to root for Venkman’s (Bill Murray) stalking of and aggressive sexual advances towards Dana Barrett (Sigourny Weaver) – his client – and find Louis Tully’s (Rick Moranis) stalking amusing… this is deeply disturbing to the 2016 eye, and extremely uncomfortable for a female viewer.

Rebooting this classic film franchise in a way women can enjoy without these unpleasant undertones was a stroke of genius.

Against the Backlash

Naturally, the film has attracted a lot of sexist backlash. I won’t dwell on the attention-seeking misogynists who have tried to tank the film before it even came out, they’ve had quite enough attention as it is. But I will say that I’m inclined to agree with @Lumetian on Twitter, that ‘MRA Horror is my new favourite genre‘. Whilst not actually a genre in itself – films like the dramatic cinematic masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the science-fiction comedy, Ghostbusters, really have very little to do with one another in terms of genre – the sheer levels of horror exhibited by so-called ‘Men’s Right’s Activists’ at the very existence of these films is turning out to be a very good indication that the film will be a quality piece of entertainment.

As a fan, I was excited for more Ghostbusters; as a woman, I was excited that the wrongs of the past were to be corrected and that I would get to watch a science-fiction/fantasy film where the heroes were all women.

Race and Representation

Which is not to say that I had no reservations – as others have pointed out, it’s a very white cast and whilst the three white women on the team are all scientists, the black woman, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) is a working class woman who, from the trailer, was presented as having no professional skills beyond wise-cracking street sense. Note, however, that Leslie Jones herself defended this on Twitter, noting that an MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worker had contacted her to thank her for representing people who perform this kind of role. Privilege and oppression remain multi-sided, and representing working class people as heroes is also important. The issue comes from the fact that white people are more likely to be represented as professionals and scientists, whereas black people are far more likely to have roles as working class people. Why couldn’t one of the white women have been an MTA worker, after all?

I was pleased to see that the role did have a lot more to it than appeared from the trailer. Patty shows herself to be very knowledgeable about the city, and not simply in a ‘streetwise’ manner, but in actually knowing a lot of historical information that becomes crucial to fighting ghosts and solving the film’s central enigma. This doesn’t completely erase the problematic aspects, and as a white person myself I’m not best placed to comment on whether Patty’s character constitutes ‘good’ representation or not, but overall my feeling is that she’s better than no representation at all and I appreciated that the film promoted a wonderful comedian like Leslie Jones.

It’s worth noting that Leslie was slighted by the fashion world, where designers refused to provide her with gowns for the red carpet simply because she isn’t a ‘sample’ size. After she called this out on Twitter, designer Christian Siriano stepped up to the plate and provided her with a stunning red gown. Without doubt, it is Leslie and Christian who have come out of this looking best, but as a rising star she should never have had to be in this situation. Basically, I mostly just want to raise pom-poms for Leslie right now.

Representation of Men

In the run up to the release there was a lot of noise made about the prospect of supposed ‘reverse sexism’. It’s feminism 101 to point out that sexism is institutional, widespread, and historic – it simply isn’t possible for men to experience ‘reverse’ sexism against their background of massive privilege. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that individual men cannot be objectified, misrepresented, or stereotyped in ways that hurt both men and women. Prejudice is never good.

I’ve addressed elsewhere the question of whether Chris Hemsworth‘s character, Kevin, is shown as objectified in the trailer. The answer, by the way, is no. Objectification is the reduction of a person or character to an object: lack of characterisation, focus on body-parts rather than the face or actions of a character, absence of agency or self-directedness, existence purely for the visual pleasure of the viewer and other characters within the media presented. This wasn’t exhibited in the trailer, but there remained the question about how he would be treated in the movie as a whole.

It is worth noting that Kevin is a caricature, but he is not a stereotype. Indeed, I’ve never seen a character like him in film before. Kevin is extremely handsome and not very bright. He is nonetheless very likeable and characterful. He is clearly meant as a counterpoint to stereotypical representations of female receptionists in film and TV – beautiful but unintelligent, an object of attraction – the ‘sexy lamp‘ as characterised by Kelly Sue DeConnick – a character that could be replaced by a sexy lamp with no detriment to the plot. As a send up of this, Kevin is hilarious, and yet Kevin himself is neither a stereotype, nor a sexy lamp.

Kevin cannot be a stereotype because men have never been presented ubiquitously in this manner. Nor is there any evidence that he is intended to present men in general or to be a realistic representation of a man. His characteristics are exaggerated to a pants-wettingly funny extent, and it’s quite clear that the famously handsome Chris Hemsworth (best known for playing the superhero, Thor) is having the time of his life in this role.

Nor could Kevin be replaced by a sexy lamp. Despite his incompetence as a receptionist, Kevin displays an interesting character with a life independent of the women in the film and undertakes agentful action that affects the plot. Kevin is an actor for whom being a receptionist is his day job, he plays competitive hide and seek, he dabbles in graphic design. He is exaggerated, but rounded.

I’ll admit to being a little uncomfortable with how often other characters comment on Kevin’s handsomeness – this is not, it has to be said, something that men say about other men very often. However, I think that’s kind of the point. As a caricature of how women are frequently shown in film, we see how strange and uncomfortable behaviours are that are completely accepted when directed at women.

I was also uncomfortable with Erin Gilbert’s (Kirsten Wiig) attempts at flirting with Kevin in the workplace. However, in stark contrast to Venkman’s sexual advances towards Dana Barrett in the original, Gilbert’s colleagues call her out on her behaviour and no romantic relationship results from her advances. Sexual harassment is not endorsed or normalised by the film, and that is the key.

Beyond the representation of Kevin, there are a whole host of male characters, each with different personalities. Far from the MRA-nightmare of a film that presents all men as Evil, men have individual personalities, mostly neither good nor evil, just different. Yes, the bad guy is a man, but his representation is no different from the representation of bad guys as alienated loners to be found in umpteen million other films in this genre.

Entertainment Value

Overall, this had everything I wanted from a Ghostbusters film. It was extremely funny. Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates, Kirsten Wiig as Erin Gilbert, Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan, and Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzman were all hilarious in very different ways. I’ll admit that early in the film I found there wasn’t enough to differentiate Yates and Holtzman, who seemed to be competing for enthusiastic maverick, but this swiftly changes as Jillian Holtzman becomes one of the most delightful and unique characters I have had the pleasure of seeing in film. She expresses a wild side quite unlike Abby’s and her dual-wielding proton-pistol fight sequence is a real crowning action moment for the film.

But as well as laughs, action, and the social awkwardness we expect of the loveable outsiders the Ghostbusters should be, the film also delivers genuine scares. The ghosts achieve the otherworldliness of the originals surprisingly well, delivering a higher level of imagination and quality than I expect from modern CGI. I’m rarely actually scared by horror, but I jumped several times in response to spooky goings on I didn’t see coming. Right from the opening sequence the ghosts are frightening and visually captivating.

I had the pleasure of seeing this in 3D at the IMAX, and I would say that if you’re able to watch it in 3D (the medium is not suitable for everyone) it’s worth doing so. This is a film that does 3D well.

Cameos

If you still have any concerns that this film is in some way a snub to the originals, lay them to rest. All of the original team who are still with us make an appearance as a part of a series of delightful cameos – look out for Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson, as well as Sigourney Weaver who appears as part of the credits sequence (which you should definitely stay for). Moreover, Dan Aykroyd was an executive producer of the film. This movie is 100% endorsed by the old crew and for me it felt to be very much in the spirit of the originals.

I thoroughly recommend this film for an evening of fun and guaranteed laughs. Treat yourself!

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2 Responses to Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

  1. Heath Graham says:

    Good to hear! I’m really looking forward to it.

  2. You bring up a good point about the fact that there are other male characters – and a lot of them are in positions of authority. There’s the Mayor, and there are the men who run the universities who have the power to fire the women, then there’s the debunker who could destroy their credibility. Even though the film is about the female characters, there are a lot of men who wield power in the background. You couldn’t look at this film and imagine that there are only women and sexy men in this world – but the reverse is true in a lot of other films.

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