After all the speculation and debate, on March 3 we finally got our first trailer of the new Ghostbusters movie.
Is it a sequel, or a reboot? Are these characters a Peter-Ray-Egon-Winston setup of types, like the Carrie-Samantha-Charlotte-Miranda foursome of Sex and the City?
We still don’t know.
But, oh boy, the debates continue as we get four women strapping on proton packs and slingin’ plasm because – that’s right – bustin’ makes them feel good.
The new Ghostbusters movie, like Batman in The Dark Knight, has become a symbol upon which we have laid all our troubles. With reboots and revivals, with character diversity and identity politics, with debating the quality of comedy styles and modern filmmaking.
I’m long past debating the idea that society didn’t really want more Ghostbusters. I’m also done with decrying this geek-franchise age of Hollywood in which studios are hungry for blockbusters, reviving old and familiar properties left and right.
So it is, so it was before, so it shall be.
Or, if we’re going to be unhappy with the new Ghostbusters, can we at least be really clear about what we’re unhappy with it for?
Because, really, the trailer was just OK.
The gags and jokes felt tired, including Leslie Jones yelling “The devil is a liar!” despite how funny that is by itself. Whatevs.
A computer-generated, Haunted Mansion-style ghost is jarring, most likely because my brain is used to the old pre-CGI special effects the movies had 30 years ago. (This also was among the many reasons that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull didn’t work. It felt less real.)
And the image of Kate McKinnon licking her proton pack six-shooters made me think of Pixels, and I never want to think of Pixels.
It’s fine to think the movie looks bad, so far. We just don’t need to make wide-swath assertions based on how this particular movie looks bad, so far.
We’ve got to be sure about what we don’t like, and why we don’t like it.
“No more remakes! No more reboots! No more sequels! No more returns!”
Folks say they don’t want any more remakes and reboots. Hollywood makes a lot of remakes, sequels, adaptations and reboots. We have more now, but it goes way back to the beginning. The only issue is whether the movie’s any good.
We don’t like remakes and reboots, until they’re good. Battlestar Galactica. (Gender flip!) Star Trek: The Next Generation. Scarface. Crisis on Infinite Earths. Secret Wars. Creed. (Racial flip!) The Office. Sanford and Son.
Folks say making the characters women is simply a surface nod to political correctness and panders to audiences. Again, it should be about whether the new thing is done well. Look at the new Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel comics. Look at Alien, which was written for a man before they turned him into Ellen Ripley.
So much of the criticism related to the Ghostbusters’ gender has come hand-in-hand with gatekeeper fanboys without a keymaster. That sexism poisons much of the well, especially when a character or property is rebooted without a straight white man at the center of it any more. We’ve seen it time and time again.
After a while, it becomes a Herculean task of thin-slicing to separate that unhappiness with remakes from supporting an identity-based supremacy. Love of something old turns into protectionism really fast, especially when that plays out along lines of representation and character diversity.
Let’s do a sport-ish analogy: Straight white dudes have been playing on the floor for so long, while everyone else was largely on the bench. The game can change when the players change. Sometimes that’s done by inventing new, good characters, and other times it’s by reinventing existing characters and concepts to fit a new time.
I don’t want the argument over reboots to mingle with the argument over new blood when it comes to getting people other than straight white guys in the game. New blood, more likely that not, changes the game. And, generally, folks still like for changes to contain the familiar, so “just go make new characters” isn’t good enough sometimes.
There’s also unhappiness over the black Ghostbuster not being a scientist again.
Well. I can’t exactly wipe this one away. It’s a legit gripe for people who look at Jones’ character working in the New York subway after Wiig, McCarthy and McKinnon are established as knowledgeable scientists, and feel like Jones’ character isn’t held as an equal. Our society doesn’t hold quantum physicists and subway workers in the same esteem or pay grade.
Combine that with longstanding Hollywood tropes of black characters in roles subservient to their white counterparts, and it’s easy to understand the disappointment. Throw in a seemingly lesser role for a black woman beside other white women, and that disappointment intensifies further for women of color. “Look, it’s female scientists in an action comedy! Hot damn!” soon is met with, “Oh, the black one isn’t a scientist! Goddamn!”
For black girl nerds and women of color nerds, seeing Jones appear not on the same footing as the others is extra vexing because it recalls Ernie Hudson’s experience playing Winston Zeddemore in the first two movies. Winston, despite taking on Gozer and Viggo and saving New York twice, never was on equal footing as Peter, Egon and Ray.
He was hired help.
I then think about two things.
First, while Peter, Ray and Egon are all scientists in the original films, even they’re not equal. Peter is a psychologist and parapsychologist, sure, but he’s introduced to us as a lazy, unserious fraud using his office to hit on women. In the second film, he’s a crummy host of a crummy talk show. He doesn’t build anything, he doesn’t know anything. But he’s the cool one.
Second, the trailer for the new film runs down each Ghostbuster’s skill and contribution to the team. While Jones’ character is not a quantum physicist or engineer, she asserts that they need her knowledge of the city to fight the threat. She isn’t simply a streetwise black character; she has actual smarts about the city streets. Without her, they can’t do their job effectively. She’s far beyond being the help.
Beyond all of the complaints and debates, there’s one more point. The funniest part of this whole mess is that much of the unhappiness with the trailer could be from the fact that it’s a mediocre trailer.
For real! Why the slow build-up with title cards and generic Manhattan shots? Why the solo piano tapping out Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song?
The trailer treated Ghostbusters like it was Star Wars. No, seriously, go check out the first trailer for The Force Awakens again. Look at all the title cards, theme music and iconic imagery.
Didn’t anybody tell the folks at Sony that this is Ghostbusters?
The thing that’s not a modern pop culture building block encompassing close to 40 years of movies, novels, cartoons and comic books, theme park attractions, endless merchandise, constant references, and one of the great hero-villain combinations, and plot twists, of all time?
This is not to denigrate Ghostbusters and its fan base. It does have some things in common with the Star Wars franchise, such as a creator-honcho continually desperate for one more money grab, a star cast member who didn’t really want to be bothered with it any more, and a 50-50 track record of good movies. And the fan base has cosplay community chapters that do some great charity work across the country.
Ghostbusters just isn’t on that Star Wars level for such a trailer. A widely shared fan recut of the trailer understands that, and instead dives right into the action and teases just a couple of jokes.
Looking at that recut reminds me of the upside in this new film. Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy haven’t made a bad movie yet, even if The Heat’s abusive policing for laughs turned me off immediately.
The trailer gives the feeling that this Ghostbusters won’t have the energy and humor of the original films.
I’d rather this Ghostbusters do things its own way rather than try to replicate the conservative, ironic, smarty white guy vibe of the other movies. I look at Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Paul Feig, and they don’t do the same comedy as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman.
The new Ghostbusters has my interest so far. Does it look like another Aykroyd money grab? Sure, it may be. Could this be simple pandering to audiences looking for more diverse content? Sure, it could.
But then I look at the majority of female geeks I know, looking at the animosity this film has met from day one, most of it from men so fragile in their supremacy that they can’t even let Ghostbusters go. They look at the screen and and say it’s their turn to do a kind of movie women have never had before. It’s not the same old thing because it doesn’t have the same old people. They’re going. I likely am, too.
If there’s one way to galvanize people toward something, it’s for needless opposition to become so odious, offensive and retrograde that folks will support the thing just to shut those haters up.