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Star Trek Beyond

July 22, 2016
Star Trek Beyond

As I’ve said before, it’s been a long time since what I consider the real spirit of Star Trek has been in the property for quite some time. It hasn’t bothered me that J.J. Abrams has turned his rebooted movie series distinctly towards action-adventure, partly because there’s always been a bit of adventure in Trek, and partly because the ideas had been replaced by serial space-opera long ago. So when it was announced that the next installment would be directed by Justin “Fast and Furious” Lin, and people complained that this was a further step in the wrong direction, I was still fine with it.

Which is all to say that I walked into Star Trek Beyond expecting little but another romp, but I walked out pleasantly surprised that Lin has actually turned the series back towards, well, actual Star Trek. It’s not quite the veiled criticism of the original television series, nor the Great Society utopianism of The Next Generation, but it does capture something of the feel of the first series of movies. It’s an original story built around an actual philosophical point, rather than just paying homage to what has come before the way the other two entries in the reboot series have.

And that point stems from an important question in a modern, secular, progressive world: from where do we derive meaning in our existence? There are all sorts of high-minded platitudes we could throw out, but we must start with the actual human subject of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), who finds himself leading his ship through the unknown universe, where there are no signposts that clearly indicate direction.

He considers resigning his command and taking a position on the new starbase Yorktown. Maintaining an established order at least offers some structure, and that sense of meaning can be comforting. In our own history, institutions like religions or militaries have offered many people similar pre-packaged answers to the question of meaning. A large swath of modern conservatism is defined by people who cling to such established signposts, and who demand that everyone else do the same.

Spock (Zachary Quinto) is struggling with a similar question, though at a much grander scale. Most of his race and culture were destroyed along with Vulcan, leaving him unmoored, and reconsidering his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in light of his responsibilities to New Vulcan. The death of his alternate-timeline alter ego (Leonard Nimoy) comes as an extra blow, leaving him wondering about his place in the universe.

All this is put on hold when a ship comes into Yorktown. The single occupant pleads for help; the rest of her ship went down inside a nearby nebula, and they need rescue. The Enterprise is the only ship capable of navigating in that area, so it gets the job. And it heads straight into an ambush, which separates and strands the crew on the planet below, just as so many others have before it. Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) end up in one place; Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) in another; Uhura and Sulu (John Cho) are captured by the alien commander Krall (Idris Elba). Scotty (co-writer Simon Pegg) lucks out, meeting the previously marooned Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who has been living in a crashed Federation starship from the early days of Starfleet.

The philosophy largely gets shelved after the opening act, making way for the main action-adventure story and returning at the end. That said, it’s not like The Wrath of Khan spent much more than the setup and conclusion on its Moby Dick references. And The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home were fine without a lot to offer in the way of Big Ideas. Held up against the actual canon, Star Trek Beyond is more a return to form than some further, sacrilegious divergence.

As an action movie, however, it can be disappointing. The Enterprise does get blowed up real good, and there’s some spectacularly fun work in the climax. But for an off-ship episode the personal-scale action is underwhelming. There’s a lot of shaky-cam, and the choppy, close-up editing doesn’t allow a good sense of space in the fight choreography. The camera pans around a lot in these close-ups, too, with lots of bright lights in the background. It gets disorienting enough in regular-size 2D; I can only imagine what it would look like in the IMAX 3D format.

But while this may fall short of the action in the Fast and Furious franchise, what Lin brings to the table is fun, and a lot of it. The core cast feels more than ever like the same sort of extended family that the Fast and Furious crew became under Lin’s direction, and we can see the story’s ideas playing out in terms of the actors’ performances and character work more than the monologues that often characterized the classic Roddenberry-era entries. Abrams may have known how to tell a good story and get this new branch of the world set up, but Lin may be just what we’ve needed to get Trek back on track.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

Absolutely Fabulous

July 22, 2016
Absolutely Fabulous

When I was growing up, PBS was always television’s bastion of taste and respectability, featuring science documentaries and classy adaptations of theater and literature. And then there were the British shows. I was never clear why exactly PBS stations brought them in along with the likes of Masterpiece Theater and Mystery!, but somehow the BBC’s equivalent of Married with Children acquired a patina of respectability on this side of the pond. Even The Simpsons made jokes about it.

Which is not to say the shows were bad. If anything, the BBC’s production model likely made them better than comparable American shows. When a sketch about a “Modern Mother and Daughter” on Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French’s show took on a life of its own, Saunders could just throw together six half-hour episodes and get the BBC to shoot Absolutely Fabulous on its usual shoestring. Then, if people liked them and she felt the concept had six more episodes’ worth in it, they could make another series, and so on. The show’s entire 1990s run contained less material than a single American 22-episode season, so it never quite wore out its welcome. And now there’s a movie.

For the uninitiated, Ab Fab features two women on the periphery of the London fashion scene. Edina Monsoon (Saunders) is a PR agent whose only clients seem to be Lulu, Emma Bunton, and an unnamed boutique vodka. Her codependent friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) holds a position of no real responsibility at a fashion magazine. Together they smoke, drink, and carouse their way through every trend that comes along, which leaves responsibility in the hands of Edina’s daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha).

More than that gets complicated, since it was written with less consideration for coherence than for what seemed funny at the time. On the upside, you probably don’t need to know most of it to follow the movie, because it doesn’t care about the details of its own past the way a comic-book blockbuster might. The only character who seems a bit confusing is Edina’s personal assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), but she’s pretty confused under the best of circumstances.

So as the movie opens, Edina has once again run out of money. It’s a situation she only seems to comprehend at some level of abstraction, “money” being one of those details she never cared to think too much about in the first place, and it only makes a crashing entrance into her conscious mind when she sees the wall-sized wine rack empty, rather than full of Bollinger.

No publishing house wants to pay an advance her memoir, and all looks bleak until Patsy learns that Kate Moss has fired her old PR. The pair try to chase her down at a party, only for Edina to knock her into the Thames, where she presumably drowns. Paparazzi-imposed house arrest while awaiting trial doesn’t suit Edina, so she and Patsy sneak out of the country to hide out in the French Riviera. Hijinx, naturally, throughout.

This is all utterly light and disposable, but the series always was to begin with. If you enjoyed the series, this is more of the same. It’s about as long as three episodes strung together, with higher production values and glitzier cameos, but otherwise exactly of a piece with what came before. Those who like this sort of thing, and all, with no real stylistic surprises. I did, though, learn something oddly fascinating at the screening I attended.

Watching the odd episodes when I was younger, I’d always identified with — and, if I’m honest, had a bit of a schoolboy crush on — Saffron. Though not presented as an ideal, she was at least a sensible counterweight to Patsy and Edina’s mad whims. I’d always read the series to say that the two central figures were terrible, and satirised the excesses of aging, self-important Boomers, with Saffy as the Gen-X child left to clean up their mess. After some digging into the background of the show, I remain convinced that this has always been Saunders’ intention.

But there is evidently an entirely different subculture of Absolutely Fabulous fans, who see it instead as a celebration of the wild and wacky adventures that Patsy and Edina go on before they’re brought down by buzzkill Saffron. An entire boisterous row of them filled in behind me, and proceeded to kibbutz and kick the seats throughout the movie. Every scene focused on Saffy’s attempts to save her mother from herself brought a chorus of “Oh my God she’s the worst” as soon as Sawalha appeared on screen.

To these fans, Ab Fab seems to be a gayer — though far less homoerotic — version of Entourage; a British version of the same dip into celebrity culture offered by the reality shows on Bravo. Pointing out the critical and satirical angle of the show would be like saying that The Real Housewives is far from unscripted. It’s an unwelcome intrusion of reality on the bubble of “reality”, which misses what they see as the point entirely. It’s a credit to Saunders’ writing that she can present satire for those who want it, while never disturbing the slumber of those who don’t.

Worth It: sure, if you like the series.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

Equals

July 22, 2016
Equals

Drake Doremus has carved out an interesting little niche for himself as a director of romantic films. Not romantic comedies, but straight-up romances — a genre otherwise dominated by the sappy, saccharine juggernaut that is Nicholas Sparks. In Like Crazy and Breathe In, Doremus’ two films co-written with Ben York Jones, he manages to find the messiness in real-world love stories, and to celebrate it.

In Equals, though, he takes a different tack: a dystopian sci-fi romance. Thankfully it’s not an adaptation of some best-selling young-adult novel, which the studio would try to turn into another bloated franchise. This is an original story by Doremus, fleshed out into a script by Moon scribe Nathan Parker, but it does draw heavily from the usual tropes.

In particular, the core conceit is straight out of the ur-text of young-adult dystopias, The Giver: in this society, for the good of the social order, emotions have been eliminated. A slight twist here is that it’s largely medicalized. Everyone knows that emotions exist, but have been suppressed. They do sometimes surface — a condition known as “Switched-On Syndrome”, or S.O.S. — for which there are therapies to slow the eventual progress towards a total emotional breakdown.

Silas (Nicholas Hoult) notices the symptoms, and goes in for treatment like he’s been told. He returns to his workplace like a cancer patient, receiving both their sympathy and their ostracism. He also notices one of his colleagues, Nia (Kristen Stewart), displaying what look like emotional responses, but she hides her condition rather than getting a formal diagnosis. Can you blame her, seeing how Silas gets treated?

The two form a relationship, which is of course totally forbidden. Silas meets another S.O.S. patient named Jonas (Guy Pierce) who invites the couple into what amounts to a support group for people like them. At first it seems odd that the society doesn’t provide this sort of service, but then again what purpose does a support group serve besides an emotional one?

From here, though, there’s not a lot that can’t be predicted from other examples of this sort of dystopia. Their forbidden love turns into a Romeo-and-Juliet story, which seems too conventional for Doremus messy-humanity style. I still could have gotten behind it, though, if he didn’t pull the tragic punch.

Though the plot disappoints, Doremus does manage to nail one thing: the look. The Collective’s architecture is slightly colder and more modernist, but shows its clear inspiration in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca. Hoult, too, bears a strong resemblance to the young Ethan Hawke who starred in that film. Doremus shows, if nothing else, a real talent for this kind of style-mimicry.

But in mimicking the style of young-adult dystopias, Equals falls short in not pushing them at all beyond their already comfortable outlines. As a romance, it falls short in presenting the sort of unchallenging and uncomplicated story that Doremus has already proved he can improve on. Hoult and Stewart have real chemistry here; I just wish it had been in service of a better movie.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

Café Society

July 22, 2016
Café Society

Woody Allen’s only solidly good movie this decade was Magic in the Moonlight, which worked in large part because he has a clear love of the setting. It’s been clear for ages that he’d prefer to be rich in the south of France in the 1930s than, say, on the downmarket side of contemporary San Francisco. Jazz Age Hollywood seems to be another era he nurses a certain fondness for, which bodes well for Café Society. But don’t get your hopes up.

Allen’s early, acclaimed work carved out his recurring nebbishy character. Over the years it’s become apparent that he doesn’t really know how to write any other kind. Even when he’s not in the lead, he tries making some bigger-name star do a Woody Allen impression. When it comes to actors with recognizable approaches of their own — like Owen Wilson and Colin Firth — the difference from their normal style is slight. But in the case of 2003’s Anything Else, Jason Biggs didn’t have much experience beyond American Pie movies, and he delivered more of a caricature than a character.

Jesse Eisenberg is a talented actor, but his performance as Bobby Dorfman lands closer to Biggs than Firth. Bobby comes out to Los Angeles to get a change from New York, and Eisenberg delivers his mannerisms and accent as if he’s spent the last six months watching nothing but Annie Hall. He finds himself in a Hollywood that always seems to be lit in the golden hour, as often as not by a filter over the camera. He takes a job as an errand buy for his powerhouse agent uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), who asks his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), to show Bobby around town.

Bobby naturally falls for her right off the bat. She’d love him too, but she’s seeing someone. Thus sets up the first love triangle, which resolves when Vonnie finally chooses her other beau. Bobby was getting tired of Hollywood anyway, so he moves back to New York and goes into the nightclub business with his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll). A stammering, self-conscious sort like Bobby isn’t who I’d expect to become the suave owner of the hippest club in 1930s New York City, but nothing’s too good for a Woody Allen lead.

That goes for the women in his life, too. Bobby meets Veronica (Blake Lively) at his club, and they quickly marry and have a kid. But then Vonnie shows up again, setting up the second love triangle. It’s always amazing how the most beautiful women in the world can’t help but throw themselves at one of Allen’s self-insert characters, almost as if someone were writing their attraction into the script.

But Allen’s honest love for old Hollywood does show, even when it doesn’t seem like he understands it. He lifts a bit of technique when he renders his lovers’ trysts in soft-focus close-up shots and reverse-shots that would look wonderful in the black-and-white film stock of the ’30s. Except he doesn’t shoot them in black-and-white, but in oversaturated, oddly-filtered color, and the results are more garish than gorgeous; one has to imagine that cinematographer Vittorio Storaro shot this footage under protest. His language also has little to do with the patter that we’re all so familiar with from Turner Classic Movies, and everything to do with the same self-conscious Allen-speak he always writes in.

Eisenberg and Stewart suffer the most from this script. Two of the most naturalistic young actors going, and they’re delivering their lines like ill-fitting suits. They quote their words like underrehearsed high-schoolers who don’t really understand the characters they’re playing. There is chemistry between the two of them — as we saw in American Ultra — but it only seems to come out in those rare moments when Allen lets them shut up.

So many odd choices add up to reinforce the sense of Woody Allen as well past his prime, coasting out his long decline with one vanity project after another. He was certainly a great talent at one point, but he’s been running on fumes and ego for years, having never learned how to tell a story that’s not ultimately all about himself.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

Ice Age: Collision Course

July 22, 2016
Ice Age: Collision Course

It seems clear by now that Blue Sky is going to keep making Ice Age movies until an asteroid crashes into the Earth and wipes out all life on the planet. Which, conveniently, is the setup for the latest installment, Collision Course. Unfortunately — and I dearly hope this will not come as a spoiler — they manage to avert that horrible fate by the movie’s end, and so I’m sure we’ve got another one coming in three or four more years.

Every time one of these series gets a new movie, there are always new characters. Usually the series starts going direct-to-video by the time the accreted cast becomes this big, but since we’re still getting these in theaters with the name-brand voice talent there’s a lot to keep track of.

Easily the best character is Scrat, a mute “saber-toothed squirrel” with yip and yelps provided by Ice Age director Chris Wedge, who kicks things off as usual by chasing his acorn through an opening sequence that would make for a decent enough short. In fact it did, before The Peanuts Movie. It’s some basic slapstick that apes Chuck Jones’ style but without his discipline, and the movie periodically returns to Scrat’s progressively less interesting antics. All that really matters is that he knocks an asteroid towards Earth.

Among the main cast, let’s start with the elephant in the movie, or in this case the mammoth. Manny (Ray Romano) is basically the same character Romano played on Everybody Loves Raymond: the bumbling husband who disappoints his wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), by, say, forgetting their anniversary. He tries to cover by playing off the early meteor flashes as fireworks he’d somehow arranged for her, but that story comes crashing down when the meteors, well, come crashing down around them.

It’s about now that Buck (Simon Pegg) shows up. Remember Buck? of course you don’t. A supporting weasel from Dawn of the Dinosaurs with a loose grip on reality, he brings a prophecy that every so often an asteroid hits the same place, at the base of a volcano. The one on its way is probably headed to the same place, so maybe if they get there in time they can find a way to divert it. He also brings his pursuers: a flock of birdlike dromaeosaurs (Nick Offerman, Stephanie Beatriz, and Max Greenfield). They think that if the asteroid hits they can soar above the destruction until things settle down, and thus reestablish dinosaur supremacy.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface of recurring characters and their subplots. Manny and Ellie’s daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer) is about to marry Julian (Adam DeVine), and they’re planning to move away. Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), on the other hand, despairs of ever finding a girlfriend. He’ll get one by the end rather than learn to be happy with himself, because we have to be sure to teach kids early that their lives are completely worthless without a romantic partner. And lest they think that childless couples are okay, the saber-toothed tigers Diego and Shira (Denis Leary and Jennifer Lopez) worry about whether they’re cut out to be parents.

I don’t really mean to suggest that the screenwriters sat down and consciously decided that they were going to work in messages about the importance of romantic partnerships and child-bearing. To the contrary, I don’t think they thought about their signals much at all, and that’s exactly the problem. Like I said recently, kids are building their entire worlds around the stories we tell them, and so we must take care to be that much more careful with them, not less.

The overwhelming sense of “who cares; it’s just for kids” comes off of Ice Age: Collision Course like cold wind off a glacier. Don’t bother spending time and money on telling any story well. Just put in one that gets us from A to B as long as you don’t think about it, and toss in a few more that reinforce established character brands. Kids love brands. Don’t bother trying to be actually funny; just throw in body parts and functions. Farts, butts, and nipples are all guaranteed kid laughs. Oh, and pop culture references that make little sense in-context — say, yoga, hashtags, opera, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson — are great filler too. With all these things whizzing about nobody will be able to pay attention to the fact the main plot only barely hangs together, or to do more than passively absorb the careless messaging of the side-plots.

It’s a Mc-movie, designed more for superficial appeal and mass-production than for any long-term nutritive value. It maybe fine once in a while, but you probably don’t want to encourage a taste for it.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

Quitters

July 22, 2016
Quitters

Indie movies are awash with coming-of-age stories featuring whiny young white guys going through pretty much the same teen angst, usually over a girl. It’s a natural result mixing “write what you know” with the fairly uniform demographics of indie filmmakers, so I don’t want to unfairly slam every movie that comes out just because the general outlines are so familiar. Besides, I might have sympathized with this sort of story at one point in my life. Heck, I probably lived one, minus the convenience of a screenwriter orchestrating things for me.

The key, then, is to look for how a filmmaker uses this same old boy-has-feels story to say something worthwhile or insightful about the human condition. In the case of Quitters, it quickly seems that the deepest insight this script has to offer was “rich white people are terrible.” But as time ones on it becomes less than clear whether or not the script has even quite realized that much yet.

The head whiny-white-boy in Quitters is Clark (Ben Konigsberg), and while I don’t want in any way to insinuate that he is a direct projection of writer/director Noah Pritzker, the film is drawn from Pritzker’s experiences growing up in the wealthy Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Clark is, as I said, terrible, which is probably the result of growing up around other terrible people. His mother (Mira Sorvino) has a breakdown from the overprescribed bennies she’s been taking, and his father (Greg Germann, who has made a career out of portraying terrible men) sticks her in a resort rehab to detox in secrecy.

Clark is, among other things, a Nice Guy, which means that he’s friends with a girl — Etta (Kara Hayward) — mostly with the aim of having sex with her, and he gets angrily frustrated when she makes it clear she’s not interested. As it turns out, Etta is also terrible, though not for not wanting to sleep with Clark; that’s a perfectly well-founded decision on her part. She displays a number of self-destructive behaviors, but most notably she cheats at school, expects no consequences when caught, and then throws herself at the teacher, Mr. Becker (Kieran Culkin).

It should come as no surprise by now that Mr. Becker is also terrible. He’s exactly the sort of washed-up wannabe writer we always see as the English teacher in these indie movie private schools. He doesn’t exactly fight off the advances of the student whose use of liquid eyeliner is indie movie code for slutty, either. On the other hand, there’s something creepy about a script that positions the victim of a statutory rape as the aggressor, as if the lame “hey, she came on to me!” defense were at all reasonable or exculpatory.

But that’s all a side-plot; the real story is about Clark meeting another girl right after giving up on Etta in the most self-important way possible. Natalia (Morgan Turner) is on Etta’s volleyball team, but beyond that she has the most important quality in a love object for the lead of one of these sort of movies: she exists. She’s even willing to put up with his crap for a while, and somehow convinces her parents (Saffron Burrows and Scott Lawrence) to do the same. Having already cut off contact with his mother during her rehab, Clark does the same with his father by moving into Natalia’s home until even she can’t take it anymore. Natalia, it should be said in all fairness, is not terrible. Neither are her parents, although they do seem weirdly permissive. Beyond that I’m not sure what I could tell you about her. She’s just there until she isn’t.

Clark careens through this landscape of privilege with barely a flicker of self-awareness. It’s possible that Pritzker and co-writer Ben Tarnoff mean this all to be somehow an incisive critique of this enclave of terrible people, but if that’s the case they never really bring that point home in any meaningful way.

Quitters seems, if anything, amused by Clark’s foibles, and sympathetic about his tribulations. It styles itself after Todd Solondz, but shows nothing remotely like his bite. Billed as a “dark comedy”, it confuses self-important myopia for darkness, and the subsequent failures for humor.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

Ghostbusters

July 15, 2016
Ghostbusters

No movie in recent memory has had as tumultuous a run-up as Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters. A veritable army of self-described nerds came out of the woodwork to declare the foundational importance to their formative years that the original 1984 version had been. They seemed to have a large overlap with the aggrieved nerds who have been pitching a fit over women and “Social Justice Warriors” in video gaming and gaming review spaces. And, just as that group insisted that their tantrum was about “ethics in video game journalism” and not about strenuously — even violently — posting a “No Girls Allowed” sign on their special little clubhouse, the anti-GB16 crowd has insisted that it’s not about sexism, but rather that this of all movies is sacrosanct and cannot be remade.

This tempest hasn’t just whipped up recently; it’s been brewing pretty much since Feig announced that he was going to make this yet another in his recent series of comedies that take typically male-dominated subgenres — that is to say: all of them, but specifically raunch and action comedies — and makes them over with female-centered casts. Melissa McCarthy would be back, of course, along with Bridesmaids‘ Kristen Wiig, and they’d be joined by Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. And this made some guys with evidently nothing else wrong with their lives very angry indeed.

The very idea of re-casting the Ghostbusters — again, they insist it had nothing to do with re-casting them as women — was painted as an assault on nerds, who, despite literally everything in popular culture being oriented around their tastes, were positioned as an historically exploited minority like, well, women. They demanded a boycott, and have worked to suppress any positive coverage. Things got even worse when the trailers came out, and then Fall Out Boy’s updated version of the theme song. Those of us who weren’t holding our breath and stamping our feet began to worry: what if the movie turns out to be actually bad? We want to be honest, but we also don’t want to come off as being part of that crowd of jerks. It’s been a tense couple months.

But we can relax. It’s fine.

Is the new Ghostbusters as solid a film as the classic? no, but it was never going to be. Even the guys who made the first movie couldn’t pull it off twice. More to the point, Feig and his co-writer Katie Dippold — who also wrote The Heat — aren’t even trying to remake the original story. There’s no way they’re going to recapture Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ rhythms anyway. No, this is basically the same kind of Adam McKay-style “set up scenes, let the SNL alumnæ improv a bit, and find the jokes in the editing room” comedy that Feig has been making for years, and it may be the most solidly funny of those he’s done yet.

And the characters are not just gender-swapped versions of the originals. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy) were childhood friends who once self-published a book where they theorized about ghosts and paranormal phenomena. Erin looks back and sees the reason they were ostracized by the other kids, and worries that it will get her kicked out of the “respectable” academy (spoiler: it does). Abby remains enthused, and has enlisted Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) to help engineer the equipment she needs to turn those old theories into experimental realities.

Of course, it turns out that their old ideas were right on the money. After their first encounter with a real-dead ghost, the three set up shop above an outer-borough Chinese restaurant; the old fire station is way too expensive. They hire on an extremely pretty, extremely dumb receptionist (Chris Hemsworth) and the fourth member of their research team, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who knows all about the history of New York City and has Seen Some Stuff down in the tunnels.

In another departure from the original story, the rise in ghostly activities is not happening of its own accord. Rather, someone is using their own paranormal technology to raise the city’s spirits and bring about large-scale calamity. That someone is Rowan North (Neil Casey), an aggrieved nerd who blames the entire world for his childhood torments, and who sees any destruction he can wreak as justifiable revenge.

It’s interesting to notice how little of the plot hinges on the fact that the leads are all women. Hemsworth’s secretary is the most notably gendered reference in the script, and even that is more sendup than commentary. Erin’s worries about her tenure bid, for instance, are entirely grounded in her younger work outside of “respectable” circles. It doesn’t discount the fact that women in physics — and many other academic fields — are subject to horrific sexism and sexual harassment, but it does seem to ignore that fact in favor of a point it’s a lot more interested in making.

To wit: there is a difference between nerds who turn their energies towards building creative, amazing things, and those who turn them towards bitterness and tearing down what other people create. I don’t know whether Feig and Dippold rewrote their script in light of the rising tide of hate and bile gushing towards their project, or if they already knew going in what they’d be opening up. Either way, Rowan is a perfect skewering of the mean, spiteful, self-important “nerds” who have taken such grave offense at the very idea of this movie’s existence.

Meanwhile, Erin, Abby, Jillian, and yes, even Patty show off the good side of nerdiness. They all love and excel in their particular fields of interest, and they celebrate each other’s achievements. Most of them are technical, as we usually think of nerds, but Patty’s knowledge of history is just as useful and important as Jillian’s engineering. They all felt excluded by the people around them at one point, but rather than trying to exclude someone else as a scapegoat, they remember the importance of including and holding each other up.

Ghostbusters may have its problems. As funny as it can be, the improv-heavy production style still ends up feeling loose compared to a completely scripted comedy. Winston Zeddemore’s odd-man-out status on the old team was a bit of-its-time racist, and Patty doesn’t really fix that at all. And it’s kind of weird to have a major setting and a running gag built around a Chinese restaurant and not to see a single person of East Asian descent on screen. But the way that it stands as its own rebuttal to the controversy that a bunch of selfish, sexist jerks tried to whip up against it is perfect.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

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