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Did the new Ghostbusters make The A.V. Club feel good?

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)

Well, it’s finally here. After a year and a half of frenzied online speculation that turned a simple Hollywood reboot (or reinvention, or reimagining, or whatever you want to call it) into a referendum on women in comedy, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, featuring the all-star cast of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the new Ghostbusters, hits theaters tonight.

Early reviews—including The A.V. Club’s—declared the movie, if not a triumph, a solid showing from all involved. But naturally, after all those months of reporting on (and fielding comments from) Ghostbusters naysayers, our female staff in particular was curious to see the movie for themselves. So we rounded up a few staffers and hit a preview screening. Here’s what we thought.


Katie Rife

Walking in to the new Ghostbusters, I couldn’t help but think of the film itself as something of an epilogue. There was a narrative surrounding this movie long before it was even shot—before the cast was announced, even. No, the shitstorm surrounding Ghostbusters began with the mere mention of the G-word. Not ghosts. G-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-girls!

Part of me thinks that the so-called “Ghostbros” are a very small group whose voices were simply amplified in the echo chamber of the internet. But then again, twice in the past six months, I’ve had perfectly normal conversations with perfectly nice-seeming people that were derailed by the mention of the new Ghostbusters. And yeah, I travel in nerdy circles, but usually when I get into an argument with someone about a movie we’ve both seen it. I’m not a big Paul Feig fan in general: His movies have scenes where people talk and crack jokes, and scenes with interesting visuals. Still, I found myself defending this movie that wasn’t even out yet. I think it’s because, besides the obvious triviality, this argument was so tired. Holding this particular big-budget remake to a higher standard than other big-budget remakes reminded me of the guy who says “prove it” to any woman who dares call herself a fan of anything “nerdy.” You know the Fake Geek Girl? This was the Fake Geek Movie.

But, now that the movie’s out and the critical consensus is that it’s not the flaming garbage fire contrarians were hoping it would be, I really couldn’t care less about the “controversy.” This is why:


If I’m going to put my movie-critic hat on for a minute, I didn’t think Ghostbusters was a great film, just a pretty good one. (Jesse Hassenger’s “B” was spot on.) The cast was great—Kate McKinnon fans, I am with you, although this was also my favorite Melissa McCarthy character to date—but the direction was uninspired. (An all-female Ghostbusters directed by Edgar Wright, though? That I could get behind.) That being said, I’m glad that it exists, because little girls like the ones in that picture need to see themselves represented on screen. When I was growing up, if I wanted to play Ghostbusters with kids from down the street I had to be Janine or Dana, who, although they’re great and all, didn’t get to wear cool jumpsuits and bust ghosts. But now, girls have their pick. They can be Erin, or Abby, or Holtzmann, or Patty. Hell, they can be Cecily Strong’s character if they want.

On that note, I thought what wasn’t in the movie—no jokes about the Ghostbusters being on their periods, no gobsmacked disbelief at the existence of female scientists, no love-story subplot—was great, as was the emphasis on the Ghostbusters’ friendships with each other. Outside the world of the movie, the characters’ femaleness is an outrage. Inside it, it’s barely worth mentioning. That’s why I wish that Feig and company hadn’t addressed the “haters” in the film, even in the mocking, throwaway manner that they did. I’m sure it was cathartic and all, but “don’t feed the trolls” is Internet 101. And part of me wants to just spend a couple of hours in the Ghostbusters’ world without being reminded that people hate it, because fuck those people.


So what did the rest of you think? Did you have any trepidation going in to the movie? What did you like about it? Anything you didn’t?

Marah Eakin

Well, to start, let me say that I’m pretty sure I enjoyed the movie more than you, Katie. I thought it was funny and smart, and I enjoyed all the actors I love popping up in little parts. Zach Woods, for instance, kicks off the movie with a bang, and the original cast cameos are done, for the most part, with tact and charm. It wasn’t a cerebral movie—it’s a comedy about hunting ghosts, after all—and so I just enjoyed it for what it was: A dumb, laughable big-budget picture with some stars I love. I thought the final act was a little tossed off and dumb, but, hey, that’s an action movie for you.


I’m also going to disagree with you about the way the movie acknowledged the haters. If we’re both thinking of the same line and scene (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here), then I think it was done well, a nod to what’s happened and a somewhat meta statement about the nature of women not only in film, but in life in general. The line—which involved Kristin Wiig reading some internet comments—basically spoke to the fact that there are always going to be guys out there somewhere that don’t want women to succeed. They don’t want us to be Ghostbusters in movies. They don’t want us to be Ghostbusters in real life. And they probably don’t want to be reading this article.

After we got out of the screening, I had dinner with my husband, and he was remarking that he was disappointed that the movie wasn’t all that different from the first one, meaning that it wasn’t this big-girl power filmic anthem. While I get what he’s saying, I kind of like that it wasn’t. That’s the point. It didn’t have to overcompensate. Rather, the movie was almost understated in its screaming feminism, saying, “I’m not even going to address that this is a big deal, because it’s not. This is how it should be. Women are scientists. Women are like this. They are part of society. It’s not a novel concept.”


That’s not to say that there weren’t subtle nods to feminism in the movie, which there were, all of which I enjoyed. The villain was a beta male who was a bit of a He-Man woman-hater. The Ghostbusters’ receptionist, Chris Hemsworth, was an idiot himbo who seemed to believe he was as important a part of the team as the women, even though they clearly contributed far more than his sandwich-loving ass did, and the mayor’s fixer, played by Cecily Strong, was a bit of a badass as well—a sleazy badass, but one all the same.

I guess what I’m saying is this: I went into this movie thinking that I’d have a lot to say about its feminism and its detractors and all of that, but I left thinking that, honestly, Feig, Wiig, McCarthy, and company handled it in the best possible way. They made one or two nods, but instead just chose to focus on making a good, entertaining, mass-market movie that just happened to star four women, rather than a movie that’s as much about its making as it is about what’s on the screen. It wasn’t militant, it wasn’t snarky, and it wasn’t overcompensating, and in a way, that’s revolutionary in itself.


Caitlin PenzeyMoog

I’m very much in agreement with Marah that the film’s approach to its female cast was well done. The big feminist statement is right there in the casting: This movie could have been written with no gender in mind, and the leads just went to the four funniest actors. The power of a film with all female leads is just letting funny women do their thing, which Ghostbusters did very well.


I like the new Ghostbusters better than the old Ghostbusters. The original doesn’t have the mythical power of epitomizing my childhood like it apparently does for some fans, but I enjoyed it enough as a kid and on a re-watch a few days ago. But my main, adult takeaway is that it’s a trifle, a fleeting thing with some good jokes coming from beloved actors, but not much in way of plot. Things just sort of happen. It’s endearing and charming.

Ghostbusters 2016 has a much stronger narrative, and I laughed way, way more and harder during it than during the original. My biggest worry going into the film was that modern studios being what they are, it would lose any sense of the idiosyncratic comedic strengths each of the leads bring, or Feig’s all-in approach would be dulled by the enormous pressure to deliver an acceptable update, probably heightened by the sexist “controversy” around it. But I think this Ghostbusters stands all on its own, and the winks to the original are a nice but unnecessary bit of fan service broad enough for everyone to be in the joke (and it’s fun to be in on the joke).


Each lead was stellar, but I’m firmly in the McKinnon camp—holy shit did I love her wacky nutjob. But one certain scene—the one toward the end where she gets a few minutes on her own to be a total badass—gave me the same feeling I got watching Mad Max: Fury Road, another update to a traditionally male-led franchise with a female lead. I don’t know if there’s a word for that feeling, but it’s seeing yourself represented on screen in a really cool, powerful, badass way, and that’s a new feeling for me and probably for a lot of other women. The face on that little girl in the photo Katie talks about was basically how I felt—and I’m so happy girls might now actually grow up with that, rather than experience it late in life. That’s huge, and it makes a fun trifle of a film like this really important.

Gwen Ihnat

I’m in line with Caity and Marah. I’m shocked at how much I enjoyed the new Ghostbusters. I think it’s because I love that brand of dry, off-key humor that Feig and McCarthy already brought to Bridesmaids (along with Wiig) and Spy: It worked so well in the landscape of a big summer blockbuster. Our screening audience laughed a lot, even as we gasped over the amazing action sequences, or jumped at the frequent scares for the screen (parents, take heed: this movie is much scarier than the original).


The outrage over this movie drives me crazy, because if you look around, movies are more often remakes or sequels than anything else. (Where were the protests over the Coen brothers redoing True Grit? I guess if Sissy Spacek played Rooster Cogburn instead of Jeff Bridges?) One of the greatest things about this remake is the obvious amount of affection it has for the previous film. Trying to avoid spoilers as well, but nods to the original Ghostbusters abound with some familiar faces, settings, and ghosts (even the old logo reappears, in spectacular fashion).

It’s not that Feig and company did this to ward off the naysayers, but to pay respect, and they pulled it off in a completely heartwarming way. When the credit screen came up at the end that said the movie was dedicated to Harold Ramis, we all cheered, and not a few of us teared up. It’s both an homage and a continuation of a beloved cinematic property, not the ruination or lessening of it. And if it leads to more girls dressing up as Ghostbusters this Halloween and believing in their own badassery, all the better.


However, and no disrespect intended, that end-credits scene points to a future sequel that could likely kick Ghostbusters II’s ass.

Danette Chavez

I didn’t go into the movie with any real expectations. It’s been a long time since I last watched the original, and while I enjoyed it, it’s not sacrosanct for me—few properties (or characters) are. Now, I’m not trying to bolster support for the questionable reboot trend that looks like it’s never going to end. I’m just averse to the concept of crystallizing culture, or of putting things up on pedestals. As a woman of color, that attitude is just another form of gatekeeping, of limiting greater representation of other cultures. “We can’t have an Afro-Latino Spider-Man!” “Idris Elba isn’t smooth enough to play Bond!” “Women shouldn’t be busting ghosts!”


Still, I was planning to see this movie, with or without any co-workers (but what a treat to be able to see this feminist film with such knowledgeable people!). And it is a feminist film, even if it’s not a “female comedy.” It’s not just that it featured such talented female leads, who all played so well off each other (my one gripe about the dynamic is that Leslie Jones appeared to be subbing for Melissa McCarthy at times). But, as everyone else has already pointed out, the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time establishing them as scientists or even ghostbusters. One of them is at the top of her field when the movie begins. There’s no doubt or insecurities about their abilities—they form the team to fulfill a dream and save the city. There are even a couple of scenes that underscore just how long women have been a part of this.

Overall, I thought the nods to the real-life trolls and haters fit in seamlessly with the action. I wasn’t taken out of the movie by the acknowledgment that there are people who were/are vehemently opposed to its creation. I did find some of the spooky visuals kind of jarring, but not in a frightening way. I don’t know if it was the effects or direction, but a couple of those scenes appeared to be taking place elsewhere, like they dropped in a video game cut screen. But the acting more than makes up for any flaws in the execution. The rapport among McCarthy, Wiig, Jones, and McKinnon feels both well-worn and well earned. They’re not awkwardly thrown together like a bunch of ringers on a comedic dream team—they are just a team, and one I hope will have a couple more outings together.


Esther Zuckerman

For me the comparison wasn’t between this Ghostbusters and the original. New-Ghostbusters couldn’t ruin my childhood because I was too scared to see old-Ghostbusters when I was a child. (Halloween prompted freakouts and anxiety annually, so why would I willingly see a movie featuring ghosts?) Instead, I was stacking Ghostbusters up against Feig and McCarthy’s other collaborations, which are some of my favorite comedies, nay movies, of the past couple of years. That meant I left my screening of Ghostbusters slightly disappointed. For me, it is a notably weaker movie than Spy, The Heat, and Bridesmaids. Now, as I was reminded by my male (but don’t hold that against him) plus one, the comparison is flawed. Those are R-rated movies. This is PG-13. Little girls weren’t necessarily going to see McCarthy’s Susan Cooper become a brilliant secret agent in Spy, but they will go see McCarthy’s Abby dominate some ghosts. Sure, I didn’t feel as giddy as I’d hoped I would walking out of the theater, but I may need a re-watch when my expectations are more reasonable.


All of this isn’t to say that I didn’t have a great time watching the movie, because I did. Fundamentally and wonderfully, it’s a movie about female friendships. (Worth noting: The other aforementioned Feig movies are as well.) Erin and Abby are two women who drifted apart, but rekindle a deep childhood bond. I would have loved to see their relationship fleshed out a teensy bit more—perhaps a scene with them just shooting the shit—but that’s for the extended edition. But while Erin and Abby’s connection may lend the movie its climatic emotional moment, it’s obvious all four women are more than just teammates with a mission. They care for one another. When a ghost takes over Abby’s body, Jones’ Patty screams, “Get out of my friend.” It’s telling. (FYI, that was in the trailer. I didn’t give anything away.)

Caity, I agree. That scene with McKinnon that you mentioned made me want to start applauding. I just wish I were as enthusiastic about her performance in the rest of the movie as so many people seem to be. (I say this as a huge fan of hers on SNL.) It too often felt to me like a collection of quirks rather than an actual character, but at least those quirks are generally hilarious.


Sure, as others have acknowledged, the movie frequently lets the fact that our heroes are women be a feminist statement in and of itself. However, I do think the movie speaks to sexism in sly and interesting ways. For instance, I homed in on a comment Erin’s boss (a.k.a. Tywin Lannister) makes about her clothing in an early scene. Okay, Erin’s wardrobe does elicit mockery from Holtzmann, but how inappropriate is it for a dude to judge his employee’s weird sense of style? Throughout the movie, the women are supposed to work in the shadows while the mayor gets all the credit for keeping the city safe. Rowan, the villain, wants to cause chaos to punish the world because he’s been bullied, but his white dude privilege blinds him to the fact that he should find kindred spirits in these women, who have also been marginalized. Instead of recognizing his similarities with the Ghostbusters, he gets pissed at them because they stand in the way of his infantile goal. That sort of sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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