You expect a blast of white-noise chatter whenever announcements of reboots and remakes, or casting news about who’s playing this year’s model of Caped Crusader or Clown Prince of Crime, starts worming its way through your Twitter feed. This is part of the deal for people who obsess over pop culture circa 2016: News tidbits drop, the Internet Outrage Industrial Complex kicks in to gear, and folks battle it out in social media platforms and Reddit threads. Whoever wins, we all lose.
Still, even if you had heard the initial online rumblings over the sheer audacity of someone making a new Ghostbusters movie with funny A-list ladies (!) instead of movie-star dudes (!!!), what happened on March 3rd felt like the fandom WTFometer had started flipping into the red. That was the day Sony released the first official trailer for the XX-chromosome take on the 1984 mega-blockbuster, at which point a male-nerd jihad went into effect and quickly made it the most disliked trailer in YouTube history. The comments ranged from typical Simpsons‘ Comic-Book-Guy snideness to the sort of vile, hateful spewing we now associate with Trump rallies. “I imagine there’s some level of misogyny, but … it’s just too easy,” said Ghostbusters O.G./new film producer Ivan Reitman, when asked about the tsunami of spite that greeted the clip. “Most of the people who are writing negatively are men in their 40s who saw it when they were seven or eight years old … they’re very protective of it.” (Right. Like this gentleman.) Director Paul Feig put it slightly less diplomatically: “I didn’t realise that for certain older guys, the original is the equivalent of a tree house that has a no girls allowed sign on it.”
Now that Ghostbusters 2.0 has been released and the weekend box office receipts tallied — it opened with a $46 million haul, behind the animated movie The Secret Life of Pets — there are a few things that can be said (and several of them can be considered mildly spoiler-y, so you’ve been warned). The movie is fan-service-y to a fault. There are numerous D.O.A. patches, a few genuinely baffling sequences — what was up with that cringeworthy Ozzy Osbourne cameo? — and despite knowing how to get comic actors to a beautifully oft-kilter place, Feig still has a TV director’s visual sensibility even when he’s in rock ‘em sock ‘em spectacle mode. You wish Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy were a little bit stronger; you wish Leslie Jones were given more to do. There will be callback cameos, and lots of them, though kudos for dressing up Bill Murray in bespoke-dandy Feig cosplay. It is first and foremost an attempt to turn a 20th century brand into a 21st century cash cow; the climactic sequence in which the franchise’s mascot swells to Stay-Puft size and tries to stomp out the human elements is perhaps more unintentionally telling than its creators may realise.
And hands down, the decision to make this an all-female Ghostbusters was a genius idea. Everything that’s good about this blockbuster starts and ends here.
Let a thousand “male-rights groups” grouse, let legions of nostalgic forty somethings mourn the death of their childhood, let the apocalyptic cries that because this generation’s ghostbusters have vaginas, dogs and cats are now living together, it’s mass hysteria! But the pop-culture landscape that we live in, where every vintage recognisable property is destined for endless remakes/reboots/resurrections/regurgitations, has become a barren echo chamber. The only way we’re going to keep it from delving further into the realm of diminishing returns is some sense of variation, even if it’s still of the colouring-within-the-lines variety, and a gesture as small as recasting four traditionally male roles with more-than-worthy females does indeed add a welcome sense of frisson. Imagine the powers that be simply did a Ghostbusters 2016 with Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson. Or with Chris Pratt, Channing Tatum, Jack Black and Kevin Hart, if that’s more your speed. No offence to any of these actors, but take away the iconic circle-slash logo, and that would then be almost any big-budget movie released with the last few years. A Ghostbusters redo that pulls MVPs from the Bridesmaids/SNL bench, and gives us a pitch-perfect Chris Hemsworth receptionist in all his dumb-blonde-eye-candy glory? This is at least superficially different — which actually makes a lot of difference. The estrogen gives it lifeblood.
And for the “Ghostbros” who felt like the original’s espirit de corps — specifically, Bill Murray’s irreverence, which became the Rosetta stone to Reagan-era smart-asses — we offer two words: Kate McKinnon. Critics and think-piece pundits have already singled out the 32-year-old comedian/Hilary Clinton impersonator as the best thing about the new film, and with good reason: Whether she’s licking her guns, dancing to DMX songs or simply spouting off pseudo-scientific buzzwords with a demented grin on her face, she’s comic anarchy personified. Even her reaction shots have a live wire goofiness to them, and her ability to turn a line like “It’s 2040, the President is a plant!” into a left-field gem make her invaluable. This is one of those rare occasions when you watch an established performer turn into a Bona Fide Movie Star before your very eyes (see also McCarthy in Bridesmaids; Feig seems to have a knack for this). While it’s cynical to think that McKinnon wouldn’t have had this chance to shine had she been surrounded by male stars, she almost assuredly would have been pushed to the side — gasping for air while the oxygen is sucked out of the room. That’s not the case here. The cast work as an ensemble, but they also don’t get in the way of one of their own filling the spotlight. You see them pushing her further into inspired lunacy. You do not get her performance without them.
Nor do you get it without rethinking the parameters of pop culture and who gets to participate in it. Foreign-gross anxiety or not, there’s no excuse for a lack of diversity or inclusivity in entertainment today, nor does there necessarily need to be an Oprah-level largesse — “You get a Ghostbusters! And you get a Ghostbusters!” — involved to mix things up a bit. (Although given the info released in the Sony hacks regarding a competing all-dude reboot, the art of corporate ass-covering is alive and well.) It also doesn’t have to become a political brouhaha — emphasis on those first three letters— just because someone has taken what some people consider a sacred work of art and in a moment of inspiration, gender-flipped it. It was the online commenters, who it’s safe to assume were mostly male, who turned this in to a fan-culture frontline. You still have the original. No one has digitally added a vagina to Dan Aykroyd. But for the rest of us, the folks that wants to see someone take a creative risk, and care enough about blockbusters that we don’t want to see the form completely turn into a lumbering marshmallow man, let us have our queef-joking, trash-talking, Hemsworth-ogling ghostbusters. Trolls gotta troll. But let us have something worth arguing over.