Written by Patrick Hao
Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems to be a particularly apt title for the franchise. For something to have an afterlife, it suggests that it must be dead and there is an attempt at a resurrection. This new Ghostbusters film was always going to be a cynical exercise of corporate resuscitation, especially after the toxic reception by “fans” to the 2016 female-centric Ghostbusters remake. Whether that film was good or not, it at least captured the feeling of the original 1984 film. This new one from Jason Reitman, the son of the director of the original film Ivan Reitman, while undyingly devoted to the lore of the 1984 film, completely misunderstands why that film works.
The film is unrelenting in the nostalgia that it revels in. But, this nostalgia is not even rooted in the original film. Rather it is rooted in this idea of the 1980s that has become corporate currency in media like Stranger Things and the 2017 film It. The film follows the estranged daughter of Egon Spangler (Carrie Coon), the original Ghostbuster played by the now deceased Harold Ramis, a single mother of Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), whose only character trait seems to be that he is a horny teenager, and the precocious socially awkward, STEM-loving, Phoebe (McKenna Grace). They move to Oklahoma to settle the Spangler estate when they discover that there are ghosts that need to be busting or else the apocalypse will occur. Also Paul Rudd is around to be the obligatory adult and Ghostbusters fanboy audience surrogate as a summer school teacher, and there is a character named Podcast (Logan Kim), who does,,, well, podcasts. The new characters are fine if not memorable.
The film is set in the present day, but the fashion, the technology, and the whole vibe are Amblin in the 80s including focusing on the children who are set to become the next generation of Ghostbusters. The script does some serious gymnastics to make sure that modern technology does not appear in the film. The town has no bars which explains why no one is using cell phones which already is dumb. That also doesn’t explain why everyone is using a wired landline. Why is Paul Rudd playing videos on VHS of Cujo and Child’s Play?
The film’s reveling in 80s nostalgia for a film set in the present day is unbelievably baffling, especially when the film is about The Ghostbusters. Those films were a product of National Lampoon alumni whose whole ethos was rebelling against the systems at large. The Ghostbusters partially worked due to its focus on these irreverent anti-authoritarian figures in the middle of Yuppie Reagan New York City. Dan Akroyd gets fellated by a ghost for goodness sake.
So to have a movie reverential to not only the time but to a movie in which the main character and I cannot emphasize this enough gets a ghost blowjob seems baffling. Who exactly is Ghostbusters: Afterlife for? It is certainly a competently made movie and is never not entertaining. But, does it really matter that we explore the origins of Gozer the Gozerian? Why are the stay puft marshmallows back when in the original film, that was a specific manifestation by an individual person.
I was left with more questions than none because this Ghostbusters: Afterlife is really a representation of a mode of movie-making that is incredibly disheartening. These are exercises in affirmation and fan service in a way that reduces it to nothing more than content. Movies are constantly reasserting that fandoms are important and well deserved by putting this undue importance to the silliest of things. What is left is something that the original product never truly was. A manifestation. A specter.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Trailer
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is currently in wide theatrical release.