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Movie Review: Ghostbusters Afterlife
Ghostbusters (1984) is not a kid’s movie. Or to the extent that it is it’s by happenstance. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis weren’t thinking of toy lines and Saturday morning cartoons when they wrote a script about schlubby middle-aged men running a startup in pre-Giuliani New York. We loved it as kids because of Slimer, proton packs, Ecto-1, Zuul, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. We were oblivious to the jokes about mortgages and oral sex. It would take years before we appreciated Bill Murray’s charming indifference. Using “we” in this context might be presumptuous. As Ghostbusters: Afterlife shows, some people never moved beyond “proton packs are cool.”
After being evicted, single mother Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) move to Summerville, OK, to live in the farmhouse left by Callie’s recently deceased father, Egon. Trevor lies about his age to get a job at the diner where his crush works. Phoebe doubts she can make any friends. On her first day at summer school, she hits it off with a kid who calls himself “Podcast” (Logan Kim). Guess his hobby. Podcast isn’t the only one that takes a liking to Phoebe. Their teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), is impressed by her scientific knowledge and shares with her the strange seismic activity he’s recorded in Summerville.
Callie makes it clear she was not close to her father. He abandoned her to live on this farm where according to the locals he didn’t grow anything. Is it true the beloved character Egon Spengler from the beloved film Ghostbusters ended up a deadbeat who left his daughter when she was a kid? Say it ain’t so. Maybe his plucky and inquisitive grandchildren will discover his hidden ghostbusting gear and with it the town secrets causing all that seismic activity. It might even turn out a series of supernatural contrivances forced him into that situation, and he actually loved Callie all along.
Liking this movie was always going to be a battle. It (2017) and the first season of Stranger Things exhausted my goodwill for this sort of story. Both of those were good, but I’d be content never seeing another film about tweens and teens discovering the supernatural in small-town America. For the first half of the movie, I was willing to ride along. I might not love it, but I could appreciate it on its own terms. The cast is uniformly good. Their performances individually and the chemistry between them are strong enough to compensate for the script’s deficiencies. McKenna Grace in particular outshines her stock character, i.e., the precocious genius I’ve seen in a million movies and who is nothing like the smart kids I went to school with. The dialogue isn’t hilarious with nary a quotable line, but it is amusing in the way Amblin films and their imitators tend to be.
The elements of an enjoyable movie are here, but writer/director Jason Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan don’t have faith in the material. They plunder every recognizable image from the 1984 original. It’s gobsmacking how dependent the second half of this film is on the iconography of its nearly 40-year-old forebear. The teasers and trailers already spoiled the inclusion of Zuul and Stay Puft Marshmallow Men, but that’s only the beginning. Gary and Callie are possessed by Zuul becoming “the keymaster” and “the gatekeeper” respectively, and to make sure the reference is understood by even the dumbest audience members, their outfits transform into those worn by Louis Tully and Dana Barrett in the original. Who knew Tully’s torn pants and unkempt shirt were a demonic uniform? What deep lore. I CLAPPED BECAUSE I KNOW GHOSTBUSTERS!
Eventually, every original idea is replaced with another reference. A Ship of Theseus for ’80s pop culture nostalgia. For as much as the movie survives on Ghostbusters imagery, it never captures the spirit of that film nor does it even try. Some of my favorite sequels—e.g., Gremlins 2, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and the novel Titus Alone—are defiantly antithetical to their precursors. All three examples alienated huge segments of their fanbase and were commercial disappointments. Gremlins 2 in particular thumbs its nose at the consumerism of the average Hollywood sequel.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, on the other hand, indulges in fandom at its most slavish. Even mundane minutiae are treated with reverence. When Phoebe finds her grandfather’s old uniform, she holds the drab jumpsuit as if it’s a hallowed object. Imagine a sequel to Arachnophobia where Delbert McClintock’s grandkid pulls a “Bugs-B-Gone” hat out of a box in the attic and wistfully holds it up to the light.
And it is so lazy. The movie doesn’t elicit emotions, it hands them out in prepackaged and branded containers. The characters don’t have arcs, they’re just vehicles to relive scenes from another movie. In the final moments, the manipulation becomes brazen. It could not be more naked in its tactics. The remaining three OG Ghostbusters show up just in time. You get a deus ex machina with your hit of nostalgia. Then it gets all sappy about the dead Ghostbuster. They expect you to shed tears over the guy who said the funny line about Twinkies. I’m sure the defense will be that it’s equally a tribute to Harold Ramis as it is to the character he played; “For Harold” appears on screen before the credits roll, after all. If that’s the case, it puts it in the same league as those editorial cartoons that depict recently deceased celebrities kicking back in heaven with other dead celebrities. Sincerity only gets you so far.
I never saw Ghostbusters (2016) and was only ever tempted to out of principle. I didn’t want to judge a movie without seeing it for myself. After watching some in-depth reviews (the best, of course, being Redlettermedia’s), I concluded the odds of it being an unfairly maligned masterpiece, or even tolerable, are so infinitesimal it’s not worth risking two hours of my life. From what I’ve seen of that movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is better. It doesn’t have a color palette so garish it seems a danger to your eyesight, and its cast isn’t the most obnoxious humans in existence who scream their lines. It isn’t an audiovisual migraine until the final 20 minutes. Don’t construe that as praise. Saying your standard for a good film is anything better than Lady Ghostbusters is the same as saying you have no standard for what makes a good film.
Jason Reitman has given us a two-hour genuflexion to a version of Ghostbusters that doesn’t exist. The actual Ghostbusters was creative and unmatched in its dry wit. It was too cynical to be heartfelt or tender. And likewise too cynical and blasé to be mean-spirited. We don’t get movies like it anymore, but we didn’t really get movies like it back then either. It’s in the running for greatest comedy of all time. I didn’t enter the theater with high hopes for this follow-up but was shocked at how awful Ghostbusters: Afterlife is. Sadly I am not shocked by how popular it is. Expect more sequels. The history of the franchise is of failures to live up to the original film. What’s a few more for the pile?Published in Entertainment
I own that movie.
Not by choice. I won it free for setting up an integrated Movies Anywhere account.
I should check again and see if I can delete it. Not much point in watching it.
Thanks for the review. Mostly sad to hear. It sounds like Rise of Skywalker.
An odd and indifferent cynicism is part of the first flick. Murray’s character is dreaming of franchise money, for instance, and bumps the fee up under threat of releasing the ghosts back into the wild. I like that. It’s a bit more down to earth, that tone, apart from the lunacy of bustin’ ghosts.
The lines are just the best, like: “Listen. Do you smell something?” They go by quick and if you’re not paying attention, you miss the fact that the movie is having fun, both with you and itself, if you’re paying attention.
Nice tip o’ the hat to RedLetterMedia – some of the best movie reviews and deconstruction out there, particularly the “re:view” stuff where they unpack an older flick (like their review of Carpenter’s The Thing), and don’t have to rush a review product out in some 30-minute format.
Haven’t seen RoS, but I’ve seen others make the comparison. This sort of fanboy-centric content is here to stay. Cecil Trachenburg who runs the Goodbadflicks YouTube channel dubs it nostalgiasploitation.
My family often jokes my dad only speaks in Ghostbusters lines. There are so many great ones. “Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria!” “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.” “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.” “Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”
I could go on.
I love RLM. They strike such a perfect balance. They can be silly and laid back with their Best of the Worst series, but in their actual reviews they give serious criticism. They’re never pretentious though, or overly analytical and that element of humor is always there. I also appreciate how they can acknowledge and comment upon any controversy surrounding a particular movie, but they don’t get bogged down in the culture war themselves.
They did release a Half in the Bag episode on Ghostbusters: Afterlife which reflects a lot of what I said. Language warning for anyone not familiar with their work.
This ruins it for me. They could have come up with a more reasonable explanation for Ramis’ absence. He was a good guy in the original, so why ruin his character’s reputation?
As someone who once knew every line of the original by heart, I didn’t hate it. Little things, like people blindly and unthinkingly sliding down a fireman’s pole into complete darkness, do irritate me. But, I did giggle at some visual references…symmetrical book stacking and the collection of spores, molds, and fungus. Worth watching once…unlike the hundreds of times for the original.
I thought your review aligned a lot with RLM. Was waiting for you to reference the Crunch bar.
This part stood out to me because that was my concern since that is the way a lot of modern “name brand” movies think about characters and story telling. I am on the fence. I may give it a watch home while I do something else. The trailer looked like they wanted to do a different type of movie but needed a hook to sell people on and decided to use Ghostbusters (transformers came to mind actually). But it actually looks like a breath of fresh air compared to the 2016 one (even the trailer was moderately annoying!).
I have never felt so old as when a character in the trailer said “Your grandfather was a Ghostbuster.”
This is akin to killing Newt and Hicks as Alien 3 begins. They just can’t let us have nice things.
You’re not alone. My sister whose favorite movie is Ghostbusters (1984) enjoyed this new one, and her two kids who were in the theater with us had a great time. I’d appreciate a few of those callbacks if they were kept in the background to please attentive fans, but they lose their specialness when everything in the foreground and the main plot is also calling back to the original film.
Knowing their sensibilities, this is a movie I expected we’d agree on. I was most happy that their review never used their own “I CLAPPED BECAUSE I KNOW [X]” so I could still use that.
The Crunch bar was interesting because I felt like that was a familiar sight from the original and figured it had to be a reference, but couldn’t remember the scene specifically. RLM cleared that up for me.
The trailer indicated they were taking a different route which I would’ve appreciated, but they wanted to eat their cake and have it too. Don’t bait me into a brand new experience only to switch to a retread.
It is definitely less annoying than the 2016 movie. There are elements that are praiseworthy, but I don’t know that there’s a major disparity in their overall artistic value.
Alien Cubed is one of my least favorite films. In theory, there might be a script that justifies immediately killing Newt and Hicks, but it isn’t the one we got.
Well, they did kinda exploit that a bit by having Ripley think Newt might have been “infected” and demanding the autopsy etc. To distract from the reality.
I think the “Assembly Cut” is definitely better than the theatrical version.
Well, from the reviews I have seen, people like it because it is not preaching Social Justice or treating the fans as toxic garbage.
That may be, but it’s not to a high enough degree to make the movie good.
I’ve seen that sentiment and I find it silly, especially since, from what I’ve seen, SJ/Girlpower messaging wasn’t central to Lady Ghostbusters, only being brought up via the occasional aside. The misogynistic backlash thing was more about the discussion around the movie and was conjured up by Sony to distract from the terrible reception of its trailer–the old throw oil on the fire method.
On the other side of the coin, we have Moviebob who definitely has opinions:
Not sure how comparing it to Joe Biden qualifies as even a mild endorsement. If I thought his mind was open even a crack, I’d point out to him that Afterlife stars a girl and two other major characters are female. One of those characters is black, and one of the male characters is Asian. When your only tool is idpol…
That ticked me off almost as much as Ripley with a crew cut . . .
Maybe not, but it’s still not the cluster-whatever that Alien 4: Resurrection was.
I never saw it myself, but didn’t they have the ECTO-mobile in “Lady Ghostbusters?” So it couldn’t have been sitting in a barn somewhere for ~40 years. Maybe that means they’re disavowing the 2016 “movie?”
They are ignoring 2016, which is angering many, including Leslie Jones. They forget that they ignored 1984, and that given the new movie is a sequel to 1984, the fact that they ignored it means that they don’t exist.
Works for me! I am NEVER going to see the 2016 “movie.”
Not in a barn, but in the tiny and rather ordinary-looking parking lot of Airport Cadillac, a specialized body and repair shop for older Cadillacs, across Ocean Park Boulevard from the Santa Monica Airport.
Not that I think this matters, but whoever owns the pipelines of new content for movies – developing ideas into scripts, into flicks, etc, or acquires already-made flicks to distribute in theaters or streaming – seems to largely be missing the mark. I’ll throw lots of dollars at a screen of one kind or another but in the last year or so, when I finally sit down at the end of the day to watch something, I find myself looking at titles on Amazon, Netflix, HBOMax, Marvel, scrolling, scrolling….and shut it off.
I blame myself. But it says something that I’d rather rewatch something I know is good, rather than cycle through the universe of other options, some significant percentage of I know will be underwhelming, to say the least.
I’m simple. I don’t want to have to think too hard after I’ve done what at least approximates that at work for 10 hours. But it’s really unsatisfying lately. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is unlikely to fill this yearning, gaping chasm of entertainment-wanting that occupies the dark corners of my soul, where Gozer lives.
You’re gonna hate me, but I liked Alien: Resurrection. Then again, I also liked Prometheus, for what it’s worth . . .
I don’t watch much TV but when I do these days I like to watch a movie. (This is a change from a few years ago when I only watched 22 minutes of sit-com a day…and barely stayed awake for that.) But having changed to streaming services, I now find that I have to expect at least one preview watching session a week to find a title or two to watch on the weekends. Last week’s gem was Old Henry…and it was a discount rental at $2.99. Bonus.
Great tip! I’ll catch it.
And there is a surprising amount of good stuff from the past that I never saw before. Or if not “good” then at least entertaining. For example, I recently found “Space Truckers.”
I guess I expect more from sequels/prequels. Both had some independent entertainment value, especially the “pretty pictures.” But both were awful in terms of their supposed franchise.