Caution lights are for men

Caution lights are for men

 

An ineffable source of pure evil turns up inside of a New York City theatre. The manager declares that whatever it is, no one should have to encounter that kind of evil. He pauses, looks at our heroes and says “Except you girls, I think you can handle it”.

The manager is an ass, but he’s right…they can handle it. They can handle the problem, handle the ghost, handle our expectations, and handle any sort of smack that might have been pointed at a film for two whole years running.

We shouldn’t be so surprised.

Our story begins with Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). Poised on the cusp of tenure at Columbia University, Gilbert suddenly finds herself trying to outrun something fringe that she published in her younger years; a book titled “Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively”. The book does catch up with her and she is fired from her faculty position – sending her straight out in search of her co-author, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).

Yates is still studying the paranormal at a technical school alongside Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). As the pair are confronted about their work by Gilbert, all three are pointed towards a paranormal investigation in one of the oldest estates in New York City. The case brings the trio face to face with an apparition…prompting thoughts of being taken seriously, and perhaps making a lot of money.

If only they could capture the spectre and prove its existence.

Around the time the trio open up shop and go into business hoping to begin closing the seams between this world and the next, another spirit turns up in the New York City subway system. This poltergeist appears to be the handiwork of a creepy dude named Rowan (Neil Casey), and sends a transportation employee named Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) straight to the office of Gilbert, Yates and Holtzmann in search of answers…and a new job.

Armed with a whole arsenal of new toys that Holtzmann has designed for them, and assisted by a pretty but spectacularly dumb beefcake named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the four “Ghostbusters” set out to foil Rowan’s plan and prove their legitimacy all in one fell swoop. Neither part of that will be all that easy though.

For starters, Rowan has plotted his acts of metaphysical terrorism in such a way that threatens a freakish amount of damage if he is able to pull it off. His plan is less a rental truck filled with C4 and more like he acquired the nuclear codes. The Ghostbusters containing what he wants to do will take require huge countermeasures and a lot of support. This brings us to the other difficult part: the ladies are getting little help from the people in charge.

The mayor (Andy Garcia) and his team are doing everything they can to keep these supernatural moments hushed, which means The Ghostbusters’ work can barely be acknowledged, let alone supported. These four women are on their own, and none of them seem deterred one bit.

 

Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters

 

At seemingly every turn throughout GHOSTBUSTERS, there is an air of skepticism that lays in wait. It goes beyond doubt in the otherworldly, which should be expected when we are talking about encounters that defy complete scientific explanation. No, what the team experiences is distrust in their very ability to do what they say they can do. At least three of the four are well-accomplished scientists, but considering the lack of confidence they are continually greeted by, you’d think they were soda jerks.

Such cynicism is a holdover from the original property that this movie draws from, and yet it feels like it comes with a few more teaspoons of vinegar here. Perhaps it’s because the lack of faith evokes the negativity this film has been greeted with ever since the moment it was cast (which, let’s be honest, wouldn’t have happened if the stars’ names had been Roegen, Rudd, Hill, and Hart). Or perhaps it’s even bigger than that. Perhaps it’s because that lack of faith is interwoven haunts our board rooms, halls of government, houses of worship, and other such institutions.

Women like these four don’t get to shape the world, so why should we be surprised when those around them don’t believe they can save it?

In the face of that, these characters draw strength from one-another. They are brought together in short-order but very quickly develop an amazing chemistry with one-another that permeates through their every exchange. Holtzmann might not have met Gilbert before Gilbert wandered into her lab, but because they speak a common language, there’s a fast bond that develops and a wonderful shorthand that they both soon employ. Even Tolan, who by all rights should be the odd duck, is quickly embraced when the team sees just how whip-smart and badass she is.

That camaraderie and chemistry is what makes this film such a joy. Watching Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones play off one-another is like watching The Golden State Warriors run a play. Their timing is wonderful, their delivery so sharp, and their chemistry so very potent. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering three of the four are SNL veterans, and two of them came from The Groundlings. Still, watching them get to flex their muscles for two whole hours at a time is something worth celebrating – especially for McKinnon and Jones, who I feel not nearly enough people knew about before this film.

I would watch these four women just rap over beers for two hours. Getting to see them catch ghosts with such high levels of badassery is a cherry on the sundae. What’s more, the fact that they are catching ghosts is what makes this film something worth celebrating.

For far too long, our playgrounds have been dotted with signs that say “No Girls Allowed”. They weren’t allowed to play soldier, weren’t allowed to play Star Wars, and weren’t allowed to play Ghostbusters. When we go to the movies, we’ll chuckle along with actors like these if they want to be bridesmaids or bad teachers, but the moment they want to pull on a proton pack, we can’t even. That this much talent faced this much negativity and blowback is monumentally unfair, and an echo of those old cries of “no girls allowed”.

The only possible shortcoming one could level at this movie is that the story cribs a bit too much from the original, and doesn’t give them something new to work with. To that end, the women of this film deserve better, and it’s the only thing that holds it back from joining the year’s very best films. However, even with the familiar beats and characters, we see just how much we’ve been missing by keeping our comedic treehouses as boys clubs.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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