Film News

Sony’s Ghostbusters Gives Us another Excuse to Argue about Shared Cinematic Universes. It Won’t Be the Last Time.

One of the oddest things to come out of the Sony hack last year was the revelation that Channing Tatum was angling to do his own guy-centric Ghostbusters movie with real life best bud Chris Pratt, not as a competing project to Paul Feig’s all-female version but as part of a new shared cinematic universe. He had brainstormed ideas with the Russo brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), who were attached as producers, and was excited about making simultaneously super scary, super funny movies about paranormal investigators saving the world. It was hard for many to take any of that too seriously, not when Tatum’s actual email on the subject read as follows: “Let us show the world The DarkSide and let us fight it with all the glory and epicness of a HUGE BATMAN BEGINS MOVIE. I know we can make this a huge franchise. Fun adventure craziness. COME OONNNN!!!”

The Reportedly “Guy-Centric” Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Gals
Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, McKinnon – The gals getting undercut by the guys?

It turns out that all of that was deadly seriously, funny Tatum emails and all. According to Deadline, Sony is partnering with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd to produce a “guy-centric” Ghostbusters movie to be written by Iron Man 3’s Drew Pearce, directed by the Russo brothers, and starring Tatum, who will also serve as co-producer. This will be part of a new Ghostbusters shared cinematic universe. Paul Feig’s all-female version with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon will start filming this summer and come out July 22, 2016, at which point the Tatum Ghostbusters should already be filming in anticipation of a summer 2017 release.

Out of all that, it was the “guy-centric” part which seemed to instantly annoy everyone yesterday. When discussing it with a friend, we did pretty instantly start cracking jokes about how the team-up film would be like the equivalent of everyone’s first boy-girl dance. We couldn’t wait to see which of the boys would turn out to secretly love dancing, ala Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Of course, as the alpha female of the group Kristin Wiig would be the one to ask Channing Tatum to dance, not the other way around, because that’s how they’ll show us just how progressive these new women are. Maybe they can split the guys and girls up and have them sing updated lyrics for “Summer Lovin” from Grease, Wiig as Sandy, Tatum as Danny Zuko:

snl-kate-mckinnon-castcredit
Age-wise, the 31-year-old Kate McKinnon is probably the more appropriate partner for the 34-year-old Tatum.

The Not So “Guy-Centric” Channing Tatum/Chris Pratt Team-Up

Well, screw all of our “At long last, can’t our Ghostbusters be co-ed?” jokes because Devin at BadAssDigest followed up with several people at Sony who claim to have no idea where the “guy-centric” part came from. He was told the Tatum project is in no way all-male; it will simply have two guys at its center, Tatum and Pratt, whose real life friendship and easy-going rapport has meant they’ve always wanted to do a big movie together. So, “this isn’t a case of ‘everybody wants Chris Pratt in their movie,’ this is a case of these two guys being pals and wanting to make this movie together.” Furthermore, he was told this idea of building a shared cinematic universe has been the plan from the beginning (that’s totally inconsistent with the Sony hack, though), building this as a series of branded supernatural FX comedies with a bit of tonal variety, i.e., they won’t necessarily just be busting ghosts. There will be four total films: Feig’s all-female thing, Tatum and the Russo’s thing, the mandatory team-up, and a prequel of some kind, though don’t expect it to somehow include the original Ghostbusters characters from the 80s. They hope to have a new Ghostbusters movie out every year.

The “Stop Re-Making Movies I Used to Love” Thing

ghost-busters
It’s not like they broke into your house and broke your Ghostbusters DVDs/Blu-Rays in front of you. Those old films remain exactly as enjoyable as they ever were.

So, at this point the new Ghostbusters has gone from one film to multiple films, invoking the “shared cinematic universe” clause which seemingly extends studio executives lives these days. Prior to this point, there was no shortage of op-eds discussing the merits of Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters. I kept arguing if it wasn’t called Ghostbusters we’d probably be pretty excited based on all the talent involved, but by calling it Ghostbusters they dared to mess with nostalgia. The Dissolve’s Nathan Rabin argued that our childhood is not sacred, concluding, “Let’s at least allow the possibility, radical as it may seem, that these new versions of old favorites might be just as good as the movies we loved as kids. Maybe even better, even if they are suddenly full of cooties-carrying girl actors guilty of not being Bill Murray.”

Much like the on-going debate about the inevitability of superhero movie fatigue, the “Stop re-making/re-booting movies/shows I loved when I was a kid!” discussion is one we are going to keep having for years. Risk-averse studios are increasingly reliant upon international dollars which translates, in part, to more of a need for movies which look real pretty and have lots of action because those things can transcend language barriers (just look at what Jupiter Ascending did in China even though everyone in the US seemed to hate it). It also puts an emphasis on backing popular properties everyone knows. If you write about these things for a living you basically just need to write your standard essay on the topic, cut and paste the latest remake/reboot of the moment in your opening paragraph, and call it good, unless your personal opinion on the subject changes. One month it was the Ghostbusters, the next month it was a Chris Pratt Indiana Jones directed by Steven Spielberg, a month later it was a Blade Runner sequel, and then a couple of weeks later it was Neil Blomkamp and Sigourney Weaver’s odd new Alien project.

The Shared Cinematic Universe Debate

Kevin Feige
What hath thou wrought, Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige?

Well, now Ghostbusters has transitioned from simply being part of one trend (the remake/reboot) into being part of another equally monolithic trend (the shared cinematic universe). Marvel has its own thing going, which encompasses both its films and TV shows. Warner Bros. has what fans are calling the DC Cinematic Multiverse, referencing how the live-action superhero movies planned through 2020 will share a universe, the direct-to-video animated movies like Justice League: War and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis share their own universe, and TV shows like Arrow and The Flash have their own universe and future shows like Supergirl and Teen Titans may have their own universes as well. Universal is trying to build up its old movie monsters into a shared universe, and although the first entry out of the gate, Dracula Untold, was a domestic flop it soared to over $200m worldwide on a $70m production budget. There were whispers at one point of doing a Godzilla/King Kong shared universe where the upcoming King Kong prequel Skull Island would somehow relate to last year’s Godzilla reboot, setting the stage for a Godzilla vs. King Kong showdown. Earlier this year, film studio Cinedigm joined the game by announcing a plan to create a 10-film franchise based on the sleaze-tastic 1950s B-movies of American International Pictures like Teenage CavemanGirls in PrisonThe Brain Eaters, and The Cool and the Crazy.

Robin Hood Little John
Would you watch a movie just about Little John?

This isn’t even Sony’s first or second crack at this. They posted a pretty epic-fail with their efforts to build a Spider-Man universe out of the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man movies, the odd cabal of writers hired to shepherd that universe rather quickly scattering, several of them oddly ending up being hired by Universal for its “let’s team up Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein” thing. Then, late last year we discovered Sony was seriously considered doing something called Hood, wherein Robin Hood and his Merry Men – Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett – would be re-envisioned as an Avengers-style team of heroes from England’s Middle Ages, each getting their own solo film in addition to one (or more) team-ups. The Sony hack also revealed they were seriously discussing a 22 Jump Street/Men in Black team-up movie, which may still be on the table. The problem is that this is the age of the franchise, and Sony doesn’t have a lot of those outside of James Bond. So, basically, they’re desperate, and they suck so hard at this that Marvel Studios is bailing them out with their Spider-Man problem.

Someone who’s quite deeply involved with this kind of thing came out last year as being a bit critical of the trend. In a Facebook post entitled Carts Before Horses & Hollywood’s New Love of Shared Universes, Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn argued:

Listen, I love big ass shared universes in movies, as well as huge franchises. But I’m a little worried about the numerous shared universes being planned by the studios, without having a strong base film to grow from – or in some cases, NO base film to grow from. Star Wars had the original Star Wars, the Marvel Universe had the original Iron Man, the Dark Knight series had Batman Begins, even movies like Transformers and Twilight – these were movies audiences loved, and the audiences demanded more from these characters. But these days studios are trying to grow trees without a strong seed. Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them – making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It’s like they aren’t taking audiences into account at all anymore.

I know George Lucas, Kevin Feige, John [sic] Favreau, etc, had ideas where their films would potentially lead in the face of success. But I don’t think it ever got in the way of making that first movie count as if it was the last, of making it something wonderful that people would love whether it led to other films or not.

In short, I think this new business model is flawed. I think filmmakers and studios should be prepared for the big picture, but never, ever let it get in the way of making a single great film. Be a little more experimental and see what works as opposed to trying to force success. And mostly, remember that we as an industry exist to serve the audiences, to communicate with them – they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that’s simply not possible.

Josh-Brolin-as-Thanos-in-Marvel-Cinematic-Universe-2
Maybe having your universe’s big bad establshed as someone who does nothing but sit in his chair as everyone around him betrays him was not the best route to take

That’s coming from someone who was forced to shoehorn several scenes with Thanos and an entire sequence explaining Infinity Stones as a way of connecting his Guardians of the Galaxy to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, although I still loved the movie. The general anti-cinematic universe argument is that they led to films with identical story templates, scenes which serve no purpose other than setting up other franchise entries, largely flat visual designs, and increasingly, sometimes painfully long running times. Gunn’s trying to get at that from the moment of inception. He’s not criticizing the Marvel model, more the idea of clueless studio executives making trend-based business decisions when the content at hand doesn’t actually support a cinematic universe. It’s mostly a game of “Marvel is exempt from criticism because they’re the only ones who truly seem like they know what they’re doing.” There are those, though, who don’t totally feel the same.

The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias argued, “The cinematic universe model is just a boring way to make movies. At a time when studios are desperate to prevent audiences from migrating to their home theaters, they’re ironically embracing a model that’s as conservative and rigidly formatted as a TV show. When movies are made to look the same and work toward the same ends, the add-ons of 3-D, faux-IMAX, and Dolby Atmos just add amplification to stories better suited to living rooms.” His inspiration to write that was to reflect on the recent theatrical run of Dracula Untold. ScreenRant’s Ben Kendrick made the same basic argument last summer, his argument inspired by The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Go even further back and you’ll find plenty of similar arguments made around the time Marvel parted ways with Edgar Wright, seen by many at the time as an indication that the shared cinematic universe model is inherently averse to the type of artistic innovation Wright wanted to bring to Ant-Man. Go even further back and you’ll find those who were predicting failure the moment Sony announced plans to build Venom and Sinister Six out of Amazing Spider-Man 2.  And so on and so on.

ghostbustersnewright
I can’t wait to see which Sony label recording artist gets to cover Ray Parker’s Ghostbusters song for the new movie’s soundtrack

In reality, all this really amounts to is a more coordinated method of franchise-building, a logical extension of long-held Hollywood practices and unavoidable result of “Avengers just made more money than God. How can we rip it off?” For Ghostbusters, that key “base film” Gunn referred to will be Paul Feig’s all-female one, and according to Devin at BadAssDigest the current script’s ending makes a lot more sense when you realize it’s setting up a shared universe. And luckily Sony has Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd behind all of this, grouping them together in a new production company called GhostCorps which will set up shop on the Sony studio lot. Paul Feig and Katie Dippold are great choices for director and writer of an all-female Ghostbusters just as the Russo Brothers and Drew Pearce are people worth getting excited about for maybe more of a buddy-comedy Ghostbusters. So, there are reasons to be optimistic. There’s also your inevitable “Boy, what are they going to do if that Paul Feig movie sucks or is just okay or is actually great yet mysteriously underperforms at the box office? They’ll already be filming the quasi-sequel at that point” worries.

Years ago, I never would have thought that Ghostbusters would somehow find itself intersecting with two of the hottest trends of the moment, remakes and cinematic universes. There are strong feelings about both of those things, and when you add in the unique gender component of the new Ghostbusters, one all-female, another more co-ed but mainly about two guys, it all adds up to utter strangeness. It’s the kind of thing that some people are just going to be inherently incapable of taking seriously, just another familiar Hollywood story that inspires snarky Twitter jokes like, “Instead of making one Ghostbusters movie a year they should film part of one for 12 years and call it Ghosthood.” Yet Paul Feig, the Russo Brothers, Ivan Reitman, Drew Pearce…these are all good people to have behind all of this. There’s a chance that what ends up getting made may not suck, regardless of whichever Hollywood trends it’s a result of.

Sources: Deadline, BadAssDigest

11 comments

  1. I don’t even liked the original Ghostbusters that much, and my interest in a remake is slim in the first place.

    I think what people tend to forget is that Marvel’s shared universe doesn’t come out of the thin air. It is based on countless Comic books which have been written over the decades about an universe with alternative realities and varying storylines. Marvel is now in the comfortable position that they can pick out what worked, disregard what didn’t and then do the transition to the movies. Most of the shared universes which are currently in planning lack this basis.

    I am not against the concept of a shared universe…despite what people like to believe, they have always been around. Star Trek might be the most intricate of them, even though this is more a shared TV-Universe which happens to have some movies connected to it. Babylon 5 tried to get one off the ground, but due to the lack of interest of the producers it ended up happening mostly in books and other tie-in media. The Star Gate universe was up to a good start until it fizzled out. What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe special is mostly that it is above all a Cinematic Universe, meaning that it started out with the movies and then branched out to TV instead of the other way around. That and how fast it grew. Most shared universes are the work of decades, this one was created in five years and immediately caught on. Well, and the level of quality. After all, there even was kind of a shared Universe ages ago with all those monster ensemble movies, but they had a fuzzy continuity and are mostly forgotten nowadays safe for a few gems.

    I am not sure if the whole matter boils down to “Marvel knows what they are doing”. I think it boils down to “Marvel has decided to create a shared universe because it felt right for them for an adaptation to comic books, which are also part of a shared universe, while others decide to create a shared universe because it is the popular thing to do”. Add to this the tendency to rush things – too many studios (*cough* Warner *cough* Sony *cough*) want their Universe NOW and are not ready to do the careful built-up Marvel did.

    There is another thing which Marvel does right: In a way, the MCU is not one big franchise, it’s several franchises which are connected to each other. GotG works as independent movie, as do each of the origin movie, and while movies like The Winter Soldier have a larger impact on the universe as a whole than others have, you can still watch it and understand what is going on without knowing any of the other movies.

    1. “I am not sure if the whole matter boils down to “Marvel knows what they are doing” ”

      I said it elsewhere on the site: Until Marvel has another artistic misstep like Iron Man 2 or financial disappointment like The Incredible Hulk, we have no reason to doubt them because all of our common sense arguments against anything they’re doing are undercut by the ever-present sports-esque argument where you point to the scoreboard (be it financial based like BoxOfficeMojo or critical like RottenTomatoes) for empirical evidence that they clearly know what they’re doing.

      What I am talking about is track record. What you’re getting out is more the specifics of why they have that track record, which is well-argued.

      “the MCU is not one big franchise, it’s several franchises which are connected to each other”

      It’s funny you would say that. In all the interviews with the Avengers: Age of Ultron cast members which went up the day before the new trailer dropped, Hemsworth, Evans, and Downey, Jr. were all asked how this movie would related to their most recent solo films. Every single one of them said there will be some kind of reference, but minimal because they want their solo films to kind of stand alone and then have the team-up movies kind of be their own thing. Or at least they did. Captain America: Civil War is probably going to be so dependent on how Age of Ultron (and Winter Soldier) end that it will struggle to really stand on its own the way some of the other Marvel ones do. So, I don’t know how well they’ll keep this up going forward, but for now it does kind of seem like only Iron Man 2 has been victimized by a need to set-up other movies. A lot of people will point to Hawkeye’s cameo in Thor, or Thanos and the Infinity Stones in Guardians (Heck, I joked about in the article) as being very distracting. Yet none of that really bothered me that much.

      1. Ironically the parts with Nick Fury and the interaction with Coulson are my favourite elements in Iron Man…and since I watched the movie with next to no foreknowledge, the whole “undercover shield agent” thing worked very well for me, too, even though I disliked how much they sexualized Black Widow. It’s all the other stuff, mainly the villains and the running gag with the stupid parrot, which doesn’t work for me. Similar I had no clue who Hawkeye is, so I experienced him turning up in Thor as an element which added to the suspense of the scene (plus, his lines were pretty funny). That’s the advantage if you go into the universe with next to no knowledge about the comics, and lets face it, this perspective is true for most of the audience. To me it is more fun to notice “oh, this is the guy who tormented Loki – ups, he is dead now.” But yeah, I wonder about Civil War, too. Will it span over multiple movies and bleed into the Infinity war, or will it be one movie but show the events of a longer timespan than a couple of days this time around?

        The infinity stones are actually a very clever device, because they can connect the movies without the need to transplant characters. It is kind of fun to keep track of where which infinity stone is at any given time.

      2. ” Similar I had no clue who Hawkeye is, so I experienced him turning up in Thor as an element which added to the suspense of the scene (plus, his lines were pretty funny)”

        Same here. It was kind of like a comic book fan friend of mine could complain, “I hated how tacked-on Hawkeye felt,” to which I would blankly stare and ask, “Who the hell are you talking about?” It was an effectively suspenseful moment of the movie which gave that character a couple of funny lines, not at all distracting me from the drama of Thor being completely humbled by his ultimate inability to lift the hammer.

        “The Infinity Stones”

        You’re absolutely right about those. For those who I think are maybe somewhat predisposed to disliking these types of movies, the Infinity Stones can simply be dismissed as cheap McGuffins, something we’ve seen too many times. However, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a McGuffin, and what Marvel pulls off for its hardcore and general fans is that, like you said, it can be kind of fun seeing the little ways the movies connect and tracking all of the infinity stones, looking online and finding people arguing over whether or not Loki’s staff has an Infinity Stone or if it’s just a magical staff that used to hold the tesseract.

  2. Blegh, this is disappointing and inspires so much boredom and ambivalence in me. They’re remaking Ghostbusters, so Hollywood thought it would be just a fantastic idea to remake Ghostbusters again, after the remake? There seriously has to be something else these producers can do with their time and money. The lack of imagination and incessant looping of ideas never ceases to amaze me. Never.

    1. Believe me, I completely I get that. My initial reaction to the all-female Ghostbusters was less about Ghostbusters and more about a general disillusionment with the increasingly creatively bankrupt world of Hollywood franchise-building. I even found a chart displaying the number of remakes/sequels/adaptations per year from 1981 to 2011:

      https://weminoredinfilm.com/2014/10/10/it-helps-if-you-dont-think-of-it-as-a-ghostbusters-movie-a-reaction-to-paul-feigs-all-female-ghostbusters-reboot/

      I don’t know, though. At this point, I am trying to be more positive about this because, honestly, this is just the direction Hollywood is going right now. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. A fantastic movie like Whiplash still got made, went to Sundance, got a distribution deal, and won 3 Oscars. The next Whiplash may be Earl and The Dying Girl, which everyone was raving about at this year’s Sundance. The point being that there are tons of interesting movies getting made and playing the festival circuit, going straight to VOD, or simply streaming on Netflix. Theaters, on the other hand, are increasingly the homes for big budget blockbusters. So, of course Tim Burton is going to do a live-action Dumbo at Disney just as Sony has its own Ghostbusters shared universe planned. If that’s what Hollywood is going to keep making I’m trying really hard to stop taking it so seriously and just give these movies a chance. I’d really, really prefer that Paul Feig was simply making an all-female action comedy which owes a debt to Ghostbusters instead of flat-out making something called Ghostbusters. Going into development on a follow-up movie focusing more on guys is equally galling. But if you look at the people involved with both of these new Ghostbusters movies I think you can easily make arguments that they both have a shot at turning into perfectly fun movies.

  3. Thinking of some of the franchises which did film back-to-back, like Back to the Future or The Matrix, they didn’t do it immediately after film one – they did it with films 2 & 3. Once they had the solid base, they made their franchise from there. To mixed effect.

    Or some of the more recent strong franchises, like Harry Potter… based on books. Books which also read like, early on, Jo Rowling wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep writing the series. The first book, in particular, reads as a closed system, like it could stand alone. But by the time they got big enough that there were midnight book releases, of course the movies were going to do well, of course you could film back-to-back.

    And by this point, Marvel has earned the audience’s trust to take us along for the ride. It was shaky with films like Iron Man 2, and we won’t talk about the Hulk… but they also aren’t filming back-to-back, more of an overlapping, lots-of-teams approach. It’s its own thing, which is even more what people are trying to copy these days. Which I agree, that sounds REALLY HARD TO DO. And I’m particularly worried about Ghostbusters, because it’s Sony, and they have shown a track record (at least with Spider-Man) of bailing on their franchises.

    1. The Supremes/Phil Collins really summed all of this up:

      Except, you know, it’s not just love you can’t hurry but also film franchises.

      As far as this pertains to Ghostbusters, the Sony association doesn’t help, although they are going through a regime change at the moment. To be honest, when Sony first announced that Orci, Kurtzman, Drew Goddard, and a couple of others had been hired to spearhead a Spider-Man shared universe I was completely discouraged because other than Goddard none of them had made a film I genuinely liked. If that was their braintrust then what faith should we have that what came out of it was going to be worth a damn? That’s the thing’s that totally different for me with Ghostbusters, though, which is although Dan Aykroyd may be ten kinds of crazy now and it’s been a long time since Ivan Reitman has made anything of note those are still two of the original minds behind Ghostbusters going back to when Reitman forced Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to lock themselves away in a bunker and hammer out a workable script. I kind of trust them, and I feel the same way about the people attached to the Tatum/Pratt movie. I really love what Drew Pearce and Shane Black did with that Iron Man 3 script, largely because I have no loyalty to the comic book version of The Mandarin, and I think Pearce could turn in something interesting for Ghostbusters. I know the Russo Brothers through Community and The Winter Soldier. On the other side, Katie Dippold wrote for Parks & Recreation and then the screenplay for The Heat making her an intriguing choice to write the all-female Ghostbusters, and though I don’t actually adore Bridesmaids I do adore Paul Feig’s Freaks & Geeks. So, I’m more optimistic this time because I think there is more brain power behind all of this, even if they are pursuing a flawed model of franchise building and trying too hard to hurry love, so to speak.

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