Ghostbusters (USA/Australia, 2016)

Directed by: Paul Feig. I started by giving a little re-read to my grandiose too-big-for-my-britches post about the old Ghostbusters from a few years ago, back when a “Ghostbusters 3” was just a rumour. Still fresh from my Film degree, I had a great time spinning that fan-favourite and still canonical American comedy into a manifestation of all the cultural diagnoses I was interested in at the time. So now that the dust has settled, and this new Ghostbusters has come and gone, maybe it will be fun to see how it lines up—what does this movie tell us about modern American culture? Actually, it kind of lines up perfectly, which makes me doubtful of the usefulness or scientific validity of my entirely unscientific, off-the-cuff assessment. I said that in 1984, the culture had come to put its faith in fools because all its heroes had died or otherwise disappeared. And I read the original film as an expression of anxiety over the repression of ghosts of the past, which you can read any way you want, come back for vengeance, perhaps directly as anxiety that us modern, secular people have that, in turning our backs on tradition and religion and belief in general, in exchange for the fast-moving trivia and distractions and sarcasm and consumer culture and hard science, that those old traditions and religious gravity will come back with a vengeance to judge us, and that the best solution to all of this is trusting in hard science, and more importantly, trusting in sarcasm and skeptical detachment, via a King Fool like Bill Murray. So off the top of my head, my guess is that the culture hasn’t really changed that much in intervening 30 years, and if anything, it’s just progressed along these lines even more. This movie is, predictably, simply more invested in visual spectacles, because modern CGI affords us that. Rather than a single, iconic, Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man towering over the city, there’s an explosion of small, meaningless ghosts, all of the ghosts of New York past, with the effect that, rather than a singular uncanny funny-terrifying image like in the first movie, the Ghostbusters face an army of small ghosts, led by somebody who is basically a deranged Men’s Rights Activist stand-in who somehow will turn reality itself inside out to enslave humanity beneath his egotistical will. The feminist subtext is not terribly subtle, but I won’t go down that trail too far, because this movie already met with enough real-life Men’s Rights Activists, and fuck those guys. As far as everything else goes, this movie definitely made more of the belief in ghosts thing—it felt less like the devoted scientism of Akyroyd and Ramis and the skepticism of Bill Murray and the working class “I’ll believe in anything for a paycheck” of Ernie Hudson. Here, they all genuinely believe in ghosts and are devoted to proving it to the world, to gain their credibility back. It’s way less slackers-as-heroes, slackers-against-the-squares, than it is believers in the supernatural versus the hardline skeptics. But to the charges that, at its core, this just isn’t a funny movie, I can’t respond outside of simply comic relativism, cups of tea, etc. For my money, this was a totally decent, laugh-worthy modern comedy, and if anyone was ever going to reboot this thing (and in this cultural climate, somebody is going to remake it sooner or later), then I’m glad it was the Bridesmaids crew rather than the bro-gang of, say, Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, et al, or even worse, the old Frat Pack of Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and co, who are themselves trapped in 2005 like ghosts of comedy past. Yes, modern comedy kind of sucks sometimes, and yes, the obligatory orgy of CGI can be pretty lame, but those are failings in the modern culture, not failings of these women, who are all really hilarious, nor of Paul Feig who has a great sensibility, nor Chris Hemsworth, who is surprisingly hilarious, and who I hope keeps up the comedy once the superhero nonsense is over.

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