GHOSTBUSTERS: Sequels, Franchise Legacy, and Backlash (Editorial)
As Ghostbusters covers the newest edition of Entertainment Weekly, the mag spoke with stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon about the now-infamous controversy surrounding the casting of four women as the new squad of ghost fighters. It’s sexism, some believe, that lead to the debut Ghostbusters trailer becoming the most disliked movie trailer in the history of Youtube, when it’s probably more of a fair mixture of both unrepentant sexism and outcries stemming from the same kind of backlash that plagued last year’s Fantastic Four reboot – or the Robocop, Total Recall, Poltergeist, Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Annie remakes. None of these movies have the kind of following and fanbase that Ghostbusters has maintained for the past thirty two years, so when it came to light that Ghostbusters was being remade – it didn’t matter who was actually filling out the new suits and wielding the new proton packs – there was an outpouring of visceral and often vicious reactions.
It would be naive – even willfully ignorant – to suggest that there hasn’t been a sexist backlash against Ghostbusters and it’s all female cast. But it’s also equally naive and ignorant to suggest that all the vitriol being flung towards Ghostbusters comes down to its female cast, overlooking the (often valid) criticisms concerning the appearance of the film’s quality. Men and women alike have criticized the film over its released footage – whether it be the multiple trailers or featurettes – and it’s not always because the Ghostbusters are female. It’s because Ghostbusters has, for the past three decades, resonated with audiences of all ages, who came to love the property through the films, the cartoons, the video games, and the comic books, and – not unlike Star Wars or Star Trek – there’s a certain built-in level of expectations that come with the brand. And when those expectations aren’t met, fans will use their given outlets – Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, namely – to tell you expressly how they feel. (No one has ever held back on how they really feel about the Star Wars prequels).
Ghostbusters is as beloved and protected a franchise as any – this is a fanbase composed of male and female fans who regularly don their own jumpsuits and proton packs, even customizing their own Ecto-1 vehicles – so a reboot (or a remake) was always going to draw trepidation, anger, and criticism. With rebooted franchise installments, there’s always an uphill battle – one that often begins as soon as the production is announced. Where Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and the Rocky franchises saw revivals in the form of new installments that paid tribute to their respective legacies – last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and Creed – Paul Feig’s take on Ghostbusters redoes the original, presenting itself as more remake than reboot. (It’s like comparing Gus van Sant’s Psycho remake to television’s Bates Motel reboot). When you’re revitalizing a classic and cherished property and modernizing it, bringing it back to screens – or if you’re re-purposing it for new audiences – there’s an inherent responsibility to stay true to what made that franchise a worthwhile and profitable brand in the first place. If you don’t do that, you get an “in name only” retooling – like Fant4stic – that defeats the purpose of adapting a name brand with a significant fanbase.
Wiig commented on the original’s legacy, telling Entertainment Weekly, “You can’t get better than the original, but it’s a different movie, it’s a different cast, it’s many years later, and we’ve also done things that are different. It’s not just about it starring women.” Jones shared similar thoughts, adding, “When people started asking me about the gender stuff, I would say, ‘It’s not a man thing, it’s not a woman thing. It’s a Ghostbuster thing.’” McCarthy similarly weighed in, saying, “I just thought, ‘Really? Are we still there?’ It’s a movie. I never gave it another thought. You just have to go, ‘Well, I hope you get out a little more. The world is fun.’ I really think it’s the minority.”
Sexist haters are the minority – a loud minority, but a minority nonetheless – that gives the unfortunate impression that anyone with a grudge against next month’s Ghostbusters is a woman-hating men’s rights activist who only wants to see women in a movie if they’re clad in Olivia Munn’s skintight and revealing superhero costume from last month’s X-Men: Apocalypse. When Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Rocky made such triumphant returns to theaters – both paying tribute to their respective predecessors while also forging their own way – audiences responded to both the nostalgia and the craft of films that respected what came before while also offering something fresh, exciting, and new. While more Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Creed sequels are on the way, the future of Ghostbusters is dependent, as always, on box office returns. Should a sequel arise, however, McCarthy and Jones maintain they’ll be there.
“I would do 102 more of these,” McCarthy told The Hollywood Reporter. “I will literally show up for [director] Paul Feig and these women no matter what. I’ll show up for plays in a backyard.” Jones would reprise her first major role as well – “Well, sh-t, as many as they do, I’m there,” she says – with director Paul Feig noting that “It’s such a fun world, the sky is the limit,” but that he thinks “everyone wants to see how this one is going to go first.” In a summer of underperforming franchise films – Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Alice Through the Looking Glass, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows all failed to meet expectations – it seems audiences are becoming more selective and possibly listening a little more closely to the verdicts that review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes puts out ahead of opening weekend. Only Deadpool, Zootopia, and The Jungle Book managed to outdo themselves, with Captain America: Civil War establishing itself as the year’s biggest hit, while The Conjuring 2 is one of the year’s rare sequels that managed to buck 2016’s trend of being a franchise installment that didn’t make significantly less than its predecessor.
Bridesmaids and Spy – both Paul Feig films with female-centric casts lead by McCarthy – proved themselves critical and box office successes on their own merits, and Ghostbusters will have to live, or die, by the same sword. Misogynistic commentators should be rightfully shamed, but words like “sexist” and “misogynistic” shouldn’t be blasted towards anyone and everyone who criticizes, no matter how heavily, a film that happens to have a central cast of four women. James Rolfe – better known as internet personality “The Angry Video Game Nerd” – became the subject of the internet’s frustration and vitriol for having the nerve to make a video declaring his lack of intention to review, or even watch, the newest cinematic incarnation of Ghostbusters. He didn’t lambast the female cast or women as a whole – his problems stemmed from the film’s reboot nature and a lack of interest – and he was still crucified for stating an opinion that was relatively tame and calmly, politely expressed.
Save for unfiltered and often obtuse Youtube comments, few who have publicly criticized the Ghostbusters reboot have come away unscathed – even if you’re wholly unimpressed by the film’s excessive amount of released footage and media campaign, you’re often viewed as an angry, misogynistic, woman-hating he-devil using Ghostbusters as an excuse to tell the internet how much you hate women. There’s an inherent hypocrisy and irony in the attacks launched at Ghostbusters critics, particularly when the film has fielded its own accusations of racism and sexism (Chris Hemsworth’s character is a brainless sex object lusted after by the women, who hire him because of his attractiveness, while a recently released TV spot showcases McCarthy shooting a male ghost in-between the legs).
Despite having the corporate-mandated approval of original stars Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson, Ghostbusters will have to ultimately be measured by its own merits as a film. Not as a film starring women, but as its own, unique entity. (That is, after all, what Feig wants. “It’s my fourth film and we are struggling every day to go against [female-centric] bias,” he said earlier this month. “We still get called in the press as a ‘chick flick.’ We are always referred to as the all-female Ghostbusters. It’s just an uphill battle and I can’t believe we are having to deal with it.”) This summer’s box office results prove that name brand and brand recognition will only get you so far if you don’t have the quality to back up and justify a theater ticket. Audiences ain’t afraid of no women – they’re afraid of negative Twitter buzz and low Rotten Tomatoes scores. “ was a summer completely designed by reviews and word-of-mouth. I would actually hear people in the grocery store talking about Rotten Tomatoes scores,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of worldwide distribution and marketing. Gender was never going to be the death knell for the Ghostbusters franchise. Forget ghosts, demons, and malevolent manifestations – the only thing that could kill Ghostbusters would be bad reviews and even worse word of mouth.
Directed by Paul Feig and starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Andy Garcia, Michael K. Williams, Cecily Strong, and Chris Hemsworth, Ghostbusters opens July 15th.