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Friday, November 19, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife


Ghostbusters: Afterlife
has been made by people who don't just view the 1984 original movie as a classic, but apparently as Holy Scripture.  It has such a sense of reverence for the past, you can almost hear the filmmakers going "oooh" and "aaah" when the movie gives us its first glimpses of throwbacks such as the Ecto 1 car, the Proton Packs, or how the movie score heavily samples from the original by the late, great Elmer Bernstein.  This is a movie with its heart on its sleeve, and a respect for the original that borders on worship.  What it never gets close to achieving is creating a sense that we are watching anything new.


The film is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two Ghostbusters movies in 84 and 89, respectively.  Heck, Jason even has some personal history with the earlier films, as he appeared briefly as one of the kids in the birthday party scene at the beginning of the second one.  Apparently, Ivan Reitman has wanted to do a "passing of the torch" film to a new generation of heroes since the 90s, but various things (the lack of a script everyone could agree with, studio politics, and Bill Murray wanting nothing to do with it for the longest time) kept the idea at bay.  Then there was the reboot back in 2016 which, despite practically burning down the Internet with the controversy it created, no one really remembers today.  So now, the job has fallen into the hands of Jason Reitman to give the return to the original franchise that fans have seemingly spent decades asking for, and he apparently saw this not just as a job, but a Higher Calling of sorts.

The director has gone on the record saying that this is the ultimate Easter Egg movie, and fans can expect to see a large number of references and call backs to the original.  Oddly enough, the movie seems to be pretending that Ghostbusters II never even happened, aside from a scene set in a bookstore that fans will recognize from that one.  Regardless, you can't blame the guy for false advertising, as this is essentially a visual love letter to the universe his father helped create over 35 years ago  The movie has a warm, retro feel, but in some strange way, it sort of seems to be the wrong kind of retro feel.  Rather than emulating the tone of the original movie, he seems to be drawing most of his inspiration here from Steven Spielberg films of the same era.   The movie follows a group of kids, two of whom have a personal connection to the past, who get roped into having to save their town, and eventually the world, from the return Gozer the Gozerian, whom the original Ghostbusters seemingly defeated back in 1984.

This is fine, save for the kids have been given no personality whatsoever, and basically contain a single character trait to set them apart.  Phoebe (McKenna Grace), the unofficial leader of the junior heroes, is a nerdy outcast with a love for physics, science and bad jokes.  Her brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), is mechanically skilled, and fixes the beat up old Ghostbuster car when he uncovers it.  Lucky (Celeste O'Connor) is a pretty girl who works at the local diner, and is the daughter of the local Sheriff.  She seems to be Trevor's love interest, but the screenplay forgets to give them any meaningful dialogue or scenes together.  Finally, there is Phoebe's classmate Podcast (Logan Kim), who yes, hosts a podcast about the paranormal and the unexplained.  It's bad enough for a script to name one of its main characters after their sole character trait, but to give them no other defining feature or quality borders on a kind of laziness unheard of, even in blockbuster event movies.

Rather than flesh out its new heroes into characters we would love to see in continuing adventures, Ghostbusters: Afterlife instead drops them into the exact same plot from 1984.  Gozer is coming, there's an appearance by the Marshmallow Man, who now appears as tiny little replicas who talk and act like the touring road show version of the Minions from the Despicable Me movies, nobody believes the kids talking about ghosts and they wind up in jail, the Gatekeeper and Keymaster must find human hosts so that Gozer may return, and find them in the form of Phoebe and Trevor's mom (Carrie Coon) and Phoebe's dorky science teacher (Paul Rudd), and there's a big apocalyptic showdown.  The movie recycles the exact same ideas, images, and themes as before, and if that fails to dig up the nostalgia, the characters will sometimes watch clips of the original movie on YouTube.  

Maybe this wouldn't matter so much if what little new here was interesting, but much like the kids, the adults basically have been written as simply as possible, so as not to get in the way of adding more callbacks to the first one.  The two main adults, the mom and the teacher, are given such simplistic characteristics as to be laughable.  The mom is so uninvolved in the lives of her two kids that she may as well not be there for most of the movie, save to sarcastically flirt with the teacher from time to time.  As for the teacher, he is revealed to be a huge buff of the original Ghostbusters team, and recognizes their equipment when Phoebe initially digs it up from the hidden room under the house they have moved in.  The movie seems to be building him up to be a mentor of sorts to Phoebe, until he too disappears, until it's time for him to fill the exact same role Rick Moranis did in 1984.  He also doesn't actually teach his class, and instead shows them old horror movies from the 80s like Cujo and Child's Play.  Why?   Just more nostalgia, I guess.


I have nothing against how Ghostbusters: Afterlife pays immense respect to the original, but you also have to give the audience a sense that you're giving them something new, and I never got that feeling here.  This gives the movie an odd tone that feels warm and nostalgic, yet strangely mechanical at the exact same time.  Jason Reitman has clearly honored the work of his father, but he has given us nothing to grasp or look forward to.  Reitman seems to be chasing his own personal ghosts, and while he digs up some nice memories, he forgets to give us a reason to care about the now.

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