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Go Patty! One Way the New ‘Ghostbusters’ Improves on the Original

After the bad trailer, the nerd world hue and cry, the girl power signs and all, I finally got to see the new Ghostbusters movie.

Guess what, kids? It’s pretty funny, and pretty good. I had a good time, which is considerable given the fact that I long ago said we don’t need a new Ghostbusters movie. Well, I said we didn’t need Ghostbusters 3. The second movie was bad enough.

BV125-1Lucky for me, this movie wasn’t Ghostbusters 3. They did their own thing, thanks be to the Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

I don’t even really care much to compare the two films. They’re just different.

Even though the new movie pays many homages to the old, it still is confident in its own voice of director Paul Feig and the comic talents of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. The 1984 movie is of its time regarding action-comedies in the nascent age of blockbusters, while 2016’s version ladles on the action setpieces, superheroic action and 3D-ready spectacle.

BV125-2Sure, there are ways in which Ghostbusters 2016 is not as good a film as Ghostbusters 1984 somehow figured out to be.

For one, nerdy misfit Rowan (Neil Casey) is not as compelling a villain as Zuul and Gozer.

On the page, Rowan shares the same space as Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, as a malevolent geek in a franchise reboot hellbent on violently telling a female protagonist what the franchise really means. In the film, however, his motivation as aggrieved misanthropic weirdo lacks punch for wanting to destroy all of humanity, despite having known people on the brink of that myself.

ghostbusters-2016However, this construction of the Rowan character works best when he takes over the body of dimwit assistant Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). Some of the film’s best jokes come from Rowan living out his male power fantasy by becoming the actual Thor.

But if there’s one thing that the new Ghostbusters improves on, it’s definitely the treatment of our black Ghostbuster, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones).

Patty gets funny lines.

I was watching an episode of The Golden Girls the week before Ghostbusters was released, and Sophia had some topical (in 1990) jokes regarding her dislike of the original films. “I mean, they couldn’t give the black guy one funny line?”

Alas, poor Winston Zeddemore’s lack of jokes. The rumors of Dan Aykroyd wanting Eddie Murphy, and his presumed bevy of improvised jokes, persist to this day. Ernie Hudson, not exactly a comic actor, had the role, and played him as a layman to the nonsense/weirdness of Peter, Ray and Egon. He was the first normal person to believe the Ghostbusters. But we knew little about him.

Patty gets a backstory and interests.

Egon Spengler and Ray Stantz are dedicated paranormal scientists at Columbia University. Peter Venkman is their cynical parapsychologist buddy scamming women. Winston Zeddemore is a dude answering a want ad.

Hudson has spoken about how this wasn’t always the case when he signed on for the movie. In the original script, Zeddemore had a backstory as a Marine with multiple degrees and a doctorate, but all of that was cut.

ernie-hudson-as-winston-zeddmore-in-ghostbustersBecause he shows up as a man off the street, not a scientist, Winston is a step down from his co-workers even though he wears the same uniform and straps on the same proton pack.

What a shame. Because then the joke of Winston would have been that he was best suited to be a Ghostbuster – better than Peter, Ray and Egon combined. At the very least, the Marine part could have stayed to showcase Winston as a tactician. Instead, he’s a hired hand.

Patty offers a specific contribution to the team.

That characterization of Winston led many folks, especially black nerds (myself included), to be wary of the new film when it was revealed that Patty Tolan (Jones) would be an MTA subway worker while Abby Yates (McCarthy), Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) were scientists.

Oh no, not again.

But then I saw the movie. Each actor plays to her comic persona: McCarthy as the overlooked wild child, Wiig as the uptight neurotic, McKinnon as the unhinged wacko, and Jones as her ‘round-the-way, keeps-it-real extended version of herself.

While I think Patty could have been a scientist like the others, I thought the movie did a good job of outlining her value to the team as an expert of New York’s layout and history. Her knowledge is crucial to the Ghostbusters solving the mystery.

Patty quickly jumps into the Ghostbusters’ world, conducting paranormal research and investing in the team. She procures the ECTO-1 and the jumpsuits. She kicks ghostly butt. She made me bust a gut yelling “The devil is a liar!” of course, but her quiet reading of “Oh no, corner full of nightmares” at the pile of manikins was just as good.

So, go Patty. And go Leslie.

BV125-5We’re living in some pretty interesting times as many Americans are consciously confronting ideas of identity and diversity.

And our pop culture and nerd world is feeling it to a heretofore unseen degree.

On one hand, it’s incredibly disheartening to see the racial bigotry and misogyny laid bare over comic books, movies and TV shows. The saga of Ghostbusters being caught up in the hate of angry white male nerds, dubbed the Ghostbros, turned an action-comedy with a feminist interest into an actual cause.

And this was before Leslie Jones got the worst of that mistreatment, as Breitbart reporter Milo Yiannopoulos called upon his nitwit horde to harrass Jones off Twitter. Mistreatment so awful that even a nerdy friend of mine who was very vocal about not wanting this movie now wanted to see it in support of Jones.

On the other hand, it’s really special to be in a time when people other than Spike Lee and women’s studies critics are noticing these dynamics, issues, problems, triumphs regarding identity and diversity as it plays out in our pop culture.

BV125-6In these times, I can read about Marvel touting that the Iron Man mantle will shift to a teenaged black girl, Marvel get questioned on how it never hired a single black female writer, and then weeks later for Marvel to announce hiring two black female writers – Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey – for a Black Panther spinoff book starring female soldiers and lovers Ayo and Aneka.

In these times, Simon Pegg and Justin Lin write Sulu as gay in Star Trek Beyond, only for George Takei to object to it because it’s not canon (aka, “that’s not my Sulu”), seemingly not anticipating the most Star Trek-ian response that it’s precisely not the original Sulu because alternate timeline. Amazing!

We can discuss how actors of color, and especially black actors, keep finding their way into blockbuster movies, but only as voices or with their faces covered in makeup and special effects or motion-capture CGI to make them into some other kind of other.

Star Trek Beyond, which I saw this week and enjoyed a lot, did this with Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella. (Boutella, who is Algerian, is already busy being covered in makeup again as the new Mummy against Tom Cruise.) They were damn good in the movie, but eesh.

Still, better than Warcraft casting Paula Patton as a half-human/half-ogre, which basically makes a real-life biracial woman into a fantasy tragic mulatto. Double-eesh.

BV125-7

We can talk about genre films increasingly pitting white heroes against black or female villains, as a sign of progress or not.

We increasingly bring up the wide differences between male and female leads regarding age, as well as their pay. We can talk about how ageism affects something as benign as who gets to play Spider-Man’s Aunt May. (Marisa Tomei? Sure. Because 51 is a perfectly average age for the aunt of a 16-year-old kid, so – gasp – maybe the comics depicting a septagenarian was a bit uncommon.)

In these times, I get to talk these issues right here in this column. What a time to be alive!

Or to be undead. Because then Patty is coming to bust you, screaming bloody murder all the way.

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