There’s something to say about the commercialism of the 1980s, and that something is that Hollywood loves to cash in on it.
Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with liking stuff from the 80s, but there is a lot to say as to why people were able to like so much from that decade. For example, it was a golden age of animated television, but only because of the Reagan administration’s deregulation of advertising in programming designed for children, leading to “program-length commercials” causing an increase in toy-related franchises. (Singer, D. G. & Singer, J. L., 2012) The fruits of that capitalistic labor were not wasted, as many of those properties are still getting milked for all they’re worth today, and those that aren’t are because of something causing it to fail.
And speaking of failing, let’s talk about Ghostbusters.
Before anyone starts yelling at me, I don’t mean any one thing in the Ghostbusters franchise failing, because honestly, I don’t think anything outright failed. From many of the things I’ve heard and read, a lot of why the Ghostbusters isn’t as big as it could be has to do with a lot of external factors. The original films, while popular, couldn’t make any grounds in a third installment for decades, and when a complete reboot of the concept occurred in 2016, there was a lot of controversy before and after the film’s release that contributed to its reputation. Now we are finally getting Ghostbusters 3, over 30 years since the last and probably only because of the perceived failings of the 2016 reboot. In this essay, I’ll be looking at the circumstances surrounding these films, what about Ghostbusters (2016) made it a ‘failure,’ and what this new film coming out means.
Ghostbusters from 1984, directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, is one of the most recognizable films of all time. Think of that distinctive poster or the phrase “Who you gonna call?” followed by a blast of synthesizers and “Ghostbusters!” It took the world by storm and the world was glad for it. It was backed by a very lucrative advertisement campaign, and it inspired a very popular animated show that ran for seven seasons between 1986 to 1991.
And it was pretty much downhill from there, because in 1989 Ghostbusters II came out. It was fairly successful financially and had a mixed critical reception, but Columbia Pictures practically forced the original director and writers to make it due to how popular the property had become. Ironically, it became the first nail in the franchise’s coffin as the thing most people remember about it today is that it was a mediocre sequel to a good movie. Or rather, its remembered today for being remembered as a mediocre sequel to a good movie. Confusing, yes, but it has gotten some defenders the past few years, possibly out of spite towards the 2016 reboot.
Ghostbusters II didn’t help the franchise as much as the studio hoped, and while Dan Aykroyd had better hopes for Ghostbusters 3, that movie would not be made because of the studio’s reluctance to make it and because Bill Murray, the highest-billed star, would not commit to participating in the project. The plot, which involved the original Ghostbusters training a new generation and passing the mantle, has been used in other mediums such as a second animated series, Extreme Ghostbusters from 1997, and Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009. Extreme Ghostbusters only lasted one season, purportedly due to bad airing schedules, but Ghostbusters: The Video Game was very well-received, in part due to having most of the original cast involved with the voice work and Aykroyd and Ramis as writers.
Still, Sony Pictures, who had acquired Columbia Pictures, wanted to create a viable film franchise for easy and consistent cash flow, and Ivan Reitman wanted to return to the well that was one of his most successful films. However, there were some problems including Bill Murray still not committing, Harold Ramis’ death in 2014 and the involvement of Amy Pascal, then co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Pascal wasn’t a fan of the direction Reitman was taking the film, thinking it relied too much on nostalgia for the original films. She eventually ousted Reitman from the project in what some people called “a hostile takeover” and replaced him with comedy director and writer Paul Feig. Personally, I don’t think Reitman’s vision was any more promising than Feig’s idea of a complete reboot, because its premise had been done before and its only purpose would be as fanservice, which wouldn’t guarantee wide appeal. Without knowing any personal details about Reitman’s removal from the project, I can’t say how bad a decision this was, but more on that later.
With Feig creating a complete reboot, where an all-female team gets to design their own equipment without taking the idea from men, it was already setting to be controversial. Fans didn’t want a reboot, they wanted a continuation of the films, and misogynists were already interjecting bad faith arguments into that desire because they didn’t want an all-female team in a franchise that had previously been saturated with men. There was also the troubling business of Amy Pascal being removed from her position of co-chairperson following the Sony Hack in November of 2014, though she kept her position as producer of Ghostbusters (2016). This led to the film’s budget being reduced, and there were a lot of other financial problems going on with the film such as Feig having to reshoot scenes later on.
Possibly the worst thing to happen to the film was its release year being 2016, the year of the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With its female-centric story and its already adamantly sexist detractors, the last thing Ghostbusters (2016) needed was to get involved in politics. But it did, both directly with a tweet referencing #Imwithher and indirectly by the sheer gall of being an action comedy starring women.
This turned the film itself into a hot political topic, as its success or failure would be seen as one for women everywhere.
The movie did okay, with a mostly positive but lukewarm reception and a modest box office, but the film had trouble in international markets due to its stars being women and the big issue of being banned from a China release, the biggest market outside of America. The views of the Ghostbusters fanbase were decidedly mixed, with some believing it was too different from the original while others believed it was a good movie by itself. The real problem was the battle of the sexes overriding the fanbase’s comments, as liking it meant you only cared about replacing men with women and disliking it meant you were sexist and racist. This especially became a problem after Leslie Jones, one of the new Ghostbusters, was harassed off Twitter by trolls and especially former Brietbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, which only enflamed the issue. What happened basically amounted to Jones being harassed with racist and sexist comments and Yiannopoulos doubling down on it, leading Jones to request he be suspended. He is still banned from Twitter, and also millions in debt, so this story doesn’t have a completely sad ending at least.
Over the next few years, plans for a sequel came and went, with no official movement towards making the film. But then Jason Reitman, son of the original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, announced on January 15, 2019, that he was directing and co-writing a new Ghostbusters film set in the old continuity, thus finally making Ghostbusters 3. Fan reception to this announcement was mixed, as some fans were excited to be going back to the original characters while others would have preferred to see a continuation of the 2016 film’s characters. However, that conversation was again overwhelmed by the sexist vs feminist discourse, with some seeing the apparent rejection of continuing the 2016 film’s story as “a win for the misogynists.” Even Leslie Jones, who had returned to Twitter long before, stated that doing this was “Something Trump would do.”
While I agree that it is something Donald Trump would do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that his intent to do so is the same as Jason Reitman’s intent for this upcoming film. According to People.com, Jason Reitman is a fan of the 2016 film, but if his previous statement about “returning the franchise to the fans” is any indication, that does imply he has preconceptions that the 2016 movie failed because it did not meet expectations, which can be seen as delegitimizing it.
Ghostbusters (2016): The film vs the audience
Now, before I go any further, I need to explain my opinion about Ghostbusters (2016). I think that it is an absolute and complete piece of… okay cinema.
But as for my opinion on the original Ghostbusters (1984), I think that is a wonderful masterpiece… of okay cinema.
Both had moments where I laughed. Both had moments where I didn’t. I thought both had okay action, good characters and great effects. To be fair, I did not grow up with Ghostbusters (1984), but I did see it before the announcement of Ghostbusters (2016). I have no nostalgic connection to either film or the franchise in general.
(Fun story though, the first time I watched the original, it was during an overnight flight. I overheard the woman behind me talking to a friend about how she was concerned that I was “watching something with an awful lot of sex.” Take that as you will.)
In my thinking, there are two inherent qualities that made Ghostbusters (2016) ‘worse’ than the original. One, it was a complete reboot, which was going to alienate part of the audience regardless of anything else, and two, the original came out at the best possible time while the 2016 film came out at the worst, given the interaction between the political climate at the time and gendered rhetoric surrounding the film. The original, as previously implied in the intro, came out at the height of commercialization and the conservative politics in the film were not controversial in the Reagan era.
If there is anything to be said about the fact that the reboot starred only female Ghostbusters, I refer you to this clip:https://youtu.be/gR5lBE5Sq3I
The perceived need to justify a single gender team but only when they’re all female isn’t something new. It’s usually meant to indicate that it is supposed to appeal only to women like original series My Little Pony, or only to men on some fetishizing level à la Charlie’s Angels and its famous “jiggle TV”. Or, as displayed in a 1970 issue of the Avengers comic book, something to be mocked as women are easily duped under the banner of ‘feminism.’
One can make arguments all day about how an all-female team is just as bad as an all-male one, but at the end it should not matter. Gender or race disparity shouldn’t outright mean the solution is “just use one of each,” because that’s how you result in tokenism. It’s okay for a team to be represented by a single demographic, if it makes sense.
Using the original Ghostbusters as an example, it does make a kind of sense in the narrative why the team is made up of all men. I can criticize that decision on a modern level, due to how it created a sexist standard for future installments, but there wasn’t anything wrong with the all-male team by itself, just as there isn’t a problem with it being all-female in the 2016 film.
As to if Ghostbusters (2016) is sexist towards men due to its portrayal of them, that is a bit trickier. After all, the original’s treatment of women wasn’t good either, but it probably wasn’t intentionally harmful. Sigourney Weaver, who is famous for playing more badass female characters, is only a MacGuffin, or interchangeable plot catalyst, in both the original films. She also has to be the love interest of Bill Murray’s character and only seems romantically interested in him because that’s what damsels in distress are supposed to feel towards their saviors. They have great comedic chemistry, but absolutely no romantic chemistry. The love interest status of women isn’t even isolated to her, as Annie Potts’ Janine Melnitz only has two jokes in the original; she’s an obnoxious secretary stereotype and is in love with a man who doesn’t reciprocate. Janine is the undesirable beta-female that became popular around the same time.
However, it is clear that the movies aren’t trying to actively disparage women, and the fact that Janine became a popular character in the animated series and the extended franchise indicates that the character had appeal.
The 2016 film was critical and satirical towards types of men, and even reinforced some old female stereotypes onto certain men, but that doesn’t mean it meant harm either. In both Ghostbusters, the opposing genders are basically narrative props. At least the men from the 2016 version had some more variety, albeit with some more negative framing.
Chris Hemsworth’s character, Kevin, is the most obvious example, being an eccentrically stupid but attractive failed actor/incompetent secretary. While he can be seen as a parody of male entitlement and sex discrimination, he can also be seen as a one-note joke of a character that makes fun of athletic and attractive men. What makes this worse is that the movie never frames his character consistently, as the movie wants you both to laugh at and feel sorry for how stupid his character is, and he’s never developed enough for it to really work. But if that is the case, it’s hard to say if it’s sexist or just lazy writing.
I’d bring up the antagonist Rowan being sexist towards men too, if he wasn’t so clearly a parody of the film’s worse detractors. Personally, I’m more offended that he was turned into such a caricature that it ruined the character from being funny. Further, in my opinion, the actor was unable to pull off being a threatening villain too, leading to him to just be irritating.
The last point I would like to bring up is whether or not the 2016 movie fits into the Ghostbusters franchise. The answer is both yes and no. It does fit in because it’s about educated entrepreneurs providing busting ghosts as a service, and does so in a way that is equally comedy and sci-fi. The franchise is diverse but based on that one central idea, so it’d be hard for it not to fit. How it doesn’t fit, and is where the non-sexist detractors come from, is how its different from the original film. And while its okay to simply not like a film for being different, the expectation that it would be at all similar is kind of silly. I don’t mean to say that there should be no expectations of similarity, but several intelligent entrepreneurs banning together to fight ghosts is already a similar premise, and the characters roles are almost copying the original characters’, even if their personalities are completely different. Of course the comedy is different – it was made over thirty years after the original and written under different writers for different comedic actors. Of course the sci-fi and fantasy elements are different – it was trying to establish new rules to the universe and set up a multi-film story arc. And lastly, of course it takes place in a separate universe from the original.
While it is a tough pill to swallow seeing the original characters ignored, there is an important aspect that people ignore when it comes to the Ghostbusters (2016), and that is if it did take place in the same universe, and the new female Ghostbusters were using already created technology, they would be accused of riding on the coattails of men. That completely goes against the purpose of the narrative in that these women are supposed to be scientists at the top of their fields and deserve to be recognized as such. The idea that a woman can only succeed where a man already has is the very reason the new continuity was so necessary for the narrative. One can argue that making it related to Ghostbusters at all would imply these women are riding on men’s coattails, but that’s a stupid argument. If it wasn’t officially Ghostbusters-related, it would be called a pointless parody at best and a rip-off at worst, so there is absolutely no winning in that scenario.
Criticism about how Ghostbusters (2016) relates to the rest of the franchise also ignores the whole production process behind the film. Regardless of how the outcome and rhetoric surrounding the film ultimately evolved, this movie was produced because the studio saw it as a way to make easy money through a proven formula. The current media landscape is saturated with reboots and sequels because executives assume that such films will make money no matter what by inheriting fans of the originals. Ghostbusters (2016) is no exception and should not be treated or evaluated any differently from other reboots and sequels in this regard. A third Ghostbusters movie of some sort has been “in development” for decades because the studio believed in the franchise’s ability to make money, which is ironic considering that it not being seen as profitable was why it wasn’t made anytime soon after Ghostbusters II. The reboot was not created by a group of women intending to overthrow the existing franchise and the patriarchy along with it; instead, studio executives, both men and women, developed this film as a way to make money by both taking advantage of a pre-existing fanbase as well as modernizing the franchise to attract new audiences. Studios do not want to produce polarizing movies that alienate large potential audience segments, but once conversations around the film became ideological and toxic, studio executives may have decided to embrace the conflict and pivot to using feminism as a marketing ploy.
My point here is that, at the end of the day, Ghostbusters (2016) is fine. It’s okay to like or dislike it, because it is an objectively flawed but reasonably entertaining movie, so subjectivity and personal taste is going to be the main “make it or break it” factor for audience members. Although the controversy surrounding the reboot is heavily discussed in some corners of the internet, most of the public is largely unaware of all of the problems behind the making of the film, and it may never occur to many casual moviegoers that the movie coud be “sexist towards men” or “disrespectful to the original.” At the end of the day, those mindsets are only from “fans” playing gatekeeper to the franchise by making it about winning points rather than caring whether a film does its job or not.
And this behavior has only worsened with the upcoming Ghostbusters 3.
The Implications of this new film
On January 16, 2019, a teaser for Ghostbusters 3 was released. While extremely short and having no indication of the film’s plot, it did have several elements that relied on nostalgia for the original film. The theremin music, the proton pack ignition and the reveal of the car all rely on recognition of the franchise.
What can be said is the reception of this movie’s announcement has been mixed because of its very nature. As it seems, Sony still wants its bankable franchise but doesn’t want to run the risk of continuing the 2016 film’s story, so it is taking the route it originally denied and is ‘un-rebooting’ the franchise back to the original continuity. Sony seems to have learned from the reception of Ghostbusters (2016) that in order to successfully continue the franchise they should give fans what they’ve been asking for years by cashing in on the fan’s nostalgia of seeing their old favorite characters before asking fans to accept a story focused on a new group of characters.
Still, just because one portion of the fandom seemed satisfied with it doesn’t mean the other was. Remember, Leslie Jones was very vocal about how she saw it as a blatant disregard of her and the other women’s time as Ghostbusters, and others agreed. There are people who did want to see the continuation of their story rather than go back to the original cast of characters
As stated before, Jason Reitman has stated he liked the 2016 film, and according to a tweet correcting his “back to the fans” statement, he clarified what he meant.
Even more interestingly, according to one news article, Ghostbusters 3 will be about a single mother played by Carrie Coon, and considering Jason Reitman’s previous success with Juno, that is a good sign. (Lussier, 2019) Granted, Ghostbusters II was also technically about a single mother, so while it might help make Ghostbusters 3 more diverse, it could be criticized for following the earlier films too closely. That is assuming a lot about the role the single mother will play in the narrative, however, so at this point there isn’t much else to say about it.
At this point though, it all feels hollow. All of the previously attempts to tell the story of the Ghosbusters passing the torch, in almost all other mediums (comic books, video games, animation, etc.) had already been done before. It feels doubly hollow after Harold Ramis’ death, whose character was the one who created the first new generation of Ghosbusters in Extreme Ghostbusters. The idea of the Ghostbusters having to pass the torch just feels like a tired premise, and with any luck that will only be an extremely minor focus on the old vs new generation.
Now, I want to make it clear that a several-decade-after the fact sequel is not inherently bad. A recent sequel that managed to be a successful follow-up several decades after the original is Mary Poppins Returns, which was released just last year (2018). This movie was made over 50 years after Mary Poppins, but still felt like a film in the same vein as the original. However, the filmmakers were very conscious about making it its own film as well, and even Julie Andrews believed that if she was in it, even as a brief cameo, that would detract from Emily Blunt’s take on the character.
To me, that is the most important takeaway about how sequels and reboots should be made; at some point it becomes necessary to replace characters and actors for the sake of the new film. Ghostbusters (2016) fell victim to this by wanting to have its cake and eat it too, by including all of the original actor cameos, which were not only pointless but didn’t really add anything. Now we’re getting the same thing from Ghostbusters 3 except it isn’t a cameo, it’s the entire film. The whole reason the reboot was even considered in the first place was because of uncertainty to how much anyone, minus die-hard fans, wanted to see these older actors return to a franchise that hadn’t had a film in so long. Heck, one could say the same thing about the modern sequels to Star Wars, but that is honestly a way bigger can of worms I don’t want to get into.
Ignoring the problem with using older characters and actors,there is the idea that the only reason Ghostbusters 3 is possible is due to the ‘failure’ of the 2016 film. The 2016 film didn’t meet enough financial expectations to warrant a sequel, but the franchise itself could still have potential. For Sony executives, Ghostbusters 3 makes financial sense because the son of the original film’s director expresses interest in making a movie, set in the original continuity, and checking all of the boxes that the 2016 version didn’t, including bringing the original all male Ghostbusters back. Moving forward, several aspects of Ghostbusters 3 will probably be controversial, especially who will make up the new Ghostbusters team, because some people will complain no matter how the characters’ genders are distributed. If the new team is mostly male, it will look as if the filmmakers are actively trying to disparage the 2016 version. If the new team is mostly female, the sexist detractors of the 2016 film will come back with a vengeance and the fans of the 2016 version won’t understand why Ghostbusters 3 isn’t a sequel to the reboot instead of one to the original franchise. If the new team is evenly male and female, critics on all sides will find something to complain about.
Despite all of the new hopes of the filmmakers and Sony executives, Ghostbusters 3 is not guaranteed success based on nostalgia. Nor would it be based on how it genders its characters. Right or wrong, people will complain about those aspects regardless of what decisions are actually made. The only true way to judge if Ghostbusters 3 is a success… actually watch the film. I know that sounds anti-climactic, but we cannot know a movie’s quality or potential for success based on heated internet debates about its superficial characteristics. Instead, we must judge this and other films by their own merits as unique stories, not on how they may or may not fit into existing canon or on whether a film’s cast is “progressive enough” (or “too progressive”) for the time period in which it’s made. Maybe Ghostbusters 3 will also have a troubled production like Ghostbusters (2016). Maybe it will be terrible and the franchise will finally be put to rest, or at least shelved for a few more years. Maybe it will be amazing and better than all the films combined. Or maybe it will be a movie that is neither bad nor good, which might make the controversy its received all the more silly in hindsight.
My point is, we can’t judge the yet-unfinished Ghostbusters 3 for being disrespectful to the 2016 film, or the originals for that matter, without actually watching it and seeing how they address the original films and the reboot. I can complain about how much the premise feels tired to me, or how it is valid for the 2016 actresses to feel like they’re being snubbed, but that has no bearing on the merits of the film itself. Besides, Ghostbusters 3’s very existence doesn’t immediately erase the 2016 version, just as the 2016 version didn’t erase the 1984 version, and so claims that the new film is inherently sexist and anti-equality because it discounts the reboot are based on conjecture and ideology, while in reality Ghostbusters 3 probably won’t make feminism and equality go backwards.
The topic of the Ghostbusters franchise is a difficult one, no matter what film you’re talking about. The Ghostbusters fanbase has, unfortunately, become one of the many toxic communities ruined by internal discord, gatekeeping and the intolerance of small but vocal factions on all sides of the issue surrounding this franchise. Ghostbusters 3 will not solve that. What will solve it is having thoughtful and respectful discussion about what makes a person a fan of Ghostbusters. It isn’t liking one film more than the other, it is just liking one film, or comic, or animated series, or all of them. The announcement of Ghostbusters 3 has worsened the discourse, but it doesn’t have to. Instead of devolving into fandom tribalism, everyone can instead strive for a franchise that has a place for everything in it and for everyone who is a fan, and recognize that the sexists are the only real enemy here, because they are the ones who, by definition, don’t want everyone to be a part of the fandom.
Singer, D. G., & Singer, J. L. (2012). Handbook of children and the media. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=moifZwJHunsC&oi=fnd&pg=PA375&dq=Reagan deregulation of advertising towards children&ots=wjf_dtpkhM&sig=rajgBKdIxO1Ll3wPEAKUKJGgL7U#v=onepage&q&f=false.