The new Ghostbusters film was always going to spin wildly in the hype machine that is American entertainment. For the past two years, many fans of the original movie have lamented about unoriginal Hollywood messing with a good thing.
Tinseltown was rebooting and recycling old stories decades before any New Yorkers first asked “Who ya gonna call?”
Sometimes these remakes improved upon the original (The Fly, Ocean’s Eleven); sometimes they were pointless and poor (Psycho, Total Recall).
But the latest Ghostbusters starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon stirred a whole new kind of pot in which so many reboot haters of this particular franchise railed not just against a remake, but a remake in which women replaced originally male characters.
So what can we say about the quality of this movie and the early, even advance, criticism it’s received?
The new Ghostbusters from director Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat) contains all the original DNA you could want. And why not, with Ivan Reitman and Dan Akyroyd producing. They wrote the script to the original 1984 flick along with the brilliant Harold Ramis.
Fans of the original will recognize plenty of familiar beats, from the spooky cold open to disgraced academics turned full-time paranormal investigators to an epic showdown with one skyscraper of an apparition. It’s hard to imagine any objective fan being disappointed in this 2016 version if they went in looking for the same things offered by the 1984 version (lots of comedy, spooky fun stuff, and a memorable supporting cast for starters).
Yet to look at reviews and ratings floating around the internet, you’d think the new Ghostbusters is on par with underwhelming fizzlers like Terminator: Genisys or Robocop. On the rating aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, audience scores are often higher than critic’s scores. But with Ghostbusters, salty cinephiles are panning the film intensely, with the average user rating a mere 2.9/5. That just doesn’t make sense. So what gives?
For starters, we are nostalgic. The 1984 Ghostbusters was tons of fun. Bill Murray getting slimed by Slimer is iconic. I watched the Ghostbusters cartoon regularly and my prized toy possession as an eight year old was my Ghostbuster’s Firehouse, complete with slimy ectoplasm and storage containment unit. Ghostbusters was the only franchise to supplant my He-Man obsession back then. Heck, I even wore a t-shirt with the StayPuft Marshmallow Man to the theater for this revival and lord knows I’ve always thought Harold Ramis was brilliant.
But the actual Ghostbusters movie was never the best ever. Gen X sacrilege? I don’t think so.
I fell in love with movies from my first trip to the theater by age 5. And when I saw films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Clue, Fletch, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and so many others from the 1980s, I would watch them over and over again. We didn’t have the internet, and I thought the only two movie critics in the world were Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, not that I would read a word they wrote until years later. There was only one test back then–the eye and heart test. For whatever reason, Ghostbusters failed to match all those other comedies when it came time for me to select which VHS tapes to wear out.
But it was still great fun, and everyone is entitled to their personal favorites. While I can smile about youthful good times as much as anybody, I can also acknowledge it’s just a movie. But there is a dysfunctional fan culture that loses perspective while treating entertainment as sacred. Frankly, this humorless bunch needs to just get out in the sunshine more often.
And when you combine humorless fandom with old-fashioned misogyny, a whole new level of backlash is reached. So while movies, much as I love them, are simply entertainment, cultural responses like those around this movie point to larger issues in society that do matter.
Read ‘Ghostbusters,’ the bros who hate it and the art of modern misogyny in The Washington Post
For as much as I enjoy creating and consuming internet content about pop culture, there’s often this sense that the web has turned everyday communication all short-sided and ragey. It turns out this new Ghostbusters movie shows us something about the lack of objectivity and death of dialogue in our modern world.
Walt Hickey of fivethirtyeight.com captured some data to show how skewed the early judgments were on Ghostbusters. Check out this bit from his piece on how internet ratings are broken:
- IMDb average user rating: 4.1 out of 10, of 12,921 reviewers
- IMDb average user rating among men: 3.6 out of 10, of 7,547 reviewers
- IMDb average user rating among women: 7.7 out of 10, of 1,564 reviewers
The movie isn’t even out in theaters as I’m writing this, but over 12,000 people have made their judgment. Male reviewers outnumber female reviewers nearly 5 to 1 and rate ‘Ghostbusters’ 4 points lower, on average.
The movie doesn’t even have to be out for thousands of people to render their verdict because quality storytelling isn’t the point for people obsessed with clinging to the past. In this case, it seems that male reviewers decided right quick that ghostbusting was no job for women.
The point is that from an entertainment standpoint, take internet ratings with a drop of ooze. I’d love to see nerd culture lighten up, honestly. If we can’t relax a bit more in our social interactions over entertainment that’s ultimately meaningless, I fear we’re never going to loosen up in ways critical to calming our collective selves down.
More importantly, change is here. As more social equality is pursued and achieved, the stories we tell will continue to evolve. Female Ghostbusters, a lady Thor, an African-American Karate Kid, and a Korean Hulk are all good signs that we are moving from a theoretically pluralistic society to a literally egalitarian one. When art helps grease the tracks for such change it is no longer just meaningless entertainment.
So go out and support the new Ghostbusters. It’s certainly not perfect. For example, the writers missed a couple opportunities to bring the story back around to the education administrators (well played by Charles Dance and Steve Higgins) who unceremoniously bounced our disgraced heroes early in the movie. Then again, even that lack of callback duplicates exactly how the original did it.
However, it can’t fix the pretentious sexism of those who hate seeing art derived from past works or women doing it just as well as the guys. But for the open-minded among us, this film can all at once satisfy those nostalgic cravings while at the same time offering a new generation their own legendary crew of ghost chasers. And I think it’s pretty cool that now young girls get a chance to play with their own female action figures and imagine themselves as heroes, just like I did on my living room floor back when.