Why Busting ‘Ghostbusters’ Reboot Myths May No Longer Matter
Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I have to admit that the magnificently gay, chock-full-o-girl-power Ghostbusters reboot has not been a commercial success. In my heart (an admittedly subjective metric), it’s very successful — I enjoyed just about every moment, (besides the opening queef joke). But sadly, looking at its numbers, there’s no denying it: after a month in theaters, a worldwide gross of $194 million against a $144 million budget isn’t a good thing.
However, while I’m disappointed its numbers don’t reflect my personal joy, I’m also not surprised, given that the well was poisoned against Ghostbusters from its very beginning, for daring to reboot a “classic” franchise. It’s the hypocrisy from film nerds that pisses me off the most in this regard — until a bunch of women strapped on their proton packs, nobody seemed to have such purist objections.
When the first Ghostbusters trailer hit YouTube, it quickly became not just the most disliked movie trailer in the history of the site, but also the most disproportionately disliked video in general as well. That was enough to convince me and many other culture critics that the hate was founded on sexism — an assertion that was met with renewed howls of rage from “anti-Busters,” who insisted that they simply were against Hollywood’s relentless reboots, rather than women-centric casting. “This isn’t about feminism, this is about greed,” said Danika “Comic Book Girl 19” Massey, quoted in the New York Times.
Except it can be about both.
Nobody’s saying a Ghostbusters reboot would exist if executives hadn’t smelled cash; corporate greed is absolutely a problem, and its impact on filmmaking — like all art — is an issue that creators have struggled with for decades. But at the same time, amateur film critics online saw exactly what they wanted to see: The “gimmicky” gender-inverted reboot rolled out a lackluster first trailer, which meant it was obviously a shitty cash-grab movie (leaving aside the fact that great movies get lousy trailers all the time). This in turn added up to their greatest fear: Hollywood was once again disemboweling people’s childhoods — in this case the Greatest Comedy of the Eighties — in search of a quick buck by hiding behind the alt-right’s favorite bogeyman, feminists.
But let’s unpack this phenomenon a bit. First of all, spare me your outrage on behalf of the 1984 Ghostbusters. I hadn’t seen it until after seeing the reboot, but I can say unequivocally that it’s trash. No male character experiences any particular change or growth arc, and the two named female characters are specifically denied the chance to grow. Dana (Sigourney Weaver) is possessed by Zuul and relegated to a combination of generic villain/damsel in distress, while Janine (Annie Potts) exists to hang from Egon’s (Harold Ramis) arm for no discernible reason (having apparently fallen in love with him during the movie’s third-act time-skip, abandoning all previous attempts at characterization).
But even without all of that, Bill Murray is reprehensible as Peter Venkman, a pastiche of the worst manipulative “nice guy” misogynist tropes known to screenwriting. Retroactively, I cheered for the scene in the reboot wherein Murray’s character — a snobby, fedora-wielding skeptic — gets tossed out a window.
But I can deal with a difference of opinion here — after all, some people think that the reboot’s jokes and characters are flat — which I don’t understand, but have to accept. What I can’t abide is this idea that Ghostbusters (2016) was so horrible that it required nerds around the country to stand up and say “no more!”
Here’s an idea: If you wanted reboots of classic “geek” franchises to stop happening, maybe you should have stopped seeing them years ago. Maybe instead of flailing over Robocop (2014), you should have gone to see Vampire Academy (which you should have done anyway, that movie’s great). Perhaps then Robocop wouldn’t have grossed $242 million worldwide, thus ensuring a sequel. Did you see Godzilla later that year, or did you go for A Night in Old Mexico instead? Were you part of the fandom that helped J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek gross over a quarter billion dollars in the U.S. alone? Are you part of the very reboot problem — the one that’s existed for decades — who’s suddenly now claiming that we need a solution?
Anti-Busters will fire back that this is different, that those movies were pretty good while the new Ghostbusters is garbage. But Godzilla’s Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score is 6.6 out of 10, outpacing Ghostbusters by only a tenth of a point, while Robocop sank to 5.6. Remakes of Evil Dead (2013) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015, based on the 1964 TV show) scored 6.1 and 6.2, respectively. Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 Carrie remake scored a 5.4, yet horror fans didn’t take to their blogs in droves as they did for Ghostbusters. What exactly is the difference here? (Could it be the casting? Surely not — the anti-Busters already told us they weren’t sexist!)
We may never know exactly why so many people chose Ghostbusters as their anti-reboot hill on which to die, but I have my suspicions. (If you’ve ever been sneeringly called “SJW” by a white guy who claims he’s “gender egalitarian” and claims feminism is “ruining culture,” we’re on the same page). In truth, the why doesn’t really matter at this point. The anti-Buster retorts to the film’s trailers — along with China’s refusal to screen the film — didn’t quite make it dead on arrival, but nobody was willing to resuscitate it, either. Trades like the Hollywood Reporter claimed Sony would take a $70 million loss despite Sony’s repeated claims that such numbers were vastly inflated, while touting the forthcoming animated TV series as evidence a sequel had been scrapped (this despite the series having been announced in 2015).
The prevailing wisdom in both amateur and professional camps now seems to be that Ghostbusters was doomed from the start, a lousy movie which Sony should never have green-lit. But this is despite the reality that it’s at worst an average comedy with too many special effects for its own good, which debuted in an atmosphere that could not have been less receptive to its existence thanks to to vocal efforts of some misguided movie crusaders.
So while I’ll always love Ghostbusters, I’m done writing about it — not because I’m conceding that it’s as bad as the haters say (it’s not), nor because I’ve finally “seen the light” that $144 million is too much to spend on a CGI action comedy (it’s totally too much, scrapping Chris Hemsworth’s big dance scene didn’t help, and the CGI segments weren’t the film’s best quality, either).
No, I’m done talking about Ghostbusters because it’s over. I can buy all the merch, get the special edition DVD when it comes out, and write all the Holtzmann slash fic I want, but the anti-Busters got what they wanted: a scapegoat on which to pin all of their anger at corporate Hollywood, no matter what the movie was really like. So I’m done rationalizing what I still can’t explain — why a solid, inoffensive reboot became the scourge of the Nerd Internet for daring to reboot a wretched ’80s movie with girls.
Lead image: flickr/BagoGames