Ghostbusters is great
I grew up LOVING Ghostbusters. As a kid I’d walk around all the time in my Ghostbusters jump suit with proton pack and ghost trap, pretending to rid the house of spooks, specters, and free roaming vapors. My entry to the franchise was the “Real Ghostbusters” cartoon, which for the first 3 seasons or so holds up surprisingly well for 80’s kids entertainment (GI Joe does not.) Which as all to say, I am pre-disposed to like Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
The movie did not disappoint. I went opening night, laughed a lot, wowed at some of the scenes, felt the feels a little, and had a great time with my 9 year old. If you liked the original two movies go see this one, it’s good.
On the critics
While the general population seems to agree that Afterlife is a solid movie (an over-performing opening weekend and high user reviews on metacritic and rotten tomatoes)[^1], the critics hav been far more split. Afterlife seems to have become the focus for the disappointment of the film literate class at the dominance of franchises, reboots, and remakes at the box office. The horrible internet mobbing of “Answer the Call” (the all female reboot) may have a place in emboldening the critics to pile on, but I think that is more the spark than the fire.
I actually feel for people who love movies right now. There is comparatively less fully original content in theaters than 30 years ago. If you are a dedicated theatre goer that has got to get old. That’s been a long time coming though, and the rise of premium/streaming TV has moved the locus of creativity and prestige to that medium and away from the big screen. If you love and think deeply about films that has got to be disappointing.
Nostalgia movies and even franchise reboots have always been with us- American Graffiti, Happy Days, Batman, Dick Tracy, Forrest Gump, the Phantom, the Spirit, and that 70s show all spring to mind as examples (Good and Mediocre) from my childhood. Many of the most celebrated movies and TV of the last 20 years are largely adaptations of existing works- Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones. To dump on Afterlife because it rings the nostalgia/familiarity bell seems silly.
I felt like “Answer the Call” (the all female Ghostbusters movie) didn’t work because it fell too far into the uncanny valley of reboots. The plot, setting, and characters were almost the same as the original, but the FEEL was totally off. It was all gross out and quirkity/cringe humor, but lacked the eerie and slower pacing of the originals. It was actually a decent movie in its own right but suffered from its direct tie to the franchise (by creating unmet expectations and a repetitive seeming plot, especially early in the movie) rather than being enhanced by it.
The truth is that Afterlife is really good, if flawed in a few places. It FEELS more like the Ghostbusters brand then Answer the Call. The eerie but safe feel is done better, the new cast have a more balanced and less over the top approach to their characters, There are occasional pacing issues and yes the ending is a bit obvious and disappointing from a movie making perspective, but as franchises go I enjoyed this movie more than 2/3 Iron Men, 6/8 of the last Star Wars Movies, and way more than Crystal Skull. It’s a fun flick in a franchise with a distinct and enjoyable feel.
Also McKenna Grace totally steals the show.
I said that Afterlife is not without its flaws. It isn’t. There have been plenty documented by the aforementioned critics, such as the overly nostalgic tone (as mentioned, I’m predisposed to disagree with that one), but I’m going to one specific one that I thought could have been vastly improved with minimal changes to the rest of the movie.
Spoilers (and pedantry) ahead! If you don't mind me spoiling the movie, Click to expand!
Afterlife, as stated by the Jason Reitman (the director), is fundamentally a story about family. For Sony, it's about passing the torch of the franchise. For purposes of the plot, it is fundamentally about (SPOILER, seriously!) the legacy of Egon Spangler and his relationship to his family, particularly his grandchildren. It's been criticized as schmaltzy, but I found it a good and appropriate choice for the movie. After all, ghosts are echos of the past. A movie that is EXPLICITLY about ghosts seems like a perfect place to explore how those that have gone before us effect us today.
Egon's ghost (spoiler- I told you!) spends most of the movie as an eerie but kind unseen force interacting with his family. I really liked this part of the story line. It is relatable- my grandparents are gone, but the lessons they taught me and the examples they set affect me everyday. We all live with the ghosts of our ancestors.
Certainly the franchise does, too. The spirit of Harold Ramis (the actor who played Egon and also co-wrote the original two movies) did and should loom large over the series. Answer the Call suffered for mostly ignoring and mishandling the past and while Afterlife over-corrects it also produced a better movie with much more potential for the story to keep being told.
Therefore, my major critique is the end of the movie. After the original Ghostbusters make their entrance (aside- another critique, their was not reason to save that to the end, we all know it was going to happen. A bit more "huh, so you are Egon's girl" ahead of time would have bene good, but my guess is Bill Murray made that impossible. ) we spend way too much time with Egon as class 5 full corporeal free-roaming vapor. And then, after some nostalgia glamour shots, he appears to fade to heaven.
This is where the mistake is. It implies that Egon (and Ramis)'s spirit will go away. That whole point of the movie is that it didn't (and won't). The good parts of past don't need to dissolve into the ether, we carry them on with us. They, at worst, fade away with time.
What Reitman should have done is keep everything the same until Gozar is finally trapped and then have Egon's full apparition suddenly disappear. After all, Gozar's pyschokinetic energy is what powers the ghosts. Then, just use the movie making trope of having the his ghost appear in a reflection in a house window. Have the characters say goodbye that way, and then disappear into the house.
Egon's spirit remains. You establish into canon the concept of "good ghosts." And you metaphorically acknowledge that the spirit's of ancestors never disappear, they just subside into the background.</div> </details> I hope Ghostbusters has long future in front of it. The metaphor of ghosts as the spirit of our past is something that can be expanded upon- Taika Waititi managed to tell a story of Colonialism destroying the colonizers inside Thor: Ragnarock, could Ghostbusters be used to tell a story of how to both reckon with and respect the past while still being entertaining? Perhaps while giving us even more Ernie Hudson and McKenna Grace? I really hope to see more. Regardless of the story they tell, I will probably still give them my money. Go see Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Its worth the price of ticket. [^1]: I suspect some reverse internet mobbing is going on here as well, but I think this is a 'critics are meh, audiences like it" type movie.