Feig himself has conceded this point. Talking to WIRED for our most recent issue, the writer-director said “Amy Pascal, who was then head of Sony Pictures, was the one who kept pushing: ‘Why don’t any of you comedy guys want to touch this?’ I was like, ‘Because Ghostbusters is canon!’” At the time Pascal was pushing for a sequel, and Feig thought that by making it a reboot with a new cast, he could keep it fresh, In that, he has succeeded—but he was also right about the canon part. Ghostbusters (1984) is seared into the moviegoing consciousness, and Ghostbusters (2016) no matter how brilliant, was never going to get a chance to live up to it.
The word “nostalgia” comes from the Greek words “nostos,” which means “to go home” and “algos” or “pain,” but a little over a century after it was coined, Immanuel Kant noted that “home” in this case wasn’t about going to a place, it was about going to a time—a time when we were young. Feig is a great filmmaker, he just can’t make it 1984 again.
I’m not, like this guy, convinced that Ghostbusters is sacrosanct, that a reboot doesn’t deserve a chance. That’s ridiculous. It’s…well, it’s Ghostbusters. It’s not Citizen Kane. It’s not even the Citizen Kane of movies about fighting ghosts and demons. That’s probably The Exorcist orPoltergeist—neither of which is a comedy, but both of which have also been rebooted, and at least one of which let a woman take on the apparitions. But I digress. (I’m also kidding, but something about this new Ghostbusters has made it impossible for anyone to take a joke.)
So where does that leave this new Ghostbusters? Unfortunately, it leaves it in a situation that’s impossible to win. Much like this summer’s other much-maligned reboot,Independence Day: Resurgence, it’s a good movie that on its own would’ve been perfectly good popcorn fare, but since it’s standing atop a wobbling book stack of fan nostalgia and expectations, it has to fail. No gags would be funny enough, no casting perfect enough, to do what that first movie did. No one knew what they were in for then. It was hilarious because it was so weird and unexpected. Fans know what to expect this time, and unless each theater this weekend comes equipped with a DeLorean to take us back to our 1984 selves, the way you felt when you walked out of that firstGhostbusters will remain unmatched.
Does that mean Feig’s version won’t be awesome? Absolutely not. Watching Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig read back your Little Caesars delivery order would be funny. The fact that we’re calling on them for more than pizza means there will be laughs. But if anyone goes in expecting the same tingles they got watching the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man fall at the hands of four jumpsuited dudes with proton packs, they’re going to be disappointed. This happened with Total Recall. It happened with any of the recent Terminator movies. It even happenedwith Ghostbusters II, for Zuul’s sake.