Courtesy of Movieclips Trailers.
I’ve been wanting to talk about this since the first trailer, i.e. the one above, was released about a month and a half ago. Because while I’m excited for a female-centric Ghostbusters film, especially since I liked the director’s last film, Spy, a lot, it doesn’t seem like people want to give this film a chance. And neither do Sony Pictures, judging by the way they’re promoting it to the masses: “It’s quirky! It’s girls being weird, scientist people! You’ll see it, right?”
I’ll back up and give some context: Ghostbusters is regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi/comedy films of the 20th Century. Released in 1984, it has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and is generally well-loved by people. And how could it not? It’s a movie about fighting ghosts that also happens to be smart, funny and promotes the power of science. It’s so influential that Bob Chipman even made it his pilot episode for “Really That Good”.
Anyway, the prospect of a third entry had been floating around for a while, especially after the disappointment of the initial sequel, before being confirmed in 2014 following the infamous Sony hack. The film had a cast, a director and a release window of Summer 2016. Adding fuel to the fire was the cast being all women, which caused intense backlash. Which leads to the trailer I posted above, much to some serious criticism online. How serious? I’ll be polite and say it could’ve been better.
This brings up the bigger question, one that’s been reconfirmed with the most-recent trailer: is the backlash based in misogyny, or legit disinterest?
Let’s look at the arguments on both sides: firstly, there’s definitely some sexism going on. It’s not the only reason people are against this film, but it’s there. How do I know? Because a video was made reading the reactions in the YouTube comments of the first trailer. If you want proof it exists, here you go:
These never get old. (Courtesy of Shesellssheshells.)
I know this seems too ridiculous to be true, but I buy it. For one, this is YouTube. Garbage nonsense like this pops up all the time in the comments sections of videos. I’m actually amazed it’s not more vitriolic, especially given the people that fester there! And secondly, this guy did his research. He’s the same YouTuber who’s recently dedicated his efforts to ripping apart Cinema Sins’s “Everything Wrong With” videos, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt even if he’d concocted all of those comments as a joke. But my point is that misogyny does exist over this movie’s casting, even if people choose to pretend that it doesn’t.
On the other hand, I’m doubtful it’s exclusively misogyny that’s propelling the hate. For one, not every person, even online, hates women, that’s generalizing. Additionally, the trailers aren’t helping much. I don’t think they’re “the worst ever”, especially since they’ve made me chuckle a few times, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t weird, off-key and with shoehorned references that only make sense if you’re a fan of the franchise. They’re also unbelievably dumb, and not in the charming kind of way. They’re actually off-putting with how stupid they are, and after two failed attempts at trying to sell something that’s not easy to sell, it’s a bad sign.
It’s especially tricky because, ignoring the sexism, there are some solid complaints to be had that are being shut down. That the trailers keep highlighting Pitch Perfect’s style of dumb and offensive jabs at the film’s cast, particularly the black lead, is proof enough. Considering that black actors and actresses still get the short-end of the stick when it comes to casting, it’s sad that a “progressive” film like this one, which had the sense to give four female comedians a shot at fame, thought that racist and obese jokes were worth a chuckle or two. Not to mention, the trailers don’t understand what it means to be respectful tonally, such that Melissa McCarthy, one of the movie’s leads, called the first one “confusing”.
Then there’s the problem of calling out people for sexism when they might not be sexist. The prime example is James Rolfe, aka The Angry Video Game Nerd, who posted a video stating that he wouldn’t be reviewing the movie. Rolfe’s been garnering serious backlash from his critics for sexism, while his defenders have been trying to explain that that’s not the case. I haven’t been too keen on Rolfe in years, having slowly moved away from his work as I’ve become disenfranchised with video games, but for curiosity’s sake I gave his video a watch. And what did I think?
I’m aware James Rolfe has made decisions that’ve irked some of his fans. But that doesn’t mean that Rolfe’s reasoning for not seeing the new movie, that it craps on a film’s legacy, is sexist. Should he have mentioned that this’ll be known as “the female Ghostbusters”? Probably not, even though the movie’s promotional material isn’t hiding that. Is his reasoning for not wanting to give this film a chance lame? Again, probably. But that doesn’t mean that he’s being “sexist”.
I get that the internet likes to blow stuff out of proportion. I also don’t like how a lot of Rolfe’s defenders are also people I can’t stand for…reasons I won’t get into. But if Rolfe should be criticized for crapping on this film, it should be because he’s not giving this movie a fair chance.
That’s the key: “a fair chance”. Remember, trailers can be misleading. The trailers for Inside Out, for example, were atrocious, especially the dinner one, and that movie ended up being awesome. I’d even argue that it’s one of Pixar’s best! But my point is that the trailers shouldn’t be the defining point for a movie that’s not out yet. And yet they are, which is sad given how much the film has to prove to cynics and skeptics.
It’s equally as sad because I don’t think this movie ever had a chance to begin with. Ignoring that the original film’s so well-loved, none of the past attempts at recapturing the magic of it were successful. Even Ghostbusters II, which came out in 1989, was regarded as shamelessly recreating the original. So that this movie is trying again, albeit 32 years later, means that it has a bumpy road ahead. It’s not like reboots haven’t worked before either, I’ve been loving the Planet of the Apes films lately, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less bumpy.
Then there’s the additional angle of preference. I didn’t grow up with Ghostbusters as a kid, having been born 6 years after it came out. I’d heard of it from people old enough to remember it, and had even seen bits and pieces here and there on TV as a child, but it never stayed in my consciousness like, say, Toy Story or the Disney Renaissance films did. I didn’t get a chance to sit down and watch it in its full glory until recently on Netflix, and while I enjoyed it…it didn’t click with me. The jokes didn’t always land, the pacing was erratic, some of the visual gags and effects looked really dated and the finale was underwhelming. I respect what it did for American film, and I even appreciate its ideas, but it’s not what I’d consider a “masterpiece”.
Maybe that’s why I’m more hopeful. Ignoring the female spin, I think this is a cool premise with a lot of potential. Ghosts are a universally-feared concept by kids, while adults can easily read into them as a metaphor for whatever kinds of paranoia we have. Plus, it’s escapist fantasy! Who doesn’t love a little bit of that?
But that doesn’t mean that the criticism isn’t there. Is some of it sexist? Yes. Is all of it sexist? No. And it’s important to differentiate between the two, as opposed to going on a witch hunt and alienating people who are doing nothing wrong. I only wish the internet understood this, instead of me having to write a blurb that’d most-likely be misconstrued anyway…