Wanted: Four women to save the world

HOLLYWOOD – In 1989, “Ghostbusters II” was released in theaters where it did well in terms of profit, less so in terms of critical response. Reviews didn’t matter, though — the original 1984 film was so popular that fans couldn’t wait to see a third sequel.

They waited. And waited. Various scripts were written, but due to a number of setbacks, “Ghostbusters III” never materialized. In 2014, 25 years after the sequel was released, it was announced that a new “Ghostbusters” film was on the way, with Paul Feig as director and the four lead roles to be played by women.

A lot of people took issue with the idea of an all-female cast, even though the roles are played by a talented batch of comedians: Melissa McCarthy (as Dr. Abby Yates), Kristen Wiig (as Dr. Erin Gilbert), Leslie Jones (as Patty Tolan) and Kate McKinnon (as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann).

When the trailer for the new “Ghostbusters” was released on YouTube, it quickly became the most disliked movie trailer in the website’s history (it currently stands at 285,728 likes to 993,535 dislikes). Anonymous Twitter users, video game bloggers and even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump couldn’t contain their outrage.

“The rejection was stronger than anyone would have thought. It got out of hand,” Jones, 48, tells The Japan Times. “Those guys seriously need to get a life … those men are dinosaurs.”

McCarthy puts a positive spin on the angry reactions: “It is surprising how vehement some opponents are. On the other hand, controversy usually helps — and big-budget summer movies need all the help and promotion they can get, competing against each other.

“I take it as a badge of honor. We’re women, supposedly breaking the rules. I like women who challenge and break dumb rules.”

With all the negativity, it came as a pleasant surprise that, when the film was released overseas, the reviews weren’t that bad. The New York Times’ review headline read “Girls rule. Women are funny. Get over it,” while The Guardian said, “Fanboy ire can’t stifle the defiant energy — and frequent hilarity — of this terrifically inventive comedy.”

More importantly, however, when the cast attended premieres, they encountered many little girls in brown jumpsuits and carrying proton packs who were ready to battle some evil spirits.

“It can’t be overstated how much girls still need positive and powerful role models,” McCarthy, 45, says on the importance of women in “savior roles” in film. “If that fits into terrific entertainment, so much the better. And if some old-guard anti-feminists dislike this positive change, that’s just too bad. They’d better start getting used to it and to women at the very top — and sooner than they think!”

McCarthy adds that it is rather daunting going into the remake of a film that was incredibly popular the first time round. Part of the reason she did it was because of Feig, who helmed the film behind her own breakthrough performance in the 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids,” which also catapulted Wiig, 42, into movie stardom.

McKinnon, the junior member of the quartet at 32, says Feig is a natural storyteller.

“He’s known for pushing female characters on screen, and not for the sake of it — though there’s nothing wrong with that,” she says. “It’s also because women behave in a wider diversity of cinematically interesting ways. I don’t think Paul ever took time out to figure out how to retool this for women or how to draw a male audience, etc.”

Feig has also brought back some of the stars from the first “Ghostbusters,” but not in their original roles. Look out for cameos by Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. However, though much of the cast was on hand, the four stars of the reboot didn’t base their own characters on them.

“I’m all-new, and I’m pretty sure the guys back in ’84 were younger than most of us, which makes ’em more like boys,” says Jones, who adds she didn’t want to copy the four men in the original film. “We’re women, honey.”

Wiig adds: “You can watch a movie before doing a remake, but when you switch the starring genders I think there’s less point to it as an acting source. I mean, I’m not going to ape Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd, and how could I? If anything, I think we probably each derived some inspiration from the guys’ camaraderie.”

Speaking of inspiration, and many young girls reaching out to the female leads to convey their gratitude, who are the people that these actresses look up to? The conversation naturally turns to comedians such as Joan Rivers, Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin. Wiig also mentions, “any female scientist or Nobel Prize winner,” after which Jones pipes in with, “our first lady president, hopefully!”

McKinnon breaks with the group to give a nod to one of the original Ghostbusters.

“Bill Murray on (U.S. comedy sketch show) ‘Saturday Night Live’ was so inventive and droll,” she says. “His sketches still hold up great, and then he goes on to do so many stand-out features — not all of them comedies, though that wry little half-smile is never far away. I admire that Bill is known to often reject the obviously commercial, but he did choose to come aboard (this film) and thereby lend us his support. He was super fun to work with.”

In an interview with Variety magazine, Murray, who played Peter Venkman in the original, said he worried that not being a part of the new “Ghostbusters” film may somehow be interpreted as a sign he disapproved, and he wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case. Aykroyd, who played Ray Stantz, is also very supportive.

“This new ‘Ghostbusters’ is fun,” he says. “It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s impressive — with effects we didn’t have in the ’80s — and it stands on its own.”

Wiig is appreciative of both actors’ participation in the new film.

“Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were very generous in their vocal and moral support,” she says. “They were, and are, rooting for us. I think there’s an unspoken understanding that crafting successful comedy is more difficult than successful drama. We all tend to cry at the same few things, the world over, but humor is very subjective.”

“This movie is scary for kids and it’s visually impressive, but I think what will carry it — across the globe and across audience divisions — is the humor,” McCarthy adds. “That and the sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, but very real to life push and pull of the four women supporting each other and pursuing their individual and collective passions — while they save New York City from a fate that’s literally worse than death!”

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