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Perhaps the line from the popular Ray Parker Jr. song might be amended to something like, “I hear they like the girls.” ‘They’ meaning the critics. At least a little, for the time being. The forthcoming Paul Feig directed Ghostbusters, is getting some positive reviews, including here, which to some is frankly a little surprising. There are a couple mixed reviews out there to be sure, but there are more positive ones than not. At least according to what was discovered.
But what will the general public think when the film hits theaters later this week? At the time of this writing, the movie holds at a solid 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Whatever that means to anyone who cares about this sort of thing. Regardless of what it means, 79% is generally deemed fairly respectable. In layman’s terms, a film rated similarly means, that it isn’t a terrible one as many assume this year’s Ghostbusters will be. At this stage though, if we have learned anything from tracking a film before its release, it’s that wherever the numbers are prerelease, the numbers usually drop. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. (That number has been dropping by 2% each day and as of July 13th, it now sits at 75%). It remains to be seen where the cards might ultimately fall here. Still, the big question remains. In a world full of blockbuster sequels, reboots and spinoffs, devoid almost completely of any originality, can bustin’ still make us feel good?
When you look at the original 1984 film, it isn’t that difficult to see why it remains a classic today. Nevermind the notion of ghost-catching isn’t anything new, but ghost-catching is not the life’s blood of the movie. Rather, it is the chemistry between the leads that makes the movie what it is. All the right ingredients blended together so smoothly. It’s Bill Murray’s dry wisecracks and how that bounces off the nerdy enthusiasm of Dan Akroyd, who cannot help but show how near and dear the subject of the paranormal is to him in real life as it is for Ray Stantz. It’s Ernie Hudson’s underrated everyman portrayal of Winston Zeddemore. At the end of the day, all the scientific paranormal jargon had to be translated to the average Joe. Enter Winston. Sure, Bill Murray’s Venkman was fine with bringing the proceedings down to earth, but Winston spoke for the non-PhD’s in the house. He is the heart of the team, which is what it is for better or worse. It’s the relationship he and Ray have and the vibes they share. Harold Ramis’ delightfully by-the-book portrayal of the socially awkward Egon Spengler is a subtle, but necessary flavor to the film. How ever dated the effects may seem today, the human beats are real. Those guys were in synch.
With the 2016 version, you have a group of funny and intelligent women who, judging by the trailers, no matter how questionable, have a great energy together. It’s not their fault that the marketing campaign has been what it is. The fact that the four leads happen to be women has sparked a lot of talk about this film having some sort of feminist agenda, which many are unhappy with. It is unfortunate that this is even a thought. It shouldn’t matter what gender they are, just be a good movie. That’s all audiences are really asking for. That’s what audiences are spending their money for.
An argument could be made that having the four leads as women is a step in the right direction for gender equality. Sure. You could also make a case that if equality is a factor or a goal at all, then surely looking at having a more racially diverse (especially in a cultural melting pot like New York City) group of ghostbusters from diverse professional backgrounds (i.e. not all scientists and maybe a mother or two) might be a more compelling way to go. A good example of what that might look like is the great (and free) Ghostbusters IOS game, which came out a few years ago that has the player controlling a team of new busters consisting of two women and two men of various ethnicities. You essentially go around Manhattan busting ghosts and earning money for upgrades on equipment and items to keep you alive. The point is though, that many different groups are represented, which is cool to see. Talk about equality. Both genders are equally present as are at least three other ethnicities. Maybe that’s not necessary for a movie, but it would be cool and rather progressive.
Speaking of cool, what is definitely not cool, and this is without having seen the film yet, is that the character of Patty (Leslie Jones), the only non-scientist of the group is the quintessential New Yorker who knows the subways and other bits of New York better than anyone. This is the skill she brings to the team, her “street wise” knowledge. The only lead character of color in this position, in 2016 no less, is not very cool. Why couldn’t she be a scientist as well? Or at the very least something other than an über urban subway transit employee? How about a teacher or heck, even a standup comedienne would have been better. It sure as heck wouldn’t have been expected. This kind of thing wouldn’t be as big a deal in 1984, because you know, that’s how things were unless you were someone like Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor. However to have this happening now, admittedly feels a bit odd. Even Winston was eventually graduated to a PhD (if you’ve played the 2009 game, you know all about that).
The more thought you put into it all, the more this new film begins to simply feel like the original film with women in the lead as the only difference. This is another thing that isn’t cool. If this is in fact a reboot, why can’t it exist as its own thing, completely independent of the shadow of the original? Why does there need to be any cameos of any original cast members or characters? Let the new film exist and breathe on its own completely. This isn’t to say do not have callbacks. Callbacks to preexisting stories can be cool references points for fans. This is merely to say that not having so many heavy-handed references (which is what the new film feels like it’s doing) to previously made, and in some cases better work, not only ends up making you wish you were watching the original, but it shows you how much better the original actually is.
You take the 2006 film Casino Royale for instance. That is a more or less clean reboot of James Bond and who he is. There aren’t all the bits we’re used to in a Bond film. There is no Q or all the gadgets. Nor is there the witty banter between Bond and Moneypenny. That film is about a man learning to manage his Double-O status as well as his heart. Batman Begins is another strong reboot that exists clearly as its own thing in its own class. There are callbacks sure, but this is not a film about Gotham’s Greatest Detective. He isn’t there yet. Why can’t this new Ghostbusters be like that? Why can’t the new group discover who they are as a team not in the real-world shadow of what came before? It almost takes away from the credibility of the film when it feels as if it needs the weight of the original to stand on. Why can’t these ladies and their talents and choices hold this movie up on their own?
Can busting’ still make us feel good? We will find out soon enough. Bring your Proton-Packs, folks. Ghostbusters opens in theaters this Friday, July 15.