My reaction to the idea of an all-female Ghostbusters reboot? I’m desperate for movies about women doing all sorts of things — including silly stuff like engaging in experimental particle physics, playing around with total protonic reversal, and saving New York City — but I’d also like to see women get their own stories and a chance to create their own iconic characters. I knew that even if this remake was amazing, any success would come with an asterisk. There would always be the “real” Ghostbusters — the original ’80s comedy, not to be confused with the spinoff animated series The Real Ghostbusters, though there’s that, too — and the “girl” Ghostbusters. Women deserve better than to be constantly tagged as the lesser, the other, the not-quite-as-good.
I still believe all that, but I get to have my feminist cake and eat it, too, because … holy moly! … Saturday Night Live badass Kate McKinnon has created an instantly iconic new character in gleefully reckless physicist and tinkerer Jillian Holtzmann, a snappy dresser, a devil-may-care snarkster, a master of universal mysteries, and a creator of cool crap that goes boom. Jillian is clearly the analogue here for the late Harold Ramis’ Egon Spengler from his 1984 creation (which Ramis cowrote with Dan Aykroyd) — but she’s nothing like him. She’s nothing like any female character we’ve ever seen. She’s powerful in a way that has nothing to do with her appeal to men, all too often the only power women are allowed to deploy onscreen. She is brainy comic mayhem with a lil bit of Back to the Future’s Doc Brown and a whole lotta the Doctor (Doctor Who, that is). She’s scientific authority combined with the freedom of no-fucks-given.
This new Ghostbusters would be worth hailing for Jillian alone but, happily, there’s much more to cheer. The snappy script, by director Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, zings from the start with cunning, snappy verve, often springing up out of left field. Pay close attention to the commentary by the tour guide at a historic NYC mansion which, of course, is haunted. The plot is similar to the 1984 movie, with physics prof Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and a more paranormally inclined academic Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) teaming up with Jillian, to hunt ghosts suddenly appearing all over town. Wiig and McCarthy have toned down their sometimes-over-amped comic personas, so it’s not easy to determine after which original characters Erin and Abby may be modeled. They’re neither Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz or Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman, yet they are both, at the same time (Aykroyd and Murray cameo, too). As with the authentically fresh Jillian, they don’t imitate anyone, which separates this from the deluge of reprocessed reboots, remakes, and do-overs of late.
Leslie Jones brings her own humor stylings as Patty, a ballsy subway worker. And there’s a nice tribute to Harold Ramis — his son Daniel cameos in a rock concert scene. Look for Chris Hemsworth, Ozzy, Andy Garcia and Cecily Strong, and from the ’84 film, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver.
Unlike that first flick, when ghosts started appearing at the same moment a new business was begun to deal with them — baked into this plot, there’s a reason why ghosts are popping up, prompting Erin and Abby to start their project. It’s not an entrepreneurial effort, but a scientific research endeavor to capture and study spirits. And baked into that reason is the feminism of this new Ghostbusters. This is an unabashedly feminist movie. But it’s still super-fun — pinky-swear! There are a few words about nasty online comments the women get in response to videos of ghosts they post on YouTube — the comments are close to some this movie itself has generated. Far more incisive is the villain, Rowan North (Neil Casey), literally a basement-dwelling creep who justifies the bad things he does as a way of striking back at bullies. Contrast this with Erin’s and Abby’s tales of being denigrated for their dorky oddness: Dude treated badly wants to end the world; dudettes treated badly turn their pain into a positive thing, and are now ready to save the world.