It was when I saw Ghostbusters for the second time that I realized I could love it no matter what.
After months of anticipation for the all-female reboot, exhaustive research on the controversy that had surrounded the film almost since its inception, and slowly deflating expectations, I finally got to see the movie a week before it came out.
I thought it was fine.
I wandered out of the theater, shrugged away my popcorn, and wrote a lukewarm review — albeit through gritted teeth. I was well aware that review could be used as ammunition in an ongoing, gross culture war Ghostbusters diehards have waged against the creative team behind the film.
The review was filed, edited, and published. I tried to forget everything about the swirling garbage tornado hurled against this Ghostbusters reboot. Then I went to go see the movie again, with friends, in a packed theater on opening weekend.
And that time, I loved it.
Don’t get me wrong: The movie’s still sloppy around the edges, with a basic story anchored by a villain I’ve already forgotten. But being able to take a step back from having my nose pressed up against the glass of this movie made me realize that its thrills go beyond structure or internal logic.
I love that I got to watch a blockbuster without having to dread the inevitable sexist jokes around its edges. I love that young girls get to watch brilliant and hilarious women work together to bring down the Big Bad without pausing to make out with a chiseled set of abs.
And most of all, I love that that an action comedy meant to anchor a new franchise and introduce a whole new generation to Ghostbusters purposefully put four hilarious women at its center, and let them kick unholy ass.
There are 30 perfect seconds in Ghostbusters that more than justify the movie’s existence
Maybe you’re as exhausted by the discussion around this movie as I am. In that case, let’s try something.
Try to forget everything you know about the new Ghostbusters movie. Try to forget all the anticipation, all the exhausting fan outrage surrounding it, all the endless discussions about whether or not it should exist, or if ladies can shoulder proton packs, what with their delicate constitutions.
Instead, concentrate as best you can on this movie’s 30 perfect seconds.
At the height of the movie’s climax, fluorescent ghosts have taken over the streets, leaving the ghostbusters as New York’s only hope. Sniveling villain Rowen (Neil Casey) has taken over their hot secretary’s body (Chris Hemsworth), and is now sending droves of dead souls toward the four women, who have suited up, ready to save their city.
As the specters swoop in, the ghostbusters split up to take them on. Formerly meek Erin (Kristen Wiig) whips out a proton gun with cool determination, while her best friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) practically grabs ghosts by the throat before taking them out for good.
Across the way, Patty (Leslie Jones) gleefully wreaks havoc on any ghost dumb enough to cross her. These fights are big, splashy, and slick, with moves you’d whip out in a video game if you wanted to show off.
And then Dr. Jillian Holtzmann steps into the ring.
As played by Kate McKinnon, Holtzmann is a radioactive weirdo wrapped in a magnetic smirk. The group’s resident mechanic-slash-mad scientist knows exactly what she’s doing — even (perhaps especially) if no one else can make heads or tails of it. When she faces that advancing line of leering ghosts, both she and every person in the Ghostbusters audience knows this is the moment she’s been waiting for all her life.
The second Holtzmann unleashes hell, it’s clear there’s no stopping her. She’s as untouchable as the neon smoke she slices through, electric with purpose, relishing every second. She never hesitates, stumbles, or questions herself. And why should she? She knows exactly what she’s doing.
This new Ghostbusters has some very funny moments, but damned if those 30 seconds of Kate McKinnon kicking paranormal ass aren’t the best 30 seconds I’ve spent in a movie theater all year.
Watching Holtzmann coolly destroy her enemies made me feel the way I did when watching Mad Max’s Furiosa and The Force Awakens’s Rey do the same. It’s a visceral, joyful swooping sensation that tells me I’m not just loving something, but feeling it, right in my guts.
It’s amazing that I could conjure up those three recent examples of women nonchalantly saving the day without any consideration for if a dude and his jawline are waiting on the other side (who has time to think about that when you’re saving worlds?). After decades of action and comedy movies alike, these women are still incredibly rare to see onscreen in a major blockbuster.
Once I realized that I’d been holding Ghostbusters at arms length for months, I didn’t just embrace Holtz and her ghostbusting sisterhood. I got mad.
I hate that the constant, churning cycle of expectations and preemptive meltdowns surrounding this reboot pushed me away from noticing the moments that made my heart clench in happiness when I stopped trying to analyze them to death. I hate that this reboot’s decent but not stellar opening weekend might stop executives from giving other female-led movies a chance.
And I hate that I was nervous to write a lukewarm review, in case the most protective of Ghostbusters fans used it as ammunition against this movie’s right to exist.
The value of a movie isn’t always in it being perfect
After spending so much time entrenched in Ghostbusters controversy, I can safely say that no, the energy spent preemptively hating this movie wasn’t worth it. And to be clear: The kind of unabashedly volatile, sexist, and racist harassment everyone who touched this movie’s getting is never worth anything, period.
But one preemptive freakout I kept seeing in my research and keep coming back to now that I’ve actually seen the movie is one that goes something like, "This movie only exists because it let girls be ghostbusters."
Even if that were true, here’s a counterpoint: so what?
Even if the only purpose of this movie was to let different people into the spotlight, what’s so wrong with that? Are you really going to stare a tiny girl ghostbuster in the face and tell her that her new heroines only exist because Dan Aykroyd didn’t get the sequel he wanted, that movie studios are greedy, that Melissa McCarthy is a "human fat joke"?
Or can you acknowledge that sometimes, a movie being perfect is far less important than if it can inspire that incredible stomach swoop over 30 perfect seconds? When you’re feeling something beyond logic, sometimes the only thing that matters is that you’re feeling it, right in your guts.