Thoughts on Sony’s Other New ‘Ghostbusters’ Movie From a Lifelong ‘Ghostbusters’ Fan
Just a few weeks after the announcement that Paul Feig would be directing a reboot of Ghostbusters starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, Sony revealed plans for even more Ghostbusters films. The first and most prominent of these will be a movie intended to star Channing Tatum (who is on-board as a producer) and Chris Pratt, with Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Community) producing and potentially directing, and Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) writing the screenplay.
Despite widespread reporting referring to this as a “guy-centric” project, Badass Digest later confirmed that this second offering will neither be all-male nor is it even being designed for a male audience—rather, the team of Tatum and Pratt is the driving force behind the project. Furthermore, Feig’s lady-led Ghostbusters would serve as the basis for an entire universe of movie sequels, television shows and other Ghostbusters media. Even so, fans of the reboot idea have had some reservations. I previously laid out what I hope to see in Feig’s film, and now I’ve got a few thoughts on why my positive outlook hasn’t changed.
The franchise rights alone …
Part of what made a female-led Ghostbusters exciting was the idea that the film could prove that the concept and iconography of the series didn’t have anything to do with gender. For many, there’s no justification for putting a second Ghostbusters film in production alongside the reboot, outside of the prevailing feeling that Sony must not have faith in what Feig is doing. While that’s a perfectly logical takeaway (and not necessarily inaccurate), Sony’s sudden roll of the dice probably has more to do with the fact that Ghostbusters is a franchise that is both one of the studio’s most valuable properties and arguably the one they’ve least been able to capitalize on.
When director Ivan Reitman, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis signed deals for Ghostbusters II, their contracts contained a unique clause: no further Ghostbusters movies could be made without the consent of all four parties, and Reitman had to be offered the chance to direct. The result was a gridlock on Ghostbusters sequels that lasted 25 years when nobody could fully agree on a script. It was only following Ramis’ passing in 2014 that Reitman stepped down from the director’s chair, opening the door for Feig to reboot the series. A reboot also released Murray from any obligation in participating, and his approval of Feig’s cast gave him a reason to sign off on it.
Badass Digest’s report says the Tatum/Pratt film isn’t the only movie in the pipeline: there’s also a third film that would see both sets of new Ghostbusters teaming up (anyone using Feig’s film being a reboot to hide their sexism will need a new excuse, as they’re set in the same clean-slate universe), as well as a prequel (about what, nobody knows; maybe it will be an origin story about the ghost in Ray’s Civil War sex dream from the original).
It’s obvious from their plan that Sony, which recently ceded some creative control over Spider-Man back to Marvel, would like their own cinematic universe, and they’ve decided Ghostbusters is their best candidate (if not the only one). With Reitman and Aykroyd on board as producers of both films, the roads are finally clear for the studio to make all the Ghostbusters movies they can dream up, and they’re not hesitating. Considering Marvel’s the only studio so far to make an elaborate multi-movie “universe” work, some skepticism toward this business model is understandable.
Still, even ignoring the business advantage to more movies, more than one ghostbusting business also fits comfortably within the premise of the original series. Story concerns are probably the least of people’s worries, but the blue-collar nature of ghostbusting has always lent itself to the possibility of “departments” in every city (a thought that no doubt drives the numerous fan teams who make public appearances at conventions and events in full Ghostbusters regalia)—they even work out of a firehouse. Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston have enough trouble just busting the ghosts in New York City, much less the rest of the country.
I’d have been thrilled if the Feig-led reboot was the only Ghostbusters project on the table, and I can’t stress enough that I understand where people’s anger is coming from. That said, as long as the new project genuinely isn’t dude-centric, with female characters who are both funny and fully realized and not just girlfriends or victims, then I see no reason why Feig’s movie couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t be a jumping-off point for multiple storylines.
Despite the possibility of non-sexist reasons for bustin’ suddenly making Sony feel real good, many still see the new project as undermining Feig’s reboot thanks to the timing of the announcement. The one-two punch of an early, unexpected announcement (the new film doesn’t start filming until June) and the misconception about the cast certainly position the movie like a mea culpa to the legions of bitter fanboys upset that their franchise now has two X chromosomes.
Shake-ups at Sony are also afoot: Amy Pascal, who greenlit the project, is currently in the process of stepping down as CEO of Sony Pictures to run a different branch of the studio following last year’s hacking scandal. Sony’s new CEO is Tom Rothman, previously in charge of 20th Century Fox. Not only does Rothman have a history of rushing projects into production before they’re ready to go (for instance, he hired Brett Ratner for X3: The Last Stand instead of waiting for X2 director Bryan Singer to finish Superman Returns), but it’s common in Hollywood for a new regime to dump the decisions of the old one.
In truth, there’s plenty of evidence that this new film is not a “response” to Feig’s project, but its companion from square one. News of a Tatum/Pratt Ghostbusters project first surfaced months ago as part of the leaks, and not to mention Aykroyd recently told multiple outlets (including Howard Stern) that more than one Ghostbusters film was in the works. To be fair, Aykroyd’s been promising fans a new Ghostbusters movie since at least 2005, so perhaps it’s no surprise that his updates on development were taken with a grain of salt.
As for Rothman, the Russos are already committed to directing Captain America: Civil War, which is slated to start filming next month, meaning there’s no way the Tatum/Pratt film could be fast-tracked through production. Additionally, Reitman says he and Pascal developed the idea of multiple movies together over a year ago, so neither concept is Rothman’s baby.
Filming for the new movie is slated for summer 2016, after the Russos’ press tour for Civil War ends … which also happens to be when Feig’s Ghostbusters will hit theaters. Coordinating the announcements better would’ve made a huge difference in terms of public perception, but given that this second project won’t go forward until Feig’s is already in the can, it feels premature to worry about one hurting the other. Aykroyd and Reitman are even serving in the same creative capacity on Feig’s movie as they are on the Russos’, and Reitman insists the new film “grows out” of the other—so nobody involved has any reason to shoot themselves in one foot to highlight the other.
You said crossing the streams was bad!
Yesterday’s announcement has already inspired a number of passionate reactions, including Scott Mendelson at Forbes and Sam Maggs at The Mary Sue, and there’s no question that the reboot felt like more of a bold move as a stand-alone project than it does within a larger framework. Concerns about how Sony is handling these movies are neither unwarranted nor unreasonable.
That said, the biggest contributing factor to the reboot gaining a ”lesser than” or “second class” reputation might end up being the fact that the worriers are currently the loudest voices in the room. In a perfect world, Feig’s reboot would’ve been given the chance to gain its own identity (possibly even getting a trailer) before the curtain was pulled back, but insisting he’s already been derailed is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The feeling that Feig’s been screwed over is already dominating the public narrative about his movie, which—as these same people will remind you—hasn’t even been filmed.
Look at it another way: If Ghostbusters is going to become a “cinematic universe,” then Feig’s film is still the central hub from which that universe will spring. Marvel used Iron Man as an inception point for what is currently a 12-film franchise, and nobody would argue Tony Stark feels like less of a character than his more “comic-famous” teammates Captain America or Thor. Admittedly, that’s a best-case scenario, involving male characters (or an only-case scenario, franchise-wise), but in any case, Sony’s still got all their cards resting on the success of the reboot—if it’s a flop, the rest of the plan will almost certainly go on the back burner.
Frankly, this announcement makes the Ghostbusters reboot even more important than just a rare summer tentpole movie starring women. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones will not only get the opportunity to open a multimillion dollar effects comedy based on one of the most beloved contemporary comedies, but they’ll also be the core of a franchise iceberg.
Instead of worrying about what the new movie does to Feig’s project, that energy should be redirected toward Pearce and the Russos, who now have a responsibility to take what Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold are setting up with their movie and play off it in a way that not only makes sense but doesn’t ignore the significance of the starting point that story is growing out of. There’s an opportunity here for the future Ghostbusters franchise to be as progressive as the reboot, and that’s nothing to sniff at. That may be wildly optimistic thinking, but it’s hard to see pessimism doing anything but damage.
A friend of mine on Twitter commented yesterday that Wiig and McCarthy dropping out in protest would be a “punk rock move.” Nonsense. Even if this new development really is an intentional slight against the previous project, it’s ridiculous to think a world without an all-female Ghostbusters slated for 2016 would be better than one with it, regardless of the circumstances.
Women’s representation in big-budget movies actually managed to drop last year, so it’s no surprise people are on edge about it. This isn’t to say women should be blindly grateful for any opportunity, just that assessing the pros and cons of the situation and making the best of it are two different things, and that the parameters of what will make Feig’s movie successful, creatively and culturally, haven’t changed in the last 24 hours.
A film’s reputation as a sinking ship can be hard to shake, and labeling Ghostbusters one of those doomed vessels prematurely would be a huge mistake. Caveats aside, the bottom line is that Sony is still making the same female-led, Paul Feig-directed Ghostbusters film they were making yesterday, and it’s still a big deal.