When I first learned about the female-led Ghostbusters reboot (henceforth known as Girlbusters), I was apathetic. There was nothing about the idea that got me either excited or anxious about it – just another reboot, a matter of course. When I next learned about a male-led Ghostbusters reboot (henceforth known as Guybusters) starring Channing Tatum that would be part of an interconnected universe, I was disappointed for various reasons. But when I then learned about a Ghostbusters prequel (henceforth known as Prebusters), I was actually curious. The prequel is what made me believe that this might (read: MIGHT) actually work.
Despite not having a new installment in over two decades, Ghostbusters is still an influential property and one of the best-known comedies of all time. Attempts to restart the franchise have failed time and time again (though a 2009 videogame was well-received and featured the core four, including long-time hold out Bill Murray), but that all changed last year with the announcement that Bridesmaids director Paul Feig would kick-start the franchise with an all-women cast, including Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, and a script co-written by himself and Katie Dippold that is supposedly unconnected to the original two films. One of the most prominent rumors associated with the film was that, unlike the original’s solitary four-man outfit, the reboot will begin with already established Ghostbuster outlets across the world. This month, it was announced that, like every franchise these days, Girlbusters will be part of an interconnected universe with a male-led spin-off. And a prequel. And presumably even more stuff on the way.
Despite my dislike of the interconnected universes trend, this franchise has the potential to establish a more interconnected “interconnected universe” than we have seen before. (Though I fully acknowledge how annoying it must be for Paul Feig and Katie Dippold to be handed the keys to one of the most popular comedy franchises of all time only to learn that the studio set the directions and they have to pick up Channing Tatum along the way.) Instead of linking the films through credit cookies and Easter eggs, the filmmakers can establish a fully integrated post-Ghost world from the start. Instead of having the characters of the individual films be the centers of their cinematic world, they would merely be parts of it. The focus of the larger series and the true interconnection would lie within the world itself rather than in any set of main characters from the various entries.
Even with the world aware of ghosts, Girlbusters can still be a traditional origin story, introducing us to the operations of Ghostbusters, Inc. through a new hire. This can give us basic but necessary insights into Ghostbusters, Inc., the hierarchy, and the supernatural world in which they live. Yes, it’s a very conventional approach (and kind of like Men in Black) and one that would make the film’s Winston Zeddemore the de facto main character, but it would be a simple and possibly successful way of letting us into the world without having to “introduce” the world to ghosts.
Guybusters would be able to get right into the hijinks and delve even further into the mythology without having to re-establish everything. With an entire corporate organization to work in, there could be numerous opportunities for this franchise to establish its own identity apart from the original films. For instance, a Ghostbusters Q-Branch seems all too natural. Additionally, if Girlbusters is inspired by The Walking Dead then the filmmakers might be willing to go deeper into the occult than just having ghosts, a giant lumbering creature crushing Manhattan (twice), and a God-like creature with a wormy lackey (twice).
Finally, once we have a good sense of this universe, Prebusters can let us in on how the world first learned about ghosts and how a struggling team of parapsychologists (though not the ones from 1984) ended up becoming entrepreneurs of a groundbreaking conglomerate. Subsequent sequels can return to these groups or introduce more teams, perhaps even international ones. The Cabin in the Woods already showed that the monsters of different cultures can be successful fodder for horror comedies. Eventually, this can all culminate in some comedy all-star Avengers-style mash-up. I’m not saying this option will work or that it’s the best of all possible angles, but it’s certainly one way I can see the series becoming its own thing without being constantly compared to the original. (And I think not linking it to the original two films is crucial to the success of this enterprise. The original is so iconic and so memorable that trying to make the new ones a retread will carry too much baggage.)
Regardless of the approach the new movies take, the filmmakers would be wise to remember what is arguably the main reason behind the original’s success: it wasn’t so much that the film starred funny people, but that it starred funny people whose chemistry was second to none. The interplay between the main trio became something more than the sum of its parts, which is especially impressive when you consider who those individual parts were. The personal history and relationship of Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray inform the characters of Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, and Peter Venkman. Some of the best parts of the movie are the body language between those three characters, such as the enthusiasm of Ray and Egon versus the lackadaisical attitude of Peter when they’re investigating the New York Public Library or the looks they give when they realize that Ray has thought up the means of their destruction. This type of rapport can only happen when the actors are so comfortable with one another that they know what the other will do next without actually knowing what the other will do next.
This sort of chemistry is hard to pull off, but there are several “groups” out there who can accomplish it to some extent, so it’s time to put on my fanboy hat and play “dream casting” with some of the most obvious choices I can come up with.
People might complain about the constant pairing of James Franco and Seth Rogen (plus Rogen’s writing partner Evan Goldberg), but they genuinely work really well together and have a stable of people who play really well off of them, such as Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson. Based on their previous collaborations (This is the End might be seen a prototype for how they might handle a world such as this), their Ghostbusters could have a strong focus on camaraderie mixed with toilet humor and massive destruction. Alternatively, regular collaborator David Gordon Green might be able to instill the film with the darkness that made him such a strong independent director, but which has been mostly elusive since moving into the mainstream.
For a more “alternative humor” bent, The State/Wet Hot American Summer alumni David Wain, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Showalter instinctively know each other’s beats, and they also have a connection to more marketable “leads” such as Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. Their installment would definitely be a bit more satirical and self aware, but with shows like Childrens Hospital and Newsreaders, and movies like They Came Together, there’s no one better at turning the most conventional genres into something unique and different.
Going internationally, maybe a Ghostbusters UK. . . Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are easily in the top ranks of comedic duos whose pairing makes the other, as well as the movie itself, better. They also have connections to other notables such as Martin Freeman, who also appeared in all parts of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and who himself has a connection to Benedict Cumberbatch, whom we all want to see cast in everything. And, despite his well-known problems with interconnected universes after the Marvel/Ant-Man debacle, it would be quite the geek fantasy to see Edgar Wright in control of the entire affair. Along with having a far more subtle style of humor than the Rogan crew, the Cornetto films (as well as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) are also probably the best action-comedies in years and are obviously as inspired by horror/sci-fi/fantasy as they are by pure comedy.
Yet despite the focus on the new class, there is always a place for the original actors who want to appear – possibly even as the founders of Ghostbusters, Inc., but not as their 1984 counterparts. Television has done similar things in the past (e.g., Richard Hatch from the original Battlestar Galactica on the new Battlestar Galactica, TV’s original Barry Allen/The Flash John Wesley Shipp playing the father to current Barry Allen/The Flash on The Flash), and it’s a good way to acknowledge history without trying to rewrite or be overly devoted to it. Dan Aykroyd would certainly be up for it. He’s attempted to get Ghostbusters III off the ground for years and even tried to get the fires restarted last year before Harold Ramis’s corpse was cold. (Though now that I think about it, between this and Blues Brothers 2000, let’s hope Tom Hanks lives long enough that Aykroyd doesn’t try to come up with Dragnet Again.)