A Controversial Remake Is Trending On Free Streaming
The word "remake" has become a dirty word to a lot of pop culture fans, but that isn't stopping this flop from having a resurgence online.
The word “remake” has become something of a boogeyman in pop culture discussion. In many ways, it has become shorthand for a lack of creative inspiration in Hollywood, which is a little rich coming from a worldwide audience that shills out billions for chopped and screwed versions of Marvel Comics storylines from the 1980s. However, one remake more than any other raised the hackles of a certain kind of very dedicated pop culture aficionado: Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters. Less than a decade after it was released in a firestorm of online “discussion,” review-bombing, and racial and gender controversy, it has already been papered over by a new Ghostbusters reboot. Despite that, the 2016 all-female version of the beloved supernatural comedy hit is having a streaming resurgence, currently being one of the top ten most watched movies on Amazon Prime Video’s Freevee service.
Ghostbusters 2016 starred Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the new eponymous team of three scientists and one regular person working to contain malevolent supernatural forces from destroying New York City. All four actresses were at the height of their comedic prominence. Wiig, McKinnon, and Jones had all broken out on Saturday Night Live, and Wiig and McCarthy had both starred in Paul Feig’s unexpected commercial blockbuster Bridesmaids. In many ways, it was a no-brainer to cast the quartet in a gender-flipped version of Ghostbusters. They had name recognition, proven box office appeal, and one of the golden name brands in all of comedic film history behind them. So what was the controversy about?
Well, it is complicated and not so complicated. The original Ghostbusters was one of the biggest films of the 1980s, both in terms of box office and cultural permanence. In many ways, it was the apex of the wild, anarchic style of comedy that had begun with National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978. It is strange that a movie that was the crowning height of a comedic wave that prized irreverence and the mocking of authority should itself become revered as a cultural object that could not be defiled with remakes, but that is pop culture for you.
Unfortunately, Ghostbusters 2016 got caught in the crosshairs of the same kinds of people behind the then-recent Gamergate, which is to say, they did not appreciate a movie that had once starred four men now starring four women. Much has been written and said about the experiences of the sole Black member of this version of the Ghostbusters, Leslie Jones, but to put it simply, they were not good.
Six years after Ghostbusters bombed at the theaters despite making $229 million at the box office, it is a little easier to see it for what it is: a fun, flawed movie that is a little too invested in its predecessors to truly stand on its own. Kristen Wiig’s Dr. Erin Gilbert was once the academic partner in the study of the supernatural with Dr. Abigail Yates (Melissa McCarthy) but has put it behind her in order to pursue a tenure track at a stuffy university. However, viewing an actual supernatural experience at a haunted building drives her back to her earlier passion, so along with Kate McKinnon’s quirky tech expert Dr. Jillian “Holtz” Holtzmann and Leslie Jones’ subway worker Patty Tolan, they form a specialized team of like-minded individuals who are interested in the busting of ghosts.
Meanwhile, a nebbishy occultist (Neil Casey) has an elaborate plan to bring about the Fourth Apocalypse, the New York City mayor (Andy Garcia) and his assistant (Cecily Strong) fully support them off the record but denounce them as fame-seeking frauds in public so as not to freak out their constituency, and their himbo of a secretary (Chris Hemsworth, displaying the comedic talent that would soon find full flower in Thor: Ragnarok) has no real interest in answering the phone.
Ghostbusters 2016 is a very funny movie by fits and starts. A scene in which a docent (Zach Woods) claims they could not possibly have spoken to the man (Ed Begley Jr) who asked them to investigate the haunting because he died 15 years ago, only to reveal he inexplicably assumed they meant that guy’s father, is laugh out loud hilarious. Much as in Bridesmaids, the comedic chemistry and connection between Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig is undeniable, as are Chris Hemsworth’s variously brainless, cheery gaffes.
However, this version of Ghostbusters completely and terminally misses that the funniest part of the original is that the team of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson are not good-hearted badasses out to save the world. They are respectively, an opportunistic sleazebag, an absent-minded crackpot, a cold and distant genius, and a guy who just answered a classified ad. That is what makes their eventual heroics both funny and unexpected. Ghostbusters 2016, unfortunately, needs us to like its protagonists, which paradoxically makes the movie just that much less likable. That it then needs to cram in cameos from all living principal members of the original movie with a heavy hand does not help anything.
Still, Ghostbusters 2016 was demonized far more than it (or any movie) should be. Even worse, the toxic discussion that surrounded it likely drove off moviegoers that were not interested in seeing a movie that had become through no fault of its own, a hill to capture in the culture wars. Still, it is good to see it getting a second chance on streaming and hopefully can finally find a cult audience after all these years.