Thoughts on Ghostbusters 2016 Plus about Two Dozen Easter Eggs
Valerie Estelle Frankel
Like Star Trek, Spider-Man and other franchises, Ghostbusters has been straight-up rebooted — this isn’t the next generation inheriting the previous team’s tech or research notes. So far as we know, the eighties stories never happened. And certainly, four women who are genius inventors and professors (or, okay, three plus one with street smarts and moxie) could invent Ghostbusters tech and be Ghostbusters. Based on all the blowback, it’s less clear whether the public can accept four women starring in a rebooted all-men popular franchise. But let’s leave those polarizing arguments aside and move on to the film.
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is established as smart, nerdy and insecure, even as in her terrible plaid suit, she’s presenting a whiteboard of calculations to an empty auditorium. However the man inquiring about her book Ghosts from the Past (actually available on Amazon, believe it or not), indicates her research previously took wild turns and she’s one bad day (or really good one) from returning to the paranormal.
She goes to see Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), whose disastrously messy inventor’s lab is a clear contrast to Erin’s, even before Abby makes her first appearance in Rick Moranis’s crazy person helmet. She’s clearly thrown herself into the occult and her outlandish (though clearly functional) devices. “That book was our baby. You abandoned that baby before it even learned to fly,” she protests in the sort of oddball mixed humor that permeates the film.
Suddenly, the shockingly blonde Holtzmann in crazy goggles, overalls, and a “Screw U” necklace speaks up, revealing she’s been watching them their whole argument. She’s a genius inventor with a particle physics background. Thus all three women are revealed as the top in their fields, creative, educated, and unconventional. They’re the ones willing to save their city while battling a world that discredits them. And like Rey in Star Wars, that makes them awesome role models.
However, like Rey, they don’t seem to be having tons of fun in the job. I’ve written elsewhere how all of Hollywood’s strong heroines are very capable in battle as well as tech. They’re clever, moral, and loving. But they lack the pure levity and goofiness of Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, who schedules a dance off as the world is ending. To say nothing of Deadpool’s endless snark. This movie recruited four very funny actors, but the lines show a brave team whose goofing around alternates between juvenile, actually funny, and just slowing the story.
In fact, right after the three women meet for the first time, Abby and Holtzmann play a prank on her (and apparently, everyone who walks in) with an elaborately recorded fart joke, only, apparently, to emphasize that this is that kind of juvenile body humor movie and they’re all friends. On getting to the scene of the Aldridge Mansion haunting, they all stand around making unclever jokes about how much the tour guide soiled himself. Certainly, as a Ghostbusters movie, the shooting slime appears regularly, all dumped on super-serious Erin. If this is supposed to be a kids’ film with fart jokes and slime, the women might have had as much fun as many Pixar characters seem to.
Returning to the question of audience, the film feels very creepy at the beginning (so much so that child-me would have walked out before seeing all the girl power). Then the creepy haunted vibe vanishes, replaced by straight action-adventure (after possibly scaring some children away), leaving it awkwardly poised between genres. It’s rather scary for kids, immature for adults, and filled with extended joke scenes that aren’t that funny as Erin or Kevin babble about cats for too long. It’s also caught between being a new story and a rewrite, stuffed with all its original film nods.
Because there are cameo jokes.
So, so many in fact, that it gets tired seeing the logo and the music and the actor cameos, watching everyone drop every old line. Like every Star Wars post-trilogy, it’s desperate to remind viewers that we’re in the same beloved franchise. Sure, that’s the game. But after a while it just gets tiring. Likewise, many films lately have decided tons of pop culture references are the way to go. Ghostbusters follows suit, though only a few are really funny. The rest just feel like the film’s following the conventions.
This said, the plot is original, unlike Force Awakens. Rowan, an unloved and sidelined geek, decides to open the dimensional barrier through nihilism (he does appear nutty enough to not value his safety overmuch). Discredited and even publically arrested by the mayor and Homeland Security, the ladies must save their city from increasing threats using only their gadgets and creativity.
A few moments were great, Abby tests their new proton pack in full cobbled-together armor with bright pink elbow pads and is ricocheted around the alleyway. The paper ghost target just completes it all. Moments of that sort of slapstick pepper the film, until three of them are crushed under a Stay Puft Marshmallow balloon. The action scenes, ghost graphics, and 3D were all well done.
This may be the first action film to fail a reverse Bechdel test, as there are so many women, it seems two men never sit alone and have a conversation. The four main characters are decently written women with non-exploitative outfits. At the same time, the film lacks a real viewpoint character as all the women are exaggerated to the point of craziness. There’s no “normal one” for viewers to cling to as Erin, the most central character, is a tightly wound Sheldon Cooper of a scientist who was visited repeatedly by a ghost in her childhood.
Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) actually is roll-on-the-floor funny at times as she crunches potato chips during their ghost encounter at the mansion. Even better is her dance to DeBarge involving lit propane torches, then (necessarily) a fire extinguisher. Facing Rowan, she sings “Come out, come out,” like Glinda the Good. At last, cornered in the midst of combat, she smirks, “Forgot about my new toys,” licks her gun, and grins, “Let’s go.” She’s awesome.
The fourth team member, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), is a street-smart public transit official who knows all about New York, offering city trivia in place of the science. The film came under some criticism for making the Black woman the uneducated blue-collar worker, but she’s authentic and fun as the woman with no time for science but ready with practical solutions and often physical violence. She’s strong enough to hold one friend up and fight off another, casting her as the muscle, brimming with strength of will besides. She even slaps the possession out of Abby, emphasizing her power on multiple levels.
Chris Hemsworth, plays the eye candy and male airhead receptionist Kevin as the film has fun with gender flipping. The girls even get a little sexual harassment in as Erin asks if he’s seeing anyone and Abby tells him “Pull it out” (though referencing his artwork). His jokes are mildly funny, as he decides glasses are more convenient without glass and has a dog named Mike Hat. But after a time the concept of the really, really stupid but pretty receptionist grows old, and he’s rather one-note. Patty’s calling him a “big dumb dude” definitely feels right on the nose.
Perhaps added because they expected controversy, or perhaps added after it all started, there are certainly references to the flame wars. One comment on the team’s YouTube page retorts, “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghost.” Hemsworth’s first logo for the team, a ghost with huge breasts, seems like a joke logo that may actually be floating around fan sites. Even Bill Murray, in his debunker role, asks “Why are you pretending to catch ghosts,” emphasizing his fictional character may not be prepared to pass on the torch. Finally, the mayor himself, force of organized masculine power, publically shuts them down.
Further, it may be no accident that the supervillain, Rowan, is misunderstood and “odd,” — a classic nerd like many original Ghostbusters fans. “It’s always the sad, pale ones,” the women note. Patty even calls his hotel uniform a “Captain Kirk outfit.” His plan is outlined in his drawings, which resemble a colorful, if horror-filled, comic. “People dump on us all the time,” Abby tells him, pointing out all geeks are in the same boat. Still, he ignores them. He’s the geek gatekeeper, one they must outwit and physically defeat by shooting him in the groin, four times.
The big second act battle features a ghost manifesting as a dragon in a concert, forcing the ladies to go public. Slaying the dragon and bottling it certainly suggests a triumph over patriarchy. As they succeed amid stirring music, the crowd stands stunned, then cheers. After, the government hastily tries to cram the women and their achievement back into the bag (featuring a long metaphor deconstruction about the cat being out of the bag that isn’t all that funny), but when ghosts invade New York, there’s no more keeping the heroes hidden.
In the battle climax, the women shoot Rowan, now transformed into the Ghostbusters logo monster, in the crotch, announcing they’re taking over the franchise from its former male heroes. It falls. After, Erin proudly claims the title of “Ghost Girl” she had once rejected. Clearly the women are accepting their roles in the superhero community and the geek world as well. The film ends with the city lighting up with salutes to the team, acknowledging that even if their heroism remains under the radar, New York is grateful.
So, final thoughts? Empowering for women? Sure. Controversial? We know it. Plot? Fine. Good B-movie watch? Okay. Funny? In spots. But in others, they left out the lighthearted fun that makes superhero movies really pop that would have established that four women can share two hours of laughs with the audience, goofing around with big guns and awesome inventions, without reverting to lengthy cat jokes.
Ray Parker Jr.’s classic Ghostbusters theme is briefly played after the prologue. There’s an instrumental version as they charge into action at the start of the third act and at the beginning of the credits. It then fades into the Fall Out Boy-Missy Elliott remake, which also appears during the movie.
The film is dedicated to the late Harold Ramis, and, during a scene at Columbia University, there’s a lingering shot of a bust of his head. Stantz, Venkman, and Spengler were employed at Columbia University before they became Ghostbusters.
Ramis’s son Daniel appears in the concert scene, as the Metal Head.
Kristen Wiig gets slimed…over and over, with 3D jetting into the audience.
The original team is kicked out of academia and finds a firehouse as base. The new team tour there, but can’t afford rent prices. After the events of the film, they move in.
Screenwriter Katie Dippold plays the real estate agent who eventually finds them office space in a Chinese restaurant.
A subway hoodlum (Nate Corddry) spray-paints the classic logo on the wall and Holtzmann makes it theirs.
Their rival “Ghostjumpers” has a commercial with music that imitates the classic theme. The women struggle with and finally accept the media’s label for them, Ghostbusters.
They’ve got suits, proton packs, meters, ghost traps and storage, and ecto goggles, as in the original. They’re all updated, too.
The original vehicle was a pimped-out 1958 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance, and the latest is a 1980s Caddy hearse wagon, both with the ECTO-1 license plate.
Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), uses the line “Whaddya want” made famous by Janine (Annie Potts). When the actress herself is welcoming them in the hotel, she uses the line too.
Billy Murray is quite funny switching roles to debunking ghosts.
Cecily Strong explains that although the government is aware of ghosts, they need to keep them a secret, “Otherwise there would be mass hysteria.” Bill Murray described “Dogs and cats, living together — mass hysteria!” in the original.
Chris Hemsworth covers his eyes when told not to listen. This may echo Dan Aykroyd’s “Listen, do you smell something.”
The women are asked if the ghost that killed Bill Murray was like Patrick Swayze.
Abby gets possessed, with her head spinning all the way around, just like in The Exorcist.
The 1984 film had appearances by Larry King, Joe Franklin, and Casey Kasem as themselves, the new version features Al Roker, Pat Kiernan, and Ozzy Osbourne.
Slimer returns (next to his hotdog stand from movie one), this time with Mrs. Slimer, and takes the Ghostbusters car for a delightful joyride.
Ray Stantz, played by original Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd, shows up briefly as a cabbie who says “Class 5 Golden Vapors — nothing to worry about” and adds, “I don’t go to Chinatown, I don’t drive wackos, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Thus getting extra points for the line. Also, he’s dressed like the zombie cab driver from the 1984 movie.
Winston’s (Ernie Hudson) famous line “That’s a big twinkie!” makes its way into an advertisement in Times Square.
Mr. Stay Puft returns as one of the creepy balloons that attacks the team in Times Square.
The villain changes into the cartoon logo ghost, then gets supersized into the biggest ghost of all for the final showdown.
The team save the day by reversing the polarity on their car — this is seen often in Doctor Who.
Ernie Hudson (Winston Zeddmore) turns up at the very end, playing the uncle who comes looking for the ill-fated hearse he loaned his niece Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones).
Sigourney Weaver (the original Dana Barrett) arrives as Jillian Holtzmann’s mentor, Rebecca Gorin. They agree: “Safety lights are for dudes.”
The dance scene at the end resembled Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
During the post-credit tag, Patty listens to a recording from a haunted house, then asks the team, “What’s Zuul?” — nodding to the original and possibly setting up a sequel.
Valerie Estelle Frankel has won a Dream Realm Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and a USA Book News National Best Book Award for her Henry Potty parodies. She’s the author of about 50 books on pop culture, including Doctor Who — The What, Where, and How, Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1–3, History, Homages and the Highlands: An Outlander Guide, and How Game of Thrones Will End. Many of her books focus on women’s roles in fiction, from her heroine’s journey guides From Girl to Goddess and Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to books like Women in Game of Thrones and The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen. Once a lecturer at San Jose State University, she’s a frequent speaker at conferences. Come explore at www.vefrankel.com or http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Estelle-Frankel/e/B004KMCLQK.
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