Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot opened last week and came in second at the box office, earning $46 million. It wasn’t a bad showing for the film, and there’s talk about a sequel (because obviously). Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth were all solid comic performers, but the biggest highlight of Ghostbusters is Kate McKinnon. McKinnon plays a delightful, flirty oddball named Jillian Holtzmann, and she seems to be having the most fun out of everyone in the cast.
The Ghostbusters reboot is far from flawless (e.g., that awful Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliott theme song), but it’s not nearly as bad as some guys on the internet will have you think. A lot of angry nerds (predominantly men) have down-voted the Ghostbusters trailer on YouTube, skewed the film’s user rating on IMDB, and have have used various mediums to rant about how an all-female remake of Ghostbusters ruins their childhood. James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd) even felt it was worth his time to make a video about why he was not going to review the new Ghostbusters, a film so unimportant to him he felt he needed to point out why it did not warrant attention.
Guys, this tantrum is a little sad. You’re making yourselves look like a bunch of dim manchildren. I love the original Ghostbusters too, but let’s be real here--if a movie is all it takes to ruin your childhood, you’re probably not ready for adulthood.
If we’re going to be fair here, Ghostbusters 2 did more to “ruin” the original Ghostbusters than the new all-female Ghostbusters. Honest Trailers does a pretty good job of summing it up (see above). And yet all the nerd rage is focused on the new Ghostbusters movie, probably because it’s got women in it.
No, scratch that, it’s totally because it’s got women in it.
If the internet existed in its current form in 1989, a bunch of awful jerks probably wouldn’t be whining online about how Ghostbusters 2 ruined their childhood because it at least had the original cast. Remakes and reboots will face some level of scrutiny given the weight of the original (e.g., RoboCop 1987 vs. RoboCop 2014), but with the Ghostbusters remake, the level of handwrining and vitriol is absolutely ridiculous and unwarranted. A lot of that is sexism, plain and simple. Once gender becomes an issue, suddenly everything is suspect, from the motives to the actresses to the characters. I can’t help but think of the Mary Sue accusations about Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and ditto the sexism over Felicity Jones’ character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s almost like if you’re a woman in geek culture (real or a character), you’re either not good enough or too damn good and simply not afforded a space between extremes.
By the way, you know who else was offended by an all-female Ghostbusters? Not Hitler, but close.
There’s a fair amount of MRA froth online about how the movie is pushing a social justice warrior agenda, as if “SJW” is some kind of damning pejorative and political correctness is destroying the fabric of American democracy. Conversely, there’s been a fair amount of pushback from progressive and left-leaning culture writers about the importance of representation in media, with some even suggesting that Ghostbusters is a feminist call to arms that sticks it to the patriarchy.
Before seeing the film, I felt some of the feminist reads of Ghostbusters were a bit of a stretch, and maybe even hoping for too much for the film’s politics--it overreaches as a reaction to total dismissal. This is a Sony movie rebooting a lucrative IP. Its primary function is to make money, launch a franchise, sell toys, and advertise for media and corporate partners via blatant product placement (e.g., even though the Ghostbusters live in New York City, they order Papa John’s Pizza). As it turns out, the Ghostbusters reboot pits our four heroes against a sad, dopey, male nerd stereotype named Rowan (Neil Casey). That’s right, the villain in Ghostbusters is essentially some men’s rights activist on Reddit (sans fedora).
It’s almost fitting that a movie that’s prompted so much hatred from angry male nerd-bros is all about defeating an angry male nerd-bro. Rowan is an outcast, an exclusionary guy, someone who wants to harness power and influence and make the world fear his superior intellect. And he’s a pasty dude who lives in a basement and has no friends. It’s not subtle. The movie rarely is.
Meanwhile, pasty dudes and basement dwellers take to YouTube and keyboards and rail against the movie, trying to deter others from enjoying the new Ghostbusters rather than giving people a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they like the film. But the nerds crave power and respect and have a persecution complex, which is why Rowan feels justified in destroying the world and toxic geeks in real life feel like the mere existence of an all-female Ghostbusters is a personal affront to a cherished childhood memory.
Nerds really are the fucking worst sometimes.
As I watched Ghostbusters, I couldn’t help but think about its odd similarities to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The best scenes of the Ghostbusters reboot felt like Ghostbusters fans playing Ghostbusters in a Ghostbusters movie. As A.A. Dowd put it, the best parts of The Force Awakens felt like Star Wars fans playing Star Wars in a Star Wars movie. Both movies feature villains--Kylo Ren and Rowan--that embody the dark side of male geek identity. And like The Force Awakens, Ghostbusters gets hemmed in and struggles when it slavishly sticks to the story beats of the source material, and also when it gets a little too precious with dropping references to the original.
That may be why Ghostbusters and The Force Awakens feel a little flat at the end, with the new characters weighed down by the checklist-feel of the script; without a little pause or modulation in tone, not much feels like a surprise in that final act, and nothing pops quite as much as it could. Even when Holtzmann (who is a little bit Poe Dameron, a little bit Rey) gets her moment to shine, it feels a little small, much like when Rey finally takes up the lightsaber against Kylo Ren.
Again, Ghostbusters isn’t perfect, but it’s got some perfect moments. It needs space between being too damn good and not good enough. It shouldn’t be held to a higher standard just because it’s got women. Similarly, it shouldn’t be viewed with malice just because you watched the original a lot growing up. You’re not a special snowflake just because your folks had a VCR; your personal attachment to the film is yours and will always be yours, and four women in a movie isn’t going to change that, you silly, silly nerd.
Maybe the best lesson for toxic geek culture comes not from the original Ghostbusters but from another 80s movie directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis: