One major change, though: Instead of “ghosts” as a general menace, the new Ghostbusters takes a cue from the comics that are themselves the subject of endless rebooting, and appoints a more specific villain: a guy who is attempting to summon ghosts to do his evil bidding. Who tells himself, in full comic-villain stupor, that “the universe shall bend to your will.”
Might that villain also be a stand-in for all the nameless, faceless people who decried the mere existence of a lady-centered Ghostbusters as an affront to the original version, and also to the Hollywood studio system, and also to basic human dignity? Perhaps. The movie does, occasionally to its detriment, go out of its way to mock those people—and the platforms that host them, among them YouTube and reddit. ( “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” the new Ghostbusters read, from the comments section of a YouTubed ghost movie-within-a ghost movie.)
In that sense, though, Ghostbusters is engaging in one of the most valuable aspects of the culture’s current reboot mania: It is serving, in its very re-ness, of evidence of all that has changed, for better or for worse, since 1984. In the years since the original Ghostbusters premiered, 9/11 happened. The web happened. CGI improved. Feminism got normalized, and then commercialized. Ghostbusters has taken all those shifts and, in the manner of well-aimed proton packs, concentrated their energies. The new, lady-led cast offers an opportunity to consider how far women have come since 1984, and since 1989: While the originals featured Dana (Sigourney Weaver) playing a sexed-up damsel in distress, here, it’s the women who are doing the rescuing. Here, yes, Erin fights a ghost wearing high heels; here, a joke is made about the silly sartorial choice. The messages are more nuanced, too: Here, believing in ghosts makes one not iconoclastic, as it did for the men of the original, but potentially that most loaded of gendered epithets—“crazy.”
So Ghostbusters is, as every film will be, a product of its time. The new version features women gleefully flinging guns and getting tossed against brick walls and being friendly and being angry and shooting fire extinguishers, in one of the film’s most un-subtle visual metaphors, out of their crotches. It features women who are a little bit sexist, and women who enjoy a little bit of violence, and women who never talk about kids or manicures or sex. It is arguing that women are like men, and also unlike them. It is, in other words, a little bit conflicted about women—and about what feminism wants to argue to, and within, the world of 2016. It is unsure whether “girl power,” the thing and its qualifier, is something to be fought for, or to be railed against.
Which is to say that Ghostbusters is as conflicted as many people are about sex and gender roles and feminism and “empowerment.” Like its predecessor, it defines its times and is defined by them, and it is extremely difficult to tell where the one ends and the other begins. Like its predecessor, future generations will likely deem it both prescient and regressive, and in pretty much equal measure. A ghost is something that hovers and haunts, stuck in the awkward space between the past and the future. So, for better or for worse, are movies.