As we approach the theatrical release of writer/director Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot later this July, many fans of the seminal paranormal-comedy of 1984 (and its immediate sequel from 1989) are still scratching their heads as to how to feel about the new film. Feig’s new movie will appropriate the name of the original film co-created by original Ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, while transporting the original movie’s central roles onto the shoulders of four new leads. With Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones filling out the newly established and eponymous team of paranormal investigators, the movie is all set to offer fans of the outstanding franchise a more socially conscious take on the outstanding Ghostbusters feature film property.
But given how large a shadow the original film continues to cast on the pop-cultural consciousness, it should come as no surprise that not everyone is on board with the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. However unfortunate the case may be, instead of explicitly attacking the anticipated quality of Feig’s new movie based purely on the footage released thus far (as is standard for anticipatory complaints), the most vocal and culturally visible sub-group of critics has come in the form of those fans who don’t want to see an all-female cast in the new Ghostbusters film. Thankfully for some, such an obtusely dismissive take on this crucial tweak to the film’s basic premise standing behind Feig’s reboot of the property is easy to refute, defame, and disclaim resoundingly.
In a cultural moment that’s more widely considerate of gender politics than ever before, where the line between sensitivity and “political correctness” is being defined through heavily embattled terms, this new Ghostbusters film has proven impossible discuss on reasoned middle ground. For months, anyone who has said anything derogatory about an all-female led Ghostbusters reboot has been resoundingly cast in the role of the domineering patriarchal tyrant of an outdated and regressively harmful social cast. Accordingly, the entire critical conversation surrounding Feig’s Ghostbusters has been turned into a battle field wherein everyone who declares his/herself of liberal persuasion, anyone who asserts favor toward gender equality, and anyone hoping to self-describe as a feminist must seemingly support the new movie without a second thought.
Which, perhaps, shouldn’t be so difficult a rule to follow; Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, and Jones are all women who are funny and talented. As a result, the question of whether or not the quality of the film in question is any good is made irrelevant by the overwhelming and claustrophobic conversation surrounding the film on gender. In short, everyone has become preoccupied with preemptively coming to the support of a cast and production that has been attacked by the regressively misogynistic minority (a term used with hesitation when one considers the record-breaking down-votes on the film’s YouTube trailer posting). Feig and company are hypothetically primed to see a generous profit where it really counts at the box office, thanks in no small part to all of the aforementioned hoopla.
But what if the Ghostbusters reboot is bad? What if despite the collective presence and talent of the film’s four lead cast members the movie proves to be an unfortunate misfire on the behalf of everyone involved? The trailers certainly don’t paint an inspiring picture, as each subsequent batch of new footage from the film serves to explicitly reference the two original movies, and none of the small collection of material gives an indication that the film will stray far from the familiar thematic and narrative beats of those two comedy monuments.
Feig is certainly no stranger to the studio comedy or the concept of improving an existing formula with an all-female cast, having already delivered audiences the far superior version of director Todd Phillips’ frat-house romp The Hangover via Wiig’s original scripted sorority gala Bridesmaids, followed in short order by the equally hilarious McCarthy studio comedy vehicles The Heat and Spy. All three films have proven that there is a desire to see more studio comedies starring funny women, and Feig has become the undisputed and much-needed champion of female-led studio comedies in kind.
Yet the question still remains of where we will place any objective criticism of his Ghostbusters reboot’s perceived faults and actual shortcoming before and after the film’s release. In the current climate surrounding discussion of the film, it has become seemingly impossible to state without equivocation that one pre-emptively thinks the new Ghostbusters looks bad or is bad. Period. And there has to be a larger concern that the same impossibility will exist when the film is measured reflectively.
Even if one is a fan of the four comediennes attached to Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot, it’s likely that some viewers might still be critical of Feig as a studio comedy filmmaker. In the past, Feig has often been at his best when working outside of his wheelhouse with other creative people (as he was with Bridesmaids). Standing up as perhaps his greatest directorial effort to date, Bridesmaids is a marvel of modern filmmaking, allowing Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo to craft a deeply personal and effusively heartfelt comedy narrative from the female perspective, leaving Feig to merely guide the production behind the scenes as a veteran filmmaker on both film and television.
Which brings the entire conversation around to one other crucial point of necessary (and largely ignored) critical contention: is Paul Feig a great director? His cult-classic comedy drama for television Freaks and Geeks has cemented his status as the empathetic champion of the underdog in the realm of sutdio comedy filmmaking, but his technical acumen and skill visually and technologically speaking has never been his strong suit. Films like The Heat and Spy are glorified genre spoofs that work because of their female star, not because of Feig’s work as a director of women.
Therefore, when someone says they think the Ghostbusters reboot looks bad, it doesn’t necessarily associate them with the vocally misogynistic minority attacking the production based solely on its female-led team of iconic paranormal investigators. It’s equally possible that that individual might find Feig reputation as a director lacking, the filmmaker having largely coasted by on the inherent talent of Ghostbusters co-stars Wiig and McCarthy of late, making their inclusion in the reboot one of the only influencers for preemptive celebration and blind optimism. The original Ghostbusters film of 1984 will always be an undisputed contemporary classic of American blockbuster cinema and for many, the 1989 sequel is catalogued there by proxy (but with a much higher documented rate of dispute). With any luck Feig’s reboot of the passionately beloved franchise will serve as a reminder of what made the original two films so resoundingly successful for going on some thirty-plus years now.
So we need to ensure that we do not let the hoi-polloi and cacophonous rage of those decrying the inclusion of women distract us from the far more crucial task at hand, that of fairly and objectively assessing the specific merits of the film in question. As critical voices, we should all go in hoping that the Ghostbusters reboot will please everyone and become another resounding success with mainstream audiences and die-hard fans of the original property alike. But if it doesn’t, the film deserves an honest assessment, because anything less would be charitable credit or self-protective dishonesty, and that would mean the misogynists still got to define our reaction to the film, right?
Featured Image: Columbia Pictures