With the recent news that every article on the new Ghostbusters movie had been written bar one, I’ve bravely stepped in to complete the conversation. Feminists, film critics, feminoids, barely cognisant members of the commentariat – take a seat. It’s going to be a long few paragraphs.
To begin let’s admit something to ourselves and mark this knowledge as an essential precondition for sensible, humane debate; the new Ghostbusters is a terrible movie. You can read my review of it if you like, but I ask you to accept, in the name of sanity, that it is a witless, underwritten, poorly structured, badly edited, ill-conceived (and we’ll return to that one), franchise embryo, that has no life or personality of its own, just the DNA of its grown up, sophisticated parents – Messrs Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis. Yet, unlike very similar films, like last summer’s Adam Sandler bomb, Pixels, it’s a terrible, lamentable Happy Meal of a flick that was critically cleansed and marked as progressive, pre-release, via politicisation. Whenever this happens in art or entertainment, though the new Ghostbusters is neither, it is inevitable that the conversation will shift from what’s relevant – i.e. is the work under glass any good, to the meta-narrative.
Let’s be unequivocal. There were people on Twitter and other social media that used the female leads of this movie as lazy shorthand for their general contempt for the project which they, like millions of others who hold the original film in high regard, intuited was a fucking terrible idea. They are misogynists. There’s no but, just a however.
If we unpack this a little, and ask what this uneducated, sexually retarded group feared, it was, on closer examination, deficiencies that have been culturally coded as feminine; the idea that the film would be superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical). Why worry about this? Because the 1984 Ghostbusters has qualities which have, erroneously, been coded as male; it’s witty, deadpan, cynical, self-deprecating, grounded and structured. The “haters” as they came to be known, should have, to use a boorish male-centric sports metaphor, played the ball not the woman. But they either couldn’t, because they didn’t understand the difference between a woman and that which is culturally catalogued as female, or didn’t because they can’t identify with female characters, because they don’t like women.
These miscreants set the terms of trade; they made the conversation about whether male characters should be replaced by female characters, as if Paul Feig’s broad bit of schlock was a superconductive antenna for pulling in and concentrating castration anxiety. We should have been asking, what was great about Ivan Reitman’s version and did the new filmmakers have the talent to recapture that? These ghouls ensured that when the new film crowned and turned out to be, yes, you’ve guessed it, superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical), it was no longer possible to say so, because that, far from being a legitimate criticism of material originally constituted very differently – like remaking A Night to Remember as a slapstick spectacular, would be giving succour to misogynists.
One can imagine the anxiety that filled preview cinemas as critics, as some audaciously call themselves, sat down to watch the new movie for the first time. Just as it’s a critical sin to decide a film’s bad before you’ve laid eyes on it, there’s also a strict rule, or at least there should be, against deciding you’re going to like a movie, or are pre-disposed to like it, because you associate its pre-release detractors with the ugliest elements of society and yourself.
Ghostbusters 2016 wasn’t just another summer movie, it was the victim of trolls, and an apparent lightning rod for the kind of stereotypical and largely imaginary fanboy that ordinary people, who are also imaginary, despise; the obese, bespectacled manchild, living at home with his parents, masturbating between Babylon 5 episodes, brushing junk food detritus from gynaecomastic tits. To vouchsafe their own progressive credentials, whether the movie was progressive or not (it wasn’t, it just swapped casual misogyny for overt misandry), to make an emphatic statement that they were against these trolls, to be able to look their partners in the eye, or enjoy that scheduled drink with girlfriends, it was necessary for the glass to be half-full on this one. And thus, a film as bad in every way as Pixels, opened to overwhelmingly warm and positive reviews.
But for some critics it wasn’t enough to talk up the new Ghostbusters, one had to attack and denigrate the object of the haters’ affection, their prized original. Revisionism was the new reappraisal. Michael Hogan wrote an embarrassing piece that told people who knew the 1984 film better than their families, that it was slow, that there was no chemistry between the leads, that no-one had ever quoted this so-called quotable movie. Sure, no one had, apart from any film fan of a certain age who you’d heard reciting lines from it all your life (I’d like a sample of Hogan’s brain tissue), and yes, there was no chemistry between the leads, apart from that which was evident on screen and had always been evident, and right, the film takes a while to get going, which in the old days we used to call the story progressing and building toward the climax at a well-judged pace that allowed the premise to develop and the characters room to breathe, enhancing the viewer experience, but that aside, Hogan was spot on.
He was joined on the stump by the New Stateman’s Ryan Gilbey, who told a disbelieving world that Feig’s movie “improved in every way on the original”; a statement of profound critical illiteracy that would, were there any justice, be career ending. But that wasn’t all. He went on to argue that László Kovács’s original “stately cinematography” was, er, wrong for a comedy. Gilbey liked the new film’s cartoon tone, apparently the only legitimate comic mode, and the colour scheme that matched. What’s that, you thought the original Ghostbusters was full of joyous understatement and great comic tension from the collision of grounded characters with outré situations? Well, why don’t you fuck off and join your wanking buddies in their childhood bedroom? You know, the people Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig talked about when building a rapport with fans of the film they were about to cluelessly reimagine.
So the new Ghostbusters is out and it’s awful. Not because it stars women – some of the best entertainments ever made have starred women, His Girl Friday, Alien, Eve of Destruction – but because it’s broad, self-conscious, badly-improvised and one dimensional. It is, to the original movie, what the BBC’s recent Brexit comedy special is to Brass Eye – a mirthless ghost of the original. In conclusion, and I’m sure you’d accept, to end this Ghostbusters conversation forever, let’s agree that from here on we’ll take care to keep commentary on a production and the finished product separate, lest we forget what a good or bad film actually looks like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just heard a growl coming from my fridge.