It’s been two weeks since Ghostbusters 2016 was released, and after over a year of rabid fighting on the Internet, we’ve all essentially forgotten about it because that’s how we are It’s one of the most controversial, heated movies in years and less than seven days later…Ooo, Star Trek Beyond! Ooo, ComicCon news! Ooo, Jason Bourne! Ooo, Suicide Squad! We have the attention span of dogs. (Ooo, The Secret Lives of Pets!) But even if we think we’ve moved on, the scars of battle do not fade so quickly, nor so cleanly. There’s been rumblings that Sony is considering a sequel, and so the teeth gnashing is sure to begin again. Is all for naught? Probably. But there are some ways that Ghostbusters 2016 2 might be able to improve its reputation going forward. Possibly.
1. Get Off Your High Horse, Everyone
Divorced from all the controversy, how would we have viewed Ghostbusters 2016? Removing all the external factors, what would it be? Can anyone with any seriousness say it was anything more than mediocre-at-best? That isn’t to say it was a terrible movie. It wasn’t a particularly good one, but it wasn’t a catastrophe. It was sporadically entertaining with a mostly okay cast. But at the end of the day, it was clearly a nostalgia-and-brand-name-driven cash grab. Not that this is a wholly bad thing, especially during the summer. The utterly forgettable Jurassic World is the fourth highest grossing movie of all time based solely on these components – clearly our standards are not that high. But at some point, Ghostbusters 2016 decided to pretend to be more than that, even though it really wasn’t.
Due to manufactured online outrage and the manufactured outrage over the online outrage (read my article about it here), Sony and crew felt compelled to paint Ghostbusters 2016 as something substantial and important. The only problem was that it was as empty a movie as there could be. There was nothing deeper there. No greater subtext. No smart or clever concepts. No intriguing ideas. No subversion of story or tropes. It was a CGI-laden action fest. But so what? That’s the type of movie it is. However, the cast and crew’s gloating as though they created something empowering is disingenuous and more than a bit condescending. We can see the movie for what it is, and any sequel needs to be honest about its true intentions and actual achievements.
The same goes for the dreaded evil Internet commentators (did you get that Rowan was supposed to be you?!?). Sure, the movie wasn’t good. But you didn’t win. Sure, the movie isn’t a box office phenomenon. But you didn’t win. The movie was released to fair box office and more-than-fair reviews. Everyone involved in the movie came out pretty well, and nobody is being held at fault for the movie’s problems (except for Internet commentators). That the film was so lacking in substance only further served to make them look like Chicken Littles while simultaneously distracting people from how little substance was actually in the movie.
People were so desperate to find something anti-male (or, inversely, pro-female) in the movie, many have latched onto the Ghostbusters shooting the Rowan monster at the end in the groin-area. It’s a hit in the balls joke. Now sure, it’s the subject of award-winning movies but to hone in on Ow! My Balls! as some sort of SJW call to action? How needy are we for anger and controversy? The Internet needs to let it go. The only way to win is not to play. Besides, without a fictional enemy to use as a scapegoat, the movie would need to stand on its own.
2. Try Some Original Ideas
No, this isn’t another “why name it Ghostbusters? Why not make it about another team of paranormal investigators not named Ghostbusters?” argument. It’s – try original ideas within your Ghostbusters movie. The biggest problem people had with Ghostbusters 2 was that it was a retread of the first one. The stunning and brave Ghostbusters 2016 is also an almost exact retread of the first one.
We understand that these reboots will have homages to the original; we accept it. Whether Star Wars or Star Trek, Ghostbusters or Robocop, these movies will reference their predecessors. Sometimes these references work, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they’re clever, sometimes they’re hokey, but they’re going to be there. All we can hope is that these callbacks are integrated well and subtly rather than bashing our heads in with “remember you liked this?!?” sledgehammers. With Ghostbusters 2016, even the minor plot points are copied from the first movies. When was the last time a big city mayor played a major role in anything outside of a film noir? The goofy friend being possessed, the fancy restaurant freak out, the electric chair ghost (straight out of Ghostbusters 2) are just some examples. Even the creation of Rowan is the same as the creation of Stay Puft Marshmallow Man as the characters choose the cutest thing they can think of to bring about their doom. They couldn’t even come up with a different concept for the climax? (The raid on Starkiller Base was different! I’ll get to how in another article.)
During the opening shots of the Great Ghostbusters War of 2015-2016, I remember an interview saying that this movie was inspired by The Walking Dead. That comment was one of the things that helped sell me on the movie – so much so that I remember it a year and a half later. The filmmakers not being so slavishly beholden to the original and putting their own spin on modern horror would be a great way to allow this movie to stand on its own while opening up new avenues for the Ecto 1. Instead, we got Slimer and Girl Slimer. (Though to be honest, I don’t know whether this was more the fault of writers Paul Feig and Katie Dippold or of the studio being ‘fraid of taking chances.)
To be fair, the film alluded to several concepts that could have bolstered its universe. The idea of a Ghost Chasers style reality show as the Ghostbusters’ foils could have definitely added some needed personality to the film. Ditto the use of a supernatural debunker character (played by Bill Murray, but anyone could have gotten the job done). Unfortunately, these elements were both disappointingly dropped without making much of an impact. At the very least, they would have been different. And just because the post-credits sequence mentions Zuul, doesn’t mean they have to face to be the exact same Zuul/Gozer as in the first one.
(The Weekly Digression: Of course, not all ‘new’ ideas from this movie worked. I’m still baffled by the sequence at the end where Wiig’s character has to save McCarthy’s character by jumping into a green CGI tornado. It was clearly a costly sequence since it was essentially all CGI, but it added nothing to the movie. It wasn’t a visually imaginative scene, we knew neither of the characters were going to die, and the two characters made amends within the first 20 minutes of the movie so that arc was long since over. Ghostbusters 1984 had a similar fake out by having the characters trapped under rubble, but that moment was barely 20 seconds with no extensive effects needed. So why have that sequence at all? To waste money? And I’ll just let the dance sequence lie there – except to say, can we all agree that dance sequences aren’t funny?)
3. Don’t Bring the Original Characters Back
One desire that seems to keep popping up among the Internet is to see the original Ghostbusters back in action. Maybe even alongside the new cast. “We want to see the classic cast strap on proton packs!” No, no you don’t. You might think you do, but you don’t. Put away the rose-colored nostalgia glasses and think about it for a moment. It goes beyond the Ghostbusters being old (and 25% of them being dead) and into the crucial question – what made the original Ghostbusters so special in the first place? The chemistry obviously, but chemistry can die, especially after decades of languishing. You think the rapport between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis would have been the same after their public falling out? And God knows what’s going on with anyone and Dan Aykroyd, who keeps desperately latching onto the past. (He’s even working on another Blues Brothers cartoon now.) The biggest name of the original movie, Bill Murray, clearly has no interest in being part of this franchise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he asked to be killed off as not to deal with this nonsense again. I understand our want to recapture the past, but the only way to do that – even if Harold Ramis was still alive – is to rewatch the first two Ghostbusters movies. Anything else is bound to disappoint.
Besides, the new cast is fine enough. McKinnon, Jones, Hemsworth, and Strong were all solid performers. Curiously enough, the biggest actors (McCarthy and Wiig) ended up having the blandest characters, but we’ve seen them succeed in other films. It’s a good enough pedigree to proceed into the future. If any sequel focuses on what works/can work more than the controversy and feels comfortable hiring funny women and men (rather than doubling down on its ersatz feminist reputation), there’s more than enough quality actors to welcome into the fold without shoehorning in awkward taxi driver cameos.
4. Make It Fun
The Ghostbusters movies are supposed to be fun. Not socially conscious, not socially just, not a statement about the wage gap, but fun – as it is with pretty much all summer tentpoles. The original is among the best in the genre. The second one was more of the same but without the novelty, and I’d like to believe the 2016 remake wanted to be. But external factors lead to the studio and filmmakers hastily changing the narrative and insulting the audience before we even reached the theater. Once again, get off your high horse and give us a good time.
So what’s next? Now that the genie’s been let out of the bottle and didn’t destroy the world, it’s difficult to believe that Sony won’t try again with more sequels. (After all, they lost Spider-Man. What do they have left?) The Ghostbusters brand is far too potent to simply bury again, so the best we can do is hope something good emerges from it. And there are plenty of places for the franchise to go and ways for it to transform. The prevalence of “reality” ghost shows and long-running fiction shows like CW’s Supernatural and NBC’s Grimm proves that there is clearly some sort of audience for a fun, charismatic ghost investigator series. That’s what Ghostbusters is!
But we can’t forget that the new Ghostbusters will never be Ghostbusters. Nothing can, not even Ghostbusters (see: Ghostbusters 2). There’s a reason the phrase “capturing lightning in a bottle” exists, and the first Ghostbusters is a prime example of that. You’re never going to recapture that vibe and that feeling, and expecting any filmmaker to do so places an unfair burden on them. However, it’s not unfair to expect a movie to actually be genuinely good and do more than coast on the laurels of a 30-year-old brand. Franchises needs to evolve, regardless of the series. Ghostbusters 2016 unfortunately seemed too constrained by the shackles of the past to develop its own identity. The talent is there (though not so much on display), but not until Ghostbusters can break out of its shadow can it be truly worthy of the name. (And it’s certainly not going to do that by playing the Patriarchy Card a second time.)