This post contains major spoilers for Ghostbusters.
Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd spent years trying to revive his '80s franchise -- Ghostbusters 3 almost sent the crew to Hell -- but it took director Paul Feig, of Freaks & Geeks, Bridesmaids, and Spy fame to finally juice the series back to life. This should have been music to comedy fans' ears. But Feig's choice to cast four wildly talented women as its leads -- Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon -- drew the ire of trolls who couldn't deal with their beloved franchise crafting lady icons for new fans.
Rather than backing down, Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold leaned into the comedy potential. "Yeah, we hear you," Feig told The Daily Beast, "and we’re going to move past you." To anyone unaware of the vitriol, Ghostbusters plays like a 2016 riff on the original outsiders-save-the-day story. But the movie comes out swinging against a particular set of bullies devoted to the not-as-good-as-you-remember Ghostbusters II, and the internet culture that fosters them. Here's exactly how Ghostbusters busted the haters:
For two years, Ghostbusters pages on YouTube, IMDb, and Reddit were sewers not even a rat would call home. The movie dredges up choice quotes, like a meta-version of Jimmy Kimmel's "Mean Tweets" sketches. In one scene, Kristen Wiig’s character, Erin, reads a sample comment on the crew's first ghostbusting video: "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts." I didn't sift through the thousands of griping YouTube comments underneath the Ghostbusters trailer, but can only imagine this was taken verbatim. Melissa McCarthy’s Abby reminds Wiig not to let doubt get to her head: "Don't pay attention to stuff crazy people write in the middle of the night online."
The idea of a dumb-but-hot character played by a woman is so deeply ingrained in movies that the original Ghostbusters lampooned it with Janine, played by Annie Potts. The reboot flips the script entirely, roping in Chris Hemsworth to play Kevin, a physically glorious but excessively stupid side of beef who answers phones with the ease of a goat flying a space shuttle.
Dopey Kevin proudly shows off a logo design for the Ghostbusters: a plump, naked ghost with boobs. Those boobs, he says, could easily be made bigger. That's not even his biggest faux pas. His most clueless moment comes later, after the Ghostbusters have saved the city, when he suggests their success is due to his actions. Good work taking credit for the team's efforts, Kevin. You've got a bright future in a corporate power structure.
As the Ghostbusters successfully sling proton streams at city ghosts, the Mayor (Andy Garcia) takes notice. Unlike those doubting wankers online, he and his staff recognize the team's efforts are legit. So the end result is obvious, right? Cue the official funding initiative! New proton packs for everyone! Parade in the streets!
Nope. The Mayor wants control of the situation, so his aide Jennifer (played perfectly by Cecily Strong) routinely slags the Ghostbusters in the press. "Rest assured, these women are fake," she proclaims publicly. Later on, after admitting that the 'Busters have done great work stopping the villain's plan, she refers to them as "sad and lonely women." More than faint echoes there of a film industry -- and a greater professional culture -- where women have to fight harder for less recognition.
The original's biggest creep is the remake's major troll
Surely if Bill Murray signed off on the new movie, the old fans would be happy? Well, he did, and he's one of many OG Ghostbuster cameos punctuating the new film. Murray also has the biggest part the reboot, playing a self-proclaimed supernatural authority and debunker of hoaxes. Basically, his character is Walter Peck with a bigger sneer and the fashion sense of nattily dressed director Paul Feig.
Murray's barely got time for the women, sighing, "Why are you pretending to catch ghosts?" He's the face of frowning outsiders trying to tear away the legitimacy of their work, and McCarthy's Abby knows it. "Who cares if you impress him?" she asks Erin. Abby dismisses the prat with the same shrug and wave any creator should offer someone who doesn't even try to engage: "It's easy to be a naysayer when you don't do anything." Needless to say, Ghostbusters disposes of Murray's troll proxy in merciless fashion.
A wannabe bully is the villain...
The movie's early jabs at internet hate is just a warm-up for the main event. The villain, Rowan, talks to himself in the mirror like a doughy Travis Bickle. "You've been bullied your entire life," he sneers at himself. "Now you get to be the bully." This guy has everything he needs to be successful, but he projects his failures on other people. You almost feel bad for the guy: Rowan has no social skills, he's pushed aside by everyone, and that sucks. He deals with it poorly, however, doodling juvenile power fantasies in his books like a bored kid in Social Studies. He uses his considerable talents not for acts of creation, but to exact grandiose revenge on those who have wronged him. Who’s that? Everyone, naturally. If only he'd taken to Facebook.
... and his ideal Manhattan is a gritty '70s cesspit
Rowan's plan is to harness intense supernatural energy and return Manhattan to the "glory days." His dream vision of Times Square features a version of the now-shuttered Pussycat Theater and a variety of ads for films released throughout the early ‘70s: Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury, the rat shocker Willard (complete with creepy "Tear 'Em Up!" tagline), and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. There's even a flasher ghost in a trench coat. Ask men of a certain age to describe their idea of New York City, ones who grew up on the original Ghostbusters, and there's a good chance you'd hear something just like this. The worldview ain't exactly progressive; "Women: always late," Rowan complains, when his well-planned showdown doesn't start on time. Dude, couldn't you just create a safe city with affordable rent and plentiful Hamilton tickets?
But wait, Feig & Co. aren't done! Beginning with Kevin's idiotic suggestion of a "ghost with boobs" logo, the new team eventually lands on the iconic Ghostbusters logo. In the end, the same cuddly ghost nearly kills the new crew, after Patty (Leslie Jones) asks their adversary to transform into "something cute." What they get is that familiar ghost in twisted, snarling, demonic form. To put it another way: in order to save New York, this new team must defeat the representative image of the classic film gone rotten and ugly. Huh. Wonder where that idea came from.
In the end, just in case the idea of firing back at trolls wasn’t clear, they use not one but four lasers to take down the rude ghost with one simple shot that has silenced so many bullies before: a punch in the dick.
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