When the original Ghostbusters turned into a blockbuster hit, the film, which was developed as a wide 80s comedy, became a franchise. Cartoons, toys, and the demand for a sequel (from Columbia Pictures as well as fans) were paramount to its existence, but stars like Bill Murray’s reluctance to return held it up and eventually turned this license-pipe dream into a two-movie series that would spawn rumors of a resuscitation for years. Even though the 1989s Ghostbusters II would still earn over $ 200 million, it is often completely forgotten, largely due to the fact that very little about it is as memorable as its predecessor, but also because it does nothing new; it just took the framework and structure from the previous movie and did it again. This brings us to Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
30 years after Ghostbusters II, and five years after the restart of the series in 2016, Ghostbusters: Afterlife make the same mistakes as the last follow-up attempt, while also creating brand new ones. Filmmaker Jason Reitman, son of the original Ghostbusters Producer / director Ivan Reitman, inherits his father’s franchise and mythologizes a film in which Dan Aykroyd gets oral sex from a ghost to be a basic text. The inherent legacy at play behind the camera of a son taking his father’s film and making the next chapter ends up bleeding into the larger context of the story to his own detriment, especially as the clear devotion and idolatry of the franchise as a whole becomes its focus point.
IN The afterlife, the alienated family of the late Harold Ramis’ Egon Spengler moves into his dilapidated home in Summerville, Oklahoma, a change of pace from the New York milieu that allows for some new possibilities in storytelling. Carrie Coon as Callie, the bitter daughter of Egon, who is largely wasted in an ungrateful role, takes her children to the “earth farm” with Stranger Things‘Finn Wolfhard plays pretty much the same character from the Netflix series (called Trevor here) and Mckenna Grace as the science-oriented daughter Phoebe. Grace is the driving force in the narrative and by far the best thing about the film. By channeling Ramis’ character, already the strong point of the two original films, in both form and function, she is our gateway back to this world and catches us on the go about where things have gone since Ghostbusters II. It also helps that she is charming and funny throughout.
As the film builds up through its first act, working to inhabit its own identity, it’s pretty good. Grace and Paul Rudd as her teacher Mr. Grooberson has a fun dynamic, while sequences by Wolfhard longing for teenage love pull things down and feel like they’ve been cut from a too-long streaming series. At some point, however, when ideas and technology come from Ghostbusters franchise is reintroduced, the problems with Ghostbusters II repeated, while an almost beat-for-beat remake of the original 1984 film begins to take place, albeit with modern visual effects and a younger cast. Rudd’s role as a mentor even turns out to be one Ghostbusters fanboy on screen. In addition, abysmal forced references and Easter eggs become prominent. You can almost feel Leonardo DiCaprio’s meme pointing at the screen right next to you. It’s not badly made at all, it’s just exhausting.
Beyond just being a carbon copy of the franchise’s two pillars in terms of structure, Ghostbusters: Afterlife makes the shocking decision to virtually remove the humor from the series altogether. There are definitely some gags and jokes, but it’s not a laugh a minute. It’s not an inherently comical tone throughout, and the only thing it does not borrow from the original is not to assume that it is complicated and silly. Grace’s character is defined as being so smart that it’s hard for her to get in touch with new friends, so she has jokes ready to disarm them. These become one of the only recurring moments of lightness throughout the film. Again, it helps that Grace is charming, but she is tasked with carrying the plot footage along with its comic relief. She’s a star in the making (though already with plenty of blockbuster credits to her name), and outshines the A-list talent around her.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife continues the legacy-successor trend that has permeated all of Hollywood over the past few years. The film contains the biggest criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Halloween (2018) and replicates them as well, even by repeating a plot point from the latter for the most part. It shows the major problems with franchises in the modern era as well as the worst trends in Sony Pictures’ production as a studio. It’s easy to think that a rural town in Oklahoma would have a Wal-Mart prominent prominently somewhere, but an entire hunting sequence in one that appears to have been filmed solely to remind you that you can buy Ghostbusters: Afterlife toys at Wal-Mart make it boring.
After 30 years of fans demanding one Ghostbusters III, and although The afterlife is not really billed as that, it’s a form that the new film is likely to take on many. What we have learned is that the original Ghostbusters was an anomaly, one so good that the only idea that can be tried further in this “franchise” is repetition. For the sake of the ghosts, I hope no one tries to beat them up on the big screen again.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Ghostbusters: Afterlife coming to the cinema on November 19th.