When word arrived last year of plans for a new "Ghostbusters" starring four very funny women, it was a given the quartet would be battling memories of the original two flicks in addition to ectoplasmic ghouls.
That's a tribute to the impact of a sci-fi comedy movie franchise whose fans exercise feelings of ownership akin to the sequel-prequel-and-reboot-suspicious "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" faithful.
But wariness turned worrisome in the spring when the first “Ghostbusters” promo set a record for the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube history – part of an online torrent of fury directed at the cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.
Now the movie arrives Friday with a mission that's expanded from busting ghosts to stomping trolls.
The Internet backlash slimed the lead-up to the summer's most anticipated movie comedy. But it's far more troubling that much of the anger, like the harassment plaguing women in the video gaming industry, appears driven by an insidious strain of misogyny, as if the “Ghostbusters” revival were somehow were a threat to men.
We're witnessing the viral version of the largely hidden animus Jerry Lewis exposed in 1998 when he essentially declared women aren't funny. Lewis' comments weren't only nasty, they were untrue – which he should have known as a performer whose considerable heyday coincided with the rise of peers stretching from Lucille Ball to Joan Rivers to Carol Burnett.
Advanced age isn’t an excuse, but Lewis’ unfortunate stance (from which he eventually backed off somewhat) could be chalked up to an old man’s ramblings – as opposed to the venom spewed anonymously, presumably by knuckleheads young enough to be his grandsons and great-grandsons.
They’re all out of touch with a refreshing comedy wave that began with Tina Fey’s ascension to head writer of “Saturday Night Live” in 1999, helping buoy the likes of Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Mindy Kaling and Samantha Bee, among others. Bee’s former “Daily Show” colleague Jessica Williams recently left to start her own show on Comedy Central, where she’ll join Amy Schumer and “Broad City” duo Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson in a growing young and female talent pack.
“SNL” also gave us Wiig, whose 2011 gut-buster “Bridesmaids,” proved women could produce box office-friendly gross-out humor. The new “Ghostbusters” reunites her with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig and co-star McCarthy, who has become one of movie comedy’s biggest draws. Jones and McKinnon, meanwhile, are two of the most reliable ”SNL” laugh-getters these days.
Tapping “SNL” for talent worked for the original 1984 “Ghostbusters,” in which show alumni Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd teamed with Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson to buck the odds by successfully melding fantasy, action and comedy.
Wiig, McCarthy, Jones and McKinnon clearly ain't afraid of no trolls. They know their job isn’t to make some insecure jerks feel better about themselves or uphold the supposed sacredness of a 32-year-old comedy classic that mined humor from the absurd. Their job is to make us laugh – and hopefully share a last laugh themselves.