Tom Santilli is a professional film critic, TV personality, host and the Executive Producer of Movie Show Plus.
More of a remix than a reboot, "Ghostbuster: Afterlife" definitely taps into the correct vein that made the original 1984 "Ghostbusters" such a roaring success, and such a beloved movie. It opens up the franchise for a new generation of kids, while simultaneously offering plenty for parents and old-school fans to chew on.
But while nostalgia alone might be enough for many who call themselves fans of "Ghostbusters," this latest effort is just another unfortunate reminder that, seemingly, there are no new ideas left in Hollywood. They've resorted to attempting to resurrect intellectual properties that are clearly dead and gone, literally relying on ghosts of the past to fuel their financial futures. In that spirit (pun intended), "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is running on fumes and is to the original "Ghostbusters" what "The Force Awakens" is to the original "Star Wars" film: A new cake baked from the same old ingredients.
(Minor spoilers to follow...minor! Promise!)
The ghost of one Egan Spengler looms large over all of the proceedings in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." The character, portrayed in the original films by the late Harold Ramis, was the nerdy scientific center of the group, and his smarts were of course what framed this paranormal story in some semblance of reality and logic. "Afterlife" erases the recent female "Ghostbusters" film from canon, and doesn't seem to make mention of the events of the less successful 1989 sequel "Ghostbusters II" either. It directly links itself back to the first one, and in the film's opening moments, we learn that there is a new ghostly menace, and that Egan Spengler is no longer there to save us.
But there are new Spenglers ready to take his place. The wonderful young actress Mckenna Grace is Phoebe, who has the look and personality of her grandfather Egan. She lives with her older brother Trevor ("Stranger Things" actor Finn Wolfhard) and mother Callie (Carrie Coon), as the family moves in to their newly inherited rural farmhouses...it's there where they stumble upon some artifacts that will be quite exciting to fans, and they learn of a re-awakening of some familiar baddies.
Paul Rudd joins the fray as the kids' Summer School teacher, while Trevor's love interest, Lucky (Celeste O'Connor) and geeky teammate Podcast (Logan Kim) help Phoebe along as well.
Look, I'm not out to ruin anyone's childhood or smash anyone's flare for nostalgia. It's just that I am now thoroughly convinced that whatever lightning-in-a-bottle was captured in making the original film is now fizzled out and long gone. I trust that the right team was on-hand...heck, director Jason Reitman is the son of "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, and grew up on and around the set of Ghostbusters movies. The original surviving stars - Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson - were all rumored to cameo, and I won't spoil the fun. But all have given their blessing to this new film...a film that - sorry - just doesn't contain one single ounce of originality.
That's not to say that it isn't fun. "Afterlife" does manage to find the same "paranormal comedy" zone that the original film existed in (those wondering if their children can handle the new film, just ask yourself if they could handle the old one...if the answer is "yes," then I see no reason why they wouldn't be able to handle the new film as well). But what would have been nice would have been some sort of expansion of this world, setting the stage for future chapters. A "Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe" if you will. Instead, we're still dealing with Zuul, demonic dogs, Key Masters and Gatekeepers.
This is a film that gives us a hungry, fat ghost named "Muncher," who is basically "Slimer" in the same way that the Death Star was all but rebranded as Starkiller Base in "The Force Awakens." Why not just bring back Slimer? The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man came to life in the original because Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) dreamed of him at a moment when his mind needed to be clear...in "Afterlife," an army of mini-Stay Puft men terrorize everyone for no other reason than to try to latch on to our nostalgia for the iconic character.
With such an effort to remix this franchise for kids, they rely heavily on this nostalgia for much of the film's "surprises" and so-called twists. Which is a bit odd if you think about it. For example, when a character appears late in the film that might bring a tear to the eye of a forty-year-old, will a child watching even have a reaction at all, perhaps not knowing who this person is? I was reminded of the great "reveal" in the awful Harry Potter spin-off film "Fantastic Beasts," where a character is revealed to be...played by Johnny Depp. This is a great surprise to those watching who recognize the actor, but why should the actor cast in a role come as a surprise to those in the film universe of said character? It's the worst kind of audience-pandering, and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" revels in this kind of thing.
There is a real disconnect when it comes to thinking of this movie as a continuation versus imagining it as a retelling. We definitely didn't "need" this new movie, as almost nothing happens that would make us believe that there is anything more to this world than we already know. Was it sort of cool and fun to hang in this universe again? For sure. Is it so bad to want more? Some "intellect" concerning our intellectual-properties?
The more that "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" tries to resemble the original film, the more that comparisons to the original film become inevitable. I don't think anyone is holding up "Afterlife" and judging it next to the original "Ghostbusters"...even die-hard fans will admit that they're not expecting any new film to be "just as good or better" than the original movie. But is some sort of new energy so bad? If the original Ghostbusters DO appear in this movie - and I'm not saying they do - I'd bet they are used in the most generic and predictable way possible.
Some nice surprises are in store, but keen-eyed fans will notice that Reitman chooses to go with practical effects far more than most other modern film franchises. This helps place this movie next to the original - visually at least - while also mixing in some solid CG along the way. Sadly, for a movie called "Ghostbusters," there just aren't that many ghosts, and a severe lack of cool, innovative ones. Do you mean to say we couldn't do better after 40 years, than Muncher?
There are a few treats during the end credits (stay to the very end!), but again these clips don't really fit into context with what we've just witnessed, other than to continue to indulge the audience.
"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" robs the grave of a long-dead franchise, mining it for signs of life. But sometimes, it's just best to leave nostalgia in the past.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy.
Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes.
Rated PG-13.Starring: Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Logan Kim, Paul Rudd, Celeste O'Connor, Bokeem Woodbine.
Co-Written and Directed by Jason Reitman ("Tully," "Up in the Air," "Young Adult," "Juno," "Thank You For Smoking").
"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is in theaters on Friday, November 19th, 2021.