Ghostbusters is without a doubt my favorite movie of the summer. It is funny, entertaining, and really made me feel something. Though Kate McKinnon clearly emerges as the MVP, all four leading ladies have an authentic chemistry together and multiple times throughout the film I found myself thinking “I want to hang out with them.” They banter like friends, they argue like friends, and they laugh like friends, so by the end of the movie, we feel like we too have been initiated into their dorky, cool, girls club. There are definite flaws in the execution of the movie but the Ghostbusters as a girl group is inclusive and original and the stars bring freshness to the franchise and to the concept of summer blockbuster.
It’s not often that four women (and no men) get to take the lead in a summer blockbuster and the uniqueness of an all-female remake of a classic nostalgia film is not wasted on Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. The cast understands the stakes and brings their A-games to their roles. Kristin Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, a hopeful tenure applicant at Columbia who discovers that childhood friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), with whom she’s previously written the book, Ghosts from our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively, has put the book up for sale on Amazon for some extra cash. Erin agrees to join Abby and her nuclear engineer partner Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to investigate a report of paranormal activity and in exchange, Abby agrees to remove the book from Amazon until Erin’s tenure is secured. When the trio observes a bonafide ghost, Erin’s excitement gets the best of her and her tenure bid is terminated after an embarrassing YouTube clip surfaces. The three decide to work together to develop ghost containers and prove the existence of spirits and when spectral subway activity brings MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) into their office, the team is complete. They soon discover a nefarious plot to unleash the city’s entire store of spectral energy on unsuspecting New Yorkers.
Coined “the Ghostbusters” by the media, the team reluctantly embraces the name and gets down to business stopping villain, Rowan North (Neil Casey) from executing his plans. From the moment Jones’ Patty is welcomed and embraced by the ladies, the team takes on a feeling of inclusion. She’s not a scientist but she has a vast knowledge of New York City- both above and under ground. Her contributions (including a decked out hearse named Ecto-1) are just as valuable as the science part and there is never a question of belonging. When Erin confesses a childhood ghost sighting which led to years of bullying, the group bands together even stronger, taking back the old insult, “Ghost Girl,” and using it to endear each other.
This togetherness extends to the audience and invites us into their excitement and silliness. The Ghostbusters are focused on science and discovery and their womanhood is a secondary attribute, so men and women alike can identify with the group- which I would reckon is not a familiar experience for most men. I’m not saying there haven’t been reverence-worthy female leads in Hollywood (there have been many) but for the first time in perhaps my entire life, I find myself idolizing multiple female characters in a blockbuster movie for their smarts, wit, and overall badassery and with no attention focused on their bodies, weight, hair, or sexual value.
The only sexualizing in the movie comes from Wiig’s Erin who inexplicably falls for their dumber-than-rocks receptionist, Kevin. Chris Hemsworth as Kevin makes it easy to understand her crush even when he literally can’t figure out how to answer the phone. The sexy but daft secretary concept is turned on its head as Kevin plays the unaware stud in an office full of girl bosses. Like the Kevin character, there are a few instances of humor specific to the feminine experience, not a common concept in Hollywood movies, but one I enjoyed a lot. McKinnon’s weirdo Holtzmann makes a queef joke very early on and it oddly surprised me. I’m used to jokes about the female body coming from and amongst men onscreen but I was momentarily taken aback when a female character made this kind of joke for the benefit of another female character. These instances of feminine-specific jokes only endeared me more to the group and strengthened their portrayal of a nerdy, open, clique.
The script proves to be the weak link in the film, with feeble character arcs and meandering plots and subplots. Ghostbusters starts with Wiig’s main character Erin as a methodical professor lead only by facts and scientific experiments. When the discovery that her embarrassing old book has been posted for sale brings her back into ex-friend Abby’s life, her scientific discipline is all but forgotten about. She weakly continues to attempt experiments on their spectral encounters but her central focus shifts (with everyones) to catching ghosts, and later, to Rowan. Oh and eyeing up Kevin. None of the other three main characters have a personal arc other than joining and becoming part of the Ghostbusters team.
The story feels like it has been cobbled together from various versions of the script and it’s clear it went through many rounds of audience testing and studio notes. Certain plots are started in the first or second act and never culminate in anything in the final act. Bill Murray’s Dr. Martin Heiss (one of many cameos from the original film) shows up to contest the existence of paranormal activity. He demands they show him their recently captured spirit (their only successful containment so far) by releasing it in his presence. In a bizarre waste of screen time, Wiig’s Erin argues vehemently with the other three in favor of releasing their one and only shred of proof in the supernatural. Not only is this objectively a terrible idea, but there’s no motivation for Erin’s insistence whatsoever. She releases the ghost despite her teammates’ resistance and it proceeds to throw Dr. Heiss out the window. No one ever speaks of this incident, nothing more comes from it, and they continue capturing spirits.
In another lacking subplot, the Ghostbusters are told by the mayor of New York to cease and desist their efforts, as the government is well aware and on top of the ghost infestation. The mayor has the Ghostbusters publicly arrested to save face, and then they continue with their attempts to thwart Rowan as if they had not been interrupted. The mayor plot pays off in a small way at the end, but nowhere near enough to warrant the amount of screen time it’s given. At one point Wiig’s Erin interrupts the mayor in a busy Manhattan restaurant and has to be physically removed. Beyond showcasing Wiig’s physical comedy, this scene has no point.
Despite the weak arcs, characters are Ghostbusters’ biggest strengths. Even smaller roles like Hemsworth’s Kevin and Casey’s Rowan shine with originality and freshness. They may not havean abundance of individual character growth, but the four leading ladies grow together as a team, from unsure, outcast pioneers to confident, strong Ghostbusters. Though Erin is technically the leading character (and she definitely has the closest thing to a character arc), It’s Kate McKinnon who emerges the star of the film. Before this movie she was the funny friend in movies or most notably, Hillary Clinton on SNL, but halfway through Ghostbusters she was the main reason I wanted to join their ranks.
McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a very eccentric nuclear engineer who’s main role in the group is designing their paranormal armory. She’s starts out relatively basic with the initial proton containment laser to capture and contain ghosts but soon moves on to all sorts of proton guns and grenades, ultimately creating a nuclear-powered proton reversal bomb. Holtzmann plays to the beat of her own drum and often sidles into conversations to provide silly one-liners and nonsensical quips. She’s a female hero like I’ve never seen before. She doesn’t conform to social norms and her physical appearance is on the kookier side with messy hair, baggy clothes, and goggles that magnify her eyes, but she’s arguably the smartest in the group (I mean c’mon, a ghost-catching grenade). She’s not valued for her looks, her body, or her sexuality, but for her intelligence and daring.
Despite her eccentricity (or because of it) she quickly becomes the most captivating Ghostbuster. At one point in the final Ghostbusters vs. ghosts fight scene, McKinnon’s Holtzmann removes two spectral-containment handguns, gives each a preparatory lick, and proceeds to wipe out an onslaught of malevolent spirits single-handedly. In that moment, she’s not a lady ghost hunter, she’s not a female actor starring in a remake, she’s just a badass hero, taking care of business. I have never before seen a female hero in a blockbuster movie treated onscreen with the same respect and reverence as a male hero and with no assertion of her female-ness. The impact is powerful and it brings an incredible fervor and energy to the climax.
In spite of shortcomings in the plot, the climax hits about as hard as a climax can hit. Thousands of ghosts from various eras rush out of a freshly opened portal and flood the streets and skies of New York City. The Ghostbusters converge to do what they do best, fight ghosts, and each member brings her forte to the battlefield. A cacophony of spectral energy and perfectly timed deliveries of the original Ghostbusters themes song, no one can accuse this remake of insufficient nods to the 1984 classic.
After almost two hours of female-led jokes, action, and heroics I am not only sold on the movie, I am totally obsessed. I was thrilled for the post-credit scene which didn’t offer much other than a few extra minutes with my new favorite girl group. Despite failings in the script, the leading ladies succeed in exposing a concept that has been previously missing in blockbusters: the non-sexualized female hero. This concept energizes what would’ve otherwise been an uninspired remake and it has the potential to energize audiences around the world who find themselves empathizing and cheering on four quirky heroes who happen to be women. In starring in a remake of a film about four men, Wiig, McCarthy, Jones and McKinnon overcome an incredible hurdle. They take up the challenge of remaking a beloved classic and succeed wonderfully in stepping into the roles of teammates, heroes, and applause-worthy Ghostbusters.