I've been wanting to weigh in on the current Ghostbusters maelstrom for a while now. I'm not a particularly invested fan of Ghostbusters, but I like all the movies to varying degrees and for varying reasons. It shouldn't be a source of controversy - but it is. If you're not aware of the online war that's raged over Ghostbusters for the past five years, you're lucky.
Here's the gist: two Ghostbusters films were released in the '80s, starring a bunch of SNL-type dudes, with no further movies emerging until 2016. That movie, entitled Ghostbusters on initial release and Ghostbusters: Answer The Call on home video, was effectively a remake of the original film, starring a bunch of SNL-type ladies and directed by Bridesmaids' Paul Feig. From the moment that film was announced, a sector of very vocal fans erupted into outrage that the franchise was being remade with women in the leading roles.
Some claimed, with varying degrees of veracity, that their outrage was directed at rebooting the franchise instead of making a direct sequel, but the overall trend was towards the misogynistic. Cast members - especially Leslie Jones, not coincidentally the sole non-white member of the main cast - received enormous amounts of abuse from angry male fans. Donald Trump even joined in, confirming the misogynistic roots of the backlash (or maybe he hated that the EPA weren't the villains this time). Original star Dan Aykroyd called the angry fans "insignificant gnats," "losers," and "active Klan members."
The movie came out; it was pretty good and did okay business; it inspired a lot of girls; a couple years passed.
Eventually, the fan apocalypse died out, replaced by similarly misogyny- and racism-tinged outrage at the Star Wars sequels, Star Trek: Discovery, and more besides. Then, last month, Sony announced that a new Ghostbusters film would be released in Summer 2020. Jason Reitman, son of the original film's director Ivan Reitman, would direct. It would not be linked to the 2016 film. A teaser trailer came out, featuring the Ecto-1 car from the original movie.
The fans that hated Answer The Call's existence did a motherfucking victory lap, believing the project was a capitulation to their specific vitriol. I got sucked into the maelstrom myself via a tweet, retweeted by Jones and Feig and replied to by many, many people. That tweet, concurring with Jones' understandable dismay at the optics of the announcement, expressed both a desire to see a sequel to the 2016 Ghostbusters, and weariness at toxic fan strutting. I've since blocked a lot of people on Twitter.
This week saw the Internet's lymph nodes swell up once again, as Reitman stated on the Bill Burr Podcast that he was looking to "hand the movie back to the fans." Fans of Answer The Call got angry, and Ghostbros again celebrated, both believing this to be a dog-whistle that these Ghostbusters would be Men and do Men Things, possibly including Sexual Harassment Things like in the original movie, and so the firestorm raged.
You know what? I believe him.
For one thing, Reitman does not at all strike me as the sort of person who'd give a wink-wink-nudge-nudge shout-out to misogynists in the first place. Furthermore, the "hand the movie back" comment, in context, reads: "We are, in every way, trying to go back to the original technique and hand the movie back to the fans." It came in the middle of a rave about the fetishistic level in which the filmmakers recreated the original film's style for the teaser. They used the original sound files and score stems, and even made the titles practically, using the original vinyl lettering from the original film's poster. He's essentially saying the same thing J.J. Abrams did about using practical creatures and 35mm film on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not commenting on story or characters.
That's important, because - crucially - Reitman's film isn't even going to be the film the toxic sector of fandom thinks it is.
From Reitman's perspective, he's been brought onboard to right a franchise that, from Sony's point of view, never reached the insane highs of its original entry. Whatever our view of the 2016 Ghostbusters, it grossed around half what Ghostbusters II did, in adjusted dollars, and under a third of what the original did. Honestly, I'd say it makes more sense to kill the franchise altogether at this point - at least then we'd be spared all this nonsense. But for a studio looking to milk that franchise until it's dry, employing a heavily nostalgia-driven angle in the age of Stranger Things makes sense too.
I didn't make that Stranger Things comparison casually. Based on my short time as a target of toxic Ghostbusters fandom (which I can add to games, Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and Lady Gaga in my list of fandoms that's attacked me online), one thing that became immediately clear was that nobody on either side of the argument actually knew what Reitman's film was about. Both sides assumed it'd star an adult, all-male, maybe all-old-comedians team, either because that's what they wanted or because that's what they feared. That isn't the movie, though. Reitman's Ghostbusters is going to star four kids as its leads. Two will be male. Two will be female. Maybe the original cast will appear, but the movie is based around kids.
Two boys. Two girls.
Reitman isn't aiming to satisfy people unhappy with the 2016 movie, unless you count the studio unhappy with its box office performance. Given the movie's core cast, he's aiming to simultaneously tweak the nostalgia nerve (a la Stranger Things), and to attract new audiences - like those kids. Your sons and your daughters will both have new heroes in this movie. And after all, Reitman has in his filmography well-regarded films about adolescence (Juno), adults trying to hold onto adolescence (Young Adult), and parenting (Tully), all of which centre on female characters. His childhood was literally spent watching his dad make Ghostbusters movies. If anyone's qualified to make this particular nostalgia movie, it's him.
Would I like to see a sequel to the 2016 Ghostbusters? Absolutely, and the fact that this movie essentially guarantees that won't happen is incredibly disappointing. The insult to that film, though, isn't on Reitman's part. The movie he's making sounds fun and equal-opportunity. It's on the part of Sony, but even Sony isn't gunning for asshole fans - it's gunning for families, that most lucrative of box-office audiences. Nobody saw a tsunami of misogyny and said, "that's our target market." But Sony probably did see the tsunami of money earned by The Force Awakens, a "legacy sequel" obsessed with the past both on and off camera with heroes both young and old, and say, "that's our target gross."
Let's all simmer down - especially you, toxic fans - and wait to see this movie that, like it or not, we are getting. We are all so very tired.
Feel free to leave your thoughts on the article - or, if you skipped reading the article in rage, your thoughts on the subject or headline only - in the comments below.