Was Ghostbusters good? Yes
Was Ghostbusters perfect? No.
Do I care that it wasn’t perfect? Honestly, no.
An ensemble comedy featuring four women, none of whom is the “sexy” one. One is black. One is plus-sized. One is an oddball genius, and ambiguously queer. One is a mousy academic. All four have to rely on their brains, not what men think of their bodies, to save the day. I’m going to take the ladies one at a time.
Like pretty much everyone, I was worried when I saw the trailer that Leslie Jones’s Patty Tolan was going to be a racist caricature of a sassy black woman as the only one of the Ghostbusters not to be a scientist. Instead, Patty is intelligent and a quick study. In the after-credits stinger, Leslie Jones is clearly analyzing audio, even dropping the wham!line: “What is Zuul?” Patty is an amazing character- she shows up, comes to play, and becomes an invaluable member of the team. She’s persistent, resilient, and she decides to change her own fate when she leaves the MTA to start busting- and studying ghosts. She never quits, never backs down or backs out, even when things start getting really messed up. She’s clever, loyal, and funny, and never falls back on stereotypes. I don’t really see why she couldn’t have been a scientist, but I think the character we got was pretty great anyway.
(Edit: The concerns above paragraph actually make a little bit more sense after I researched a bit- Feig originally developed the role for Melissa McCarthy and changed it to Leslie Jones to give her more of a breakout role, while placing McCarthy as the more reserved Yates.)
Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates was a solid hit for her. McCarthy tends to play very over-the-top, and having her be the Only Sane Woman of the group allows her to dodge some typecasting. She is a plus-sized heroine who has NO MAJOR GAGS ABOUT HER WEIGHT. Let me say that to you one more time in the back. She’s a heavier-set lead character who didn’t need to be heavyset because of the plot for reasons like Hairspray. She just happens to be plus-sized, and she’s a brilliant scientist, a loyal friend, and a resourceful hero. That’s amazing.
Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert is a young woman who works in academia dealing with the struggle to be taken seriously, and her book and friendship with Abby are Old Shame for her. Her clothes pre-Ghosbusting tell the whole story: very conservatively cut but in quirky mismatched prints. As a fairly new Physics professor, she has probably fought to be taken even remotely seriously. Tywin Lannister smacks her down as her boss, because plot. That being said, Erin is supposed to be the emotional center of the film, but there isn’t quite enough to connect to. Her possible sacrifice and rescue of Abby needed a little more set-up to pack that grown-up Frozen punch. Abby Yates comes off saner than Erin Gilbert despite studying the paranormal and being presented initially as crazy. Probably because Erin becomes a walking Freudian slip whenever Kevin turns up.
Finally, my favorite character, and probably yours, because she is pretty much everyone’s, Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann. Growing up, the geekiest member of a team was very nearly always male- Billy the Blue Power Ranger, Donatello, etc. If the geek was female (Gretchen in Recess comes to mind) she seldom took action. So seeing a smart geeky girl who looked a little like me start really kicking ass and taking names and being awesome? Amazing. Jillian is slightly androgynous, unabashedly weird, and finds joy in every moment. The movie belongs to her, and she’s clearly the breakout character of the film. McKinnon does a fine job here.
First of all, let me say: Chris Hemsworth acts the crap out of this. He’s genuinely good in the role. I just think Kevin is actually too dumb. Like, I would have accepted a guy who was ditzy (the logos, or the phone in the aquarium joke, for example) but it’s hard to take one who you can’t figure out how he functions (Saying he’s not listening by covering his eyes, for example.) I understand he’s a send-up of ditzy secretaries, but I can’t think of a secretary character who is actually that stupid. I would have liked one flash of brilliance or even competence to him just to give the Busters a reason to keep him around.
The Reboot Problem
This is a nitpick, because I hate this about pretty much every prequel, reboot, remake, whatever. It’s the faux-organic development of tropes we already know. The logo starts out as a graffiti artist’s interpretation of the ghost in the subway (but looks literally nothing like the ghost in the subway.) The only clever one was the firehouse- I loved the fact that there was a nod to it being absurdly expensive, as it would be in NYC, and that they pretty much win it as a prize for saving NYC.
The Cameos, both good and bad:
The Ramis nod was beautiful and simple. Weaver gets a pass, since she’s a bonus scene in the credits and therefore a perfect place to put an over-the-top cameo. Hudson and Potts made cameos as characters that would have existed in the plot-Patty’s uncle who owns the car Jillian turns into the Ecto-1 and a hotel concierge respectively. Potts does a perfect cameo, honestly. It’s just enough of a nod to Janine without stopping the action or feeling unnatural. Aykroyd’s veers into stupid. Why does this cabbie know so much? Bill Murray had way too big of a role, and he honestly didn’t bring much to it. His scenes were actually some of the most bleh in the movie.
Paul Feig said the original cut of the movie was 4 hours. I missed some of it. I think Erin and Abby needed to part ways again temporarily for the former’s rescue of the latter to pack as much of a punch. Moving Kevin/Rowan’s absurd Thriller sequence to the end was probably wise.
Like any number of Marvel movies, the villain is really there to catalyze events. I’m sure the choice of making Rowan a miserable, socially ostracized white guy didn’t help the movie endear itself to the incredibly vocal male critical base. He’s not a memorable villain or all that great of one.
The next generation of little geek girls will have Abby, Erin, Patty, and Holtzmann to look up to. For that, I am profoundly grateful, just like I’m grateful they have Rey, and they’ll have Wonder Woman in a movie.
I loved this movie, but it doesn’t make it perfect. However, I am happy to support it, and endlessly glad it exists.