Last week, it was announced that Sony Pictures would once again be getting back into the Ghostbusters game. A new film was revealed, to be directed by Jason Reitman, the Oscar-nominated director of Juno and Tully, who also happens to be the son of the original director Ivan. This project will also be a sequel to the first two films directed in the 1980s, rather than an independent story set within a new timeline or universe. This means that the 2016 reboot of the same name, directed by Paul Feig, will not be part of the Ghostbusters canon. Explaining his decision to Entertainment Weekly, Reitman said, "I have so much respect for what Paul created with those brilliant actresses, and would love to see more stories from them. However, this new movie will follow the trajectory of the original film." Otherwise, very little is known about the project, including whether the surviving cast members of the original movie will appear. But that news that the much-maligned and unfairly controversial reboot will essentially be sidelined as part of this franchise’s history remained disappointing, if not especially surprising. Even Leslie Jones had a few things to say about the news.
When this news broke, it didn’t take long for the ever-spinning wheel of the pop culture hot takes market (which I am admittedly part of) to start trying to analyze what this reboot news meant in terms of the franchise’s cultural context. Was this a sign that Sony was admitting the 2016 movie was an unmitigated disaster, as so many had been determined to paint it? Since that all-female version didn’t become a commercial success, would the new film stick to all guys for its cast? And ultimately, after all those months of anger and abuse and concerted harassment of stars and critics alike for daring to be positive about something as benign as a gender-swapped remake, does Sony making a U-turn prove those bullies right?
It seems strange now in 2019 that such a staggering and hostile culture war was launched off the back of Ghostbusters, of all things. Close to four years since its announcement, all that fervor seems decades away, although that may simply be because we are now far too familiar with ginned-up controversies surrounding diversity in pop culture. Unfortunately, many of us know this spiel all too well. Even at the time, when a Ghostbusters reboot with four women at its center was causing all that fuss, few of us were genuinely surprised by the reactions. We may have been shocked by their virulent nature or overwhelmed by how organized the hate campaign against the film seemed to be, all before it had even finished production, but if you’re a marginalized individual on the internet who talks about pop culture a lot, the chances are you’ve encountered similar behavior at least once.
That’s not to say that what happened with the Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t impactful or emblematic of something much bigger. It definitely was. The backlash and misogynistic anger became headline news on and off the internet. Online campaigns were organized to target en masse the film’s Rotten Tomatoes ratings as well as its IMDb rank and YouTube likes to create the illusion that the project was universally loathed. Think pieces sprang up from the swamps to dictate how the movie’s mere existence was an affront, further proof that feminism had gone too far and that people’s childhoods would be ruined by this reboot. Star Leslie Jones was driven off Twitter following a barrage of racist and sexist abuse, in part pushed by a right-wing troll who doesn’t even deserve to have his name mentioned here.
Such instances are obviously horrid and shouldn’t be part of one’s expected routine when making movies or talking about them. The Ghostbusters reboot backlash was also difficult to navigate in part because it wasn’t taken all that seriously by a lot of industry and press figures, who saw it mostly as an internet-exclusive frivolity, the kind of fight that doesn’t really matter in the real world. Just ignore it and move on was the most commonly heard advice. However, that mantra ignored how the conversation surrounding the movie was irrevocably controlled and driven by this hatred. Any admittance from the casual moviegoer or neutral party that the first trailer seemed a bit underwhelming was immediately latched onto as proof that the film was doomed and audiences were rejecting this woman-driven reboot. It became impossible to just talk about the movie, regardless of your feelings about it, without being used as proof of an evil feminist conspiracy mounted by a few Saturday Night Live stars and the guy who played Mr. Pool on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Whether you liked it or not, having an opinion on Ghostbusters became a political stance, one that you had to fight for or risk hordes of abuse over. By the time we got the film itself, it felt almost secondary. And that’s a shame, because the 2016 Ghostbusters film is a hell of a lot of fun.
In the reboot, the paranormal investigations are driven by former friends Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). The pair had written a book on the existence of ghosts in their youth, but Erin had disowned it in order to focus on a more serious career. However, when they are brought together with eccentric engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and MTA staffer Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to deal with a growing undead problem, it becomes clear that the truth cannot be ignored.
What makes the reboot so enjoyable is the central relationship among the four leads. This is the story of a group of women who are bound together by intellect, curiosity, and real passion for the unknown. They never bicker about men or bitch about one another behind each other’s backs, and their intellects are never questioned by the narrative (only by arrogant dudes in the movie, including Charles Dance and Bill Murray). These women are good at their jobs in ways most people will never be, and there’s always enjoyment to be found in watching competent people be awesome, be they scientists or ghost hunters. The film is also very funny, more in tune with the dry wit of Feig’s work (as well as that of co-writer Katie Dippold), but still peppered with moments of slapstick and weirdness (everything Kate McKinnon does is a master class in controlled anarchy). And then there’s Chris Hemsworth redefining his career trajectory by reminding the world that he has some of the best leading-man comedy chops in the business. Hemsworth is clearly having a ball as the handsome doofus Kevin Beckman, a golden retriever of a man who stands in for decades of women on screen being reduced to the “dumb blonde” stereotype while the women have all the fun.
The story itself is also striking. The villain of the piece here isn’t a governmental body (who, in the context of the original film, is also kind of right about the intrepid schemes of the Ghostbusters and their questionable environmental impact). Instead, the baddie is a toxic little man who thinks the world owes him something and is willing to let billions of people suffer out of spite. Can’t imagine why that would sit uneasy with some.
The truth is that it’s tough to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without feeling like you have to dive head first into everything that smothered it. That stands true to this day when we talk about this upcoming movie. Its mere existence and the trajectory it is on cannot help but feel like a victory for those bullies and a loss for everyone who genuinely cherished that film. Girls big and small got a movie that proudly told them that smart women could save the day just as well as the dudes, and then we were suddenly told it didn’t count. Sony doesn’t have malicious intentions behind this. They’re a business, and Hollywood’s multimillion-dollar decisions are seldom driven by more than the need to make cold hard cash. In that aspect, it’s understandable why they’d want to go back to a more familiar route following the financial disappointment of the reboot, but that doesn’t take away from how this news will be harnessed against certain demographics and be chalked up as yet another victory for a bogus culture war that only existed to hurt marginalized groups.