Ghostbusters: Afterlife – REVIEW

The last time the world was talking about Ghostbusters was 2016, where die-hard fans, casuals, women-haters, and geeks were jumping at the chance to talk about the all-female reboot released that year. Ghostbusters (2016) was an undeniable misstep for the series, aiming to reinvent the team for modern audiences while also universally pissing off what seemed to be the entire original fanbase. It’s not a good movie, but many took it as a chance to tell us how unfunny they thought women were, leading to a vitriolic time to be on the internet. With a bad taste left in its mouth, the world wanted to forget the film ever existed, but we were left to wonder if the Ghostbusters would ever get the sequel that could satisfy fans of the 80s classic.

It became a matter of trust. Who could possibly have a deep enough connection to the source material to make a movie that could emotionally connect to the fans of the original? Super fans don’t exactly always write the best stuff, and someone not as familiar with the film may make it stray away from what made people gravitate toward it in the first place. So, who could do it? Well, it turns out Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) was looking for his opportunity to throw his hat in the ring. Who is he? The son of director Ivan Reitman, the director of the original 2 Ghostbusters films. Jason’s film Ghostbusters: Afterlife now has even more of a legacy to live up to, a mission that time and time again proves to be futile.

While it would be near impossible to be on the same level as the original film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife at least feels closer to what fans would have wanted. A likable cast and a fairly funny script keeps the film afloat, while a heaping amount of fan service aims to keep die-hards happy. However, it’s reliance on the past is ultimately what holds it back, seemingly fearing to step too far beyond the film’s already established lore in favor of new ideas. The film’s mission seems to be closure, finishing out a trilogy started almost 40 years ago while leaving the tools for more if the world so desires. Aiming to please fans ultimately makes the film messy and not very daring, so your final feelings may change based on what you were wanting from a “final” Ghostbusters film.

Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE.

In 2021, the story of the Ghostbusters is nothing more than a rumor; a tall tale with seemingly no evidence to back up that 4 schlubs in jumpsuits saved the world from a gigantic marshmallow man and its endogenous demon master. But when a mother and her two children find themselves inheriting an old, decrepit house in a go-nowhere town, they soon begin to discover their family has a direct connection to the Ghostbusters. When ghosts start to run amuck and the world is once again threatened, a new line of Ghostbusters must come together to rid the world of evil once more.

The original Ghostbusters are iconic characters whose differing personalities, outlooks and backgrounds meshed so well for dramatic and comedic effect. Ghostbusters (2016) more or less tried to recreate this dynamic, but the comparisons between the two teams would ultimately hurt the film more than help. ‘Afterlife’s cast is far younger and attempts to establish themselves as their own characters rather than reskins of the original cast. At the heart of the film is McKenna Grace‘s Phoebe, an inquisitive tinkerer with an offbeat personality. Her quirkiness is fairly subdued, making most of her line deliveries dry but funny. She serves as both a conduit for the audience to re-learn the world of Ghostbusters while also showing competence with each conflict. Her brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) spends most of the film in pursuit of local carhop Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). While he eventually joins his sister in busting ghosts, his character unfortunately isn’t as fleshed out or compelling. Bringing the funny along with Phoebe is her aptly named friend Podcast (Logan Kim) who records and narrates his thoughts on conspiracy theories for his one subscriber. The duo keep much of the film entertaining when the story slows down, particularly in the middle. Rounding out the supporting cast is Carrie Coon as Callie and Paul Rudd as Gary. Being the jaded daughter of one of the Ghostbusters, Callie by far as the most emotional connection to the franchise, yet mainly hovers on the outskirts of the story, earning closure by the end but not doing all that much until then. Gary is…Paul Rudd, and if you like him then you’ll like him here.

Paul Rudd as Gary

The original Ghostbusters is regarded as one of the best comedies of all time, and if you’re going to follow in its footsteps, you’re going to need to bring the funny. It’s nearly impossible to match the talent of golden-era SNL that was on display in the original, especially when you realize that a lot of the dialogue was more or less improved. I was actually pleasantly surprised that Ghostbusters: Afterlife managed to be pretty funny, and in an endearing way at that. The last film seemed to be just riff after riff and quip after quip, trying to stuff in as many jokes as possible in hopes that something will stick. Yet this film succeeds by taking its time to plant its humor, and while not every joke sticks, the film ended up being a lot funnier than I expected. The story does have some questionable elements to it however. Our main characters are almost completely unphased by the sight of the ghosts. This would make sense given that the events of the first two Ghostbusters films would have been highly publicized in universe, but the film goes out of its way to make it seem like the Ghostbusters were mostly superstition in the public eye. You’re telling me no one had footage of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stomping through New York? Sure, it was the 80s, but come on. Also, the entire sequence of events that unfurl are set off by Phoebe discovering a ghost trap containing a dangerous ghost. Without getting into spoilers just yet, the way she finds the trap seems incredibly confusing considering the one who helps her find it ultimately wants her to capture it and its master. Wouldn’t it have been safer to just leave it hidden where it was? I could be overthinking it, but moments like these made me feel like the script could have used a bit more polishing.

The film’s special effects are…a bit of a hit or miss. Ghostbusters’ reliance on practical effects hasn’t exactly aged the film well, but there’s a certain, goofy charm that makes it memorable. The jankiest puppeteering and stop motion will always have more value and charm in my eyes than the weightless computer generated effects that plague modern movies. Ghostbusters: Afterlife uses a blend of practical and CGI effects to bring its ghouls to (after)life, maintaining some faithfulness to the original. The animatronics used to bring the demon dogs to life look a lot more convincing and the way they are superimposed into the scene is far more believable. The rest of the ghosts we see are primarily computer generated, including a doughy, gluttonous ghost named Muncher. While they don’t look terrible, they do struggle to compete against the more classic effects.

If you’re watching this film and have somehow completely forgotten everything about the original film, then don’t worry because this film has got you covered. Practically an eye-spy game brought to the silver screen, the film is chock full of Easter eggs alluding to the films that started it all, from subtle nods to the blatantly obvious. While this may get a chuckle out of fans, I found it all to be a bit much. You have a franchise with so many possibilities for monster and creature designs that, if given enough effort, could become as iconic as Slimer. So why are we rehashing the demon dogs, Stay Puft and Gozer? Forget giving a nod, this film snaps its entire neck as it asks “remember this?” throughout most of the runtime. Because of this, the film retreads many of the same story beats from the first film, almost afraid to go against the grain because of what happened in 2016. Do Ghostbusters fans really hate new ideas that much? Did they really want the same song and dance again because nostalgia is the easiest conduit for enjoyment? The writing proves it could have been just as entertaining without all of the constant references, but I guess nostalgia is what makes the money nowadays. It worked for Star Wars (until it didn’t) and Marvel is slowly integrating it into their films with the impending multiverse. Sure it can be fun to have these callbacks, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of sacrificing originality.

I usually don’t do this, but I’d like to talk about the ending. If you’d like to avoid spoilers, just scroll down to the SPOILERS END heading.

SPOILERS BEGIN

To the surprise of virtually no one, the original Ghostbusters of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson return for a final clash against the demon Gozer. I expected this and accepted this. It’s been nearly 40 years since we saw them don the jumpsuits, and I’m sure this was an exciting moment for many. It truly is a shame that Harold Ramis passed before the film could even come together, as it would have been just as thrilling to see him one last time as a Ghostbuster in the film.

Except…he is in the film. Ramis‘s Egon Spengler actually plays a pretty big role in the movie, setting events in motion that ultimately leads to the old and new Ghostbusters coming together to defeat Gozer. It takes all of them to make it happen, including Egon appearing to lend a hand to his granddaughter Phoebe. Using a mix of body doubles and a computer generated face, Ramis more or less receives a last hurrah as Egon Spengler. Now look, I’m in no way aware of how Ramis’s family felt about this. It’s highly likely the filmmakers needed their approval before putting his likeness onto a rigged model. Maybe this is something he would have wanted if he were to pass. Regardless, it all feels a little weird. We recently went down this road with Carrie Fischer when she passed before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker could be completed. She did film a few scenes that made it in, but ultimately the film had to be reworked to accompany this tragedy. Here, it’s all been built from the ground up. The precedent it sets is a puzzling one; at what point do actors stop acting? Death no longer seems to be the final say. If we have enough pictures and videos of you, you can be puppetted around for years after you’re gone. The thing is, I don’t even think Egon needed to physically appear here. His unseen presence is felt throughout the entire film, and this could have continued into the climax. They could have gotten creative with it, but I guess this is what the future holds. Strange times indeed.

SPOILERS END

Ghostbusters: Afterlife showed strong potential that the Ghostbusters could continue to exist in the modern era. Relying on familiarity over innovation, I can’t help but feel disappointed despite having a decently enjoyable time with this. The callbacks are fun to an extent, but the film’s reliance on the past never truly allows it to press on confidently into the future. If the franchise is to continue, I hope they can allow the new blood they’ve established more opportunity to shine and solidify themselves in the universe. Fine for what it is, but it fumbles its potential to be something greater. Are original ideas truly dead in Hollywood? I’d like for the big studios to try proving me wrong.

Also J.K. Simmons appears for like 10 seconds and then is gone. What was that about?

Rating

(out of a possible 5 Ghostbuster logos)

Ecto Cooler 2.0

When there’s something strange…

In your mixing glass…

Who you gonna call?

I don’t know. An exterminator? A fumigator? The police? You need to give me more info before I dial any number.

Anyway, way back in 1989 American juice producers Hi-C released a green, orange-tangerine drink called Ecto-Cooler to help advertise both Ghostbusters 2 and the animated series The Real Ghostbusters. The drink proved to be a big hit even after the film and series had left the public eye. The drink would go through several rebrandings and formula changes until what was left of the drink was discontinued in 2006, briefly revived in 2016 to coincide with the reboot, promptly discontinued again, and then once again revived in limited quantities for the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

If you were once a sugar-laced youth like myself, then this drink is an attempt to recapture that memory of drinking a product that probably meant a lot to your dad but maybe not you so much. The Ecto-Cooler 2.0 retains the familiar orange and tangerine taste, but with a bit of added creaminess thanks to some adult-grade vanilla vodka. To capture the “slimed” motif that was ever present on the cans, I’ve included an edible slime rim. It may take some trial and error to get the slime exactly how you want it, and things can get messy. I would advise using a glass similar to a coup or a stemmed wine glass to allow the slime to drip without completely coating the stem. You may want to wrap the stem in a paper towel after coating the rim to add extra protection so your hands don’t get too sticky. The slime rim isn’t required, so if its not your thing, feel free to enjoy this blast from the past drink!

Ingredients

  • 1.5oz Orange Juice
  • 1.5oz Tangerine Juice
  • 2oz Vanilla Vodka
  • Dash of Blue Curacao
  • Garnish: Orange wheel
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Green food coloring

Instructions

  1. Before building the drink, combine the sugar, water and syrup in a sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat until it simmers and reaches 300 degrees. Stir in the food coloring.
  2. While the mixture is hot, dip the rim of a stemmed cocktail glass in it. As it cools, the mixture will begin to harden as it drips.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
  4. Strain into prepared glass.
  5. Garnish with an orange wheel.

Video

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