Paul Feig had his big break with the TV series Freaks & Geeks, a hit that created an entire cult long after its cancellation. Since then he has become one of the biggest names in comedy films, being the director of blockbusters like Spy, Bridesmaids, and The Heat, and, most times, doing a great job of blending high-octane action and broad humor. So it makes sense for him to be the one to reboot the Ghostbusters franchise with a completely female cast. And not only because of Feig’s director track record, but also because he was aware of the headaches that awaited. The director put it succinctly: “Geek culture is home to some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life.”
Here are just some of the major franchises Hollywood has decided to reboot in the past decade: Superman, Batman, James Bond, Spider-Man, Star Wars, Robocop, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Planet of the Apes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Evil Dead, and The Thing. Every Disney animated classic, beginning with Cinderella and continuing with this year’s release of The Jungle Book. The list could carry on endlessly, even without including the TV spinoffs. All have incited fans’ concern, but the final judgment usually doesn’t occur until after the movie hits the theaters. By contrast, Ghostbusters has become a rallying cause for fans who have started to resemble a movement similar to the Gamergate nightmare that still plagues the video game world.
A hate campaign
Feig’s Ghostbusters won’t be released until July 15, but since the project was announced in 2014, starring Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Melissa McCarthy, a vocal minority of fans came up with some specious reasons to criticize it. “The sacred legacy of the original film is threatened”, “the jokes in the trailer are not funny enough”, and, of course, “there are too many reboots in Hollywood.” Things reached a fever pitch when James Rolfe, a host of the YouTube channel Cinemassacre, announced that he would not even deign to watch the film. His reasoning revolves around a simple fact − it’s a tentpole movie starring women.
Currently, the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube is the new Ghostbusters preview. With more than 800,000 fans clicking the thumbs-down button, it’s clear that there is an organized campaign against the film. Just look at the Captain America: Civil War trailer for comparison (just 12,000 dislikes). The comment thread is filled with fans that defend their down-votes, like no Hollywood studio film has ever had advertising that was shaky before.
The outcry directed at Ghostbusters seems to be coming in two forms. There are angry remarks in the comments sections and on Twitter feeds, and there are with videos such as Rolfe’s, which attempt to validate themselves as defenders of the original franchise’s legacy. Still others see the female cast as a ‘marketing gimmick’ with some kind of reverse-sexism, which diminishes the stars by turning them into mere tokens. One commenter at Cinemassacre said: “What offends me about this film isn’t that there’s women in it. Or even that the women are the protagonists. It’s that it’s going backwards 30 years in time and calling itself progressive.” Entrenched in all of these preventive and reasonably weak complaints is a clear nuance: the matter of appearance is more important than the quality, and the idea of a female cast taking up the mantle of a male-centric film series is somehow wrong.
Reboot is imminent
The 1984 Ghostbusters is certainly an unforgettable benchmark of the period, a continuously re-watchable sci-fi comedy. However, Ghostbusters II is not worthy of defense, and efforts to create a third film dissolved as a result of creative differences and Bill Murray’s disinterest. In a nutshell, this is the exact kind of franchise that film studios would want to revitalize: a well-liked product that for whatever reason has gone quiet.
Unlike so many Hollywood reboots, Feig’s renewal actually offers something different from what came before it. The idea of a large-scale film that stars only women, with men like Chris Hemsworth in supporting roles, was so shocking last year that it resulted in the announcement of an all-male Ghostbusters remake starring Channing Tatum. It was like the film’s role was to counter-balance the Feig’s creation, however, the idea was finally tossed aside because of its sheer irrelevance.
Feig will not give in
Currently, Rolfe’s video has over 530,000 YouTube views. It’s the biggest addition so far to the outcry that’s been growing for over a year: from when the casting news was initially released to every additional trailer and clip from the film premiering online. The film’s cast, for the most part, has been able to ignore the online toxicity, except for Feig, who remained steadfast in his attempts to debate, call out, and disprove any criticism that appears on his Twitter feed.
Feig said: “It’s the same thing that the women went through with Gamergate. They were just getting hammered, and everyone says ‘Well, why don’t you just go offline?’ But it’s like getting chased out of your neighborhood … I don’t want to get chased off the Internet.”
For all the hatred, Ghostbusters can’t be chased out of theaters. For all the dislikes on YouTube, the film is believed to become one of July’s biggest openers in a summer that is filled with sequels and reboots. Fans are likely to debate the quality of the film for many years to come, but for a small sad subset, the answer to that question is already clear.