As of the time of writing this article, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters remake has received a positive 74% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The aggregate critical consensus seems to think it is a fine but not great movie. For very vocal fans of the 1984 original, this is not negative enough. The all-female Ghostbusters remake has been a subject of a lot of controversy over the past months. For some Ghostbusters is hallowed ground, a seminal movie of the Eighties that can never be made again. And unfortunately, accusations of sexism have only made the entire discussion around Ghostbusters toxic. A standard Hollywood remake has ended up an obnoxious front of the twitter cultural war.
The result is fans claiming the critics are wrong without even seeing the film. It is a patently ridiculous position to take. There is a huge difference between “I do not want to see the movie” and “It is a bad movie.” It is a difference many people cannot understand. Currently, IMDb has given Ghostbusters (2016) a 4.1 out of 10, thanks to spammers hitting the site with scores of 1 out of 10. These people are not voting to help out fellow moviegoers decide what movie they might enjoy. It’s about what movie people should enjoy. Even ignoring the red button claims of “sexism,” it is an ugly situation.
Not being a professional critic myself, I have not seen Ghostbusters (2016), so I cannot say whether the movie is good or bad. But when it comes down to deciding if I should see the movie, I’m going to trust those who have actually seen it.
In March, the exact opposite situation occurred with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Most critics savaged the movie. But DC comic book fans did not want to hear negative criticism for the epic brawl between their favorite costumed heroes. People were saying that the critics were shills for Marvel, they don’t understand superhero films and other such nonsense. Turns out Batman v Superman was hardly the best movie of 2016, to put it mildly. And fast forward to this week, same story, different movie.
It is common enough for fans of a franchise to ignore the critical reception and make movies a success anyway. All four Transformers movies were negatively received but made billions. Despite critics using the Twilight Saga films as their own personal punching bags in review after review, those movies had an unshakable fanbase. It did not matter what the critics said, or even what was on the screen, these people would love the movie no matter what. If those fans got something out of the twelve or so dollars they put down on their tickets, that’s what matters. Screw everybody else. But Ghostbusters (2016) is one of those rare times we see anti-fans raging against the critics.
A lot of this has come down to a difference between what the fanboys and the critics want out of the new Ghostbusters. For some, any new Ghostbusters, no matter what the movie, is criminal enough. Harold Ramis died two years ago, killing the old franchise forever. Fans can never have the new movie that would fit the spirit of the original. No movie can repeat the success of the 1984 film with Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson. This remake, no matter the content, is instantly added to the league of failed ’80s remakes like RoboCop, Red Dawn, and Total Recall.
I sympathize with these people to a point. They were manipulated by incredible forces of marketing that made Ghostbusters something important and personal to them. The franchise has been a cruel lover to these people. It sold them gross Ecto Cooler drinks, a terrible NES game, and mountains of expensive toys. All that rampant consumer tribalism that was pounded recklessly in their young minds. Franchises have built generations of hyperfans, an entire culture of nerddom. The nerddom is now biting the franchises back. The marketing wanted this cohort of ’80s children to make Ghostbusters part of their childhood, part of their identities. Now that Ghostbusters has moved on, where are these fans left?
But on the other hand: 2016’s Ghostbusters is not trying to replace 1984’s Ghostbusters. It makes that clear specifically with the casting. The all-female team of Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon is not just a gimmick to score Diversity Points. It is a signpost saying, “This is not the old Ghostbusters. We are not trying to be the old Ghostbusters.” And ultimately, maybe there is room in this world for two kinds of stories involving blue-collar schlubs capturing wacky ghosts in New York City? Even if the comedy is more about Leslie Jones shrieking and Kristin Wiig getting ectoplasm in female parts than Bill Murray’s dry sarcasm, that new comedy might actually be funny.
The 1984 Ghostbusters still exists and you can always see it another 10,000 times. The sanest thing for a huge fan of that movie to do is just ignore the remake. Their toys can be played with, their NES games are still just as awful, and their memories are as good as ever. Why can’t they share the franchise? In the end, we ignored those awful reboots of RoboCop, Red Dawn, and Total Recall. (Did you remember that Bryan Cranston was the bad guy in the Total Recall remake? Bet not.) The originals are untainted by them. Nothing is going to replace 1984’s Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters II didn’t replace it. The underrated 2001 film Evolution didn’t replace it. This won’t either.
There are arguments to be made that Ghostbusters (2016) simply is a bad movie. Already, critics like Eric Kohn of IndieWire and Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times have made them. But those opinions are legitimate because they actually saw the movie. When the Angry Video Game Nerd refuses to see the movie out of some kind of principle, his opinion no longer matters to anybody but himself. He is not a sexist GamerGate nutcase. He is, as far as I know, a happily married man with a daughter he loves. But James Rolfe is also not judging Ghostbusters (2016) on what it is, he’s judging it on what it isn’t.
Perhaps, if you step into the theater without baggage, without Bill Murray’s best lines floating through your head, you can enjoy Ghostbusters. Maybe you won’t love it. Maybe it won’t even be as good as the original. But the movie just might have worth beyond all the hate and name-calling the internet has surrounded it with.