Ghostbusters: Afterlife


Street Date 2/1/22;
Sony Pictures;
Box Office $128.06 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for supernatural action and some suggestive references.
Stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Bob Gunton, J.K. Simmons, Bokeem Woodbine.

Somewhere out there, lost to the annals of time and space, is the ideal third “Ghostbusters” movie. While Ghostbusters: Afterlife might not achieve that lofty goal, the circumstances that led to its creation make it a valiant effort.

Following the 1984 original film and its 1989 sequel, plans for a third film eventually stalled out when the creative team couldn’t agree to a satisfactory story to tell. The 2014 death of Harold Ramis, who was one of the creative forces behind the franchise in addition to playing a key character, seemed to signal the end of attempts to continue the original storyline. The consolation prize for fans was the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, which franchise co-creator and co-star Dan Aykroyd referred to as essentially being a third movie.

In 2016 a third movie did come along, with director Paul Feig’s reboot of the original that severed ties with the continuity of the first two films, presenting a cast of talented female comedians whose characters invented the concept of and equipment for ghostbusting on their own, only to come across a villain who used similar equipment to summon ghosts. The remake, eventually dubbed Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, was largely rejected by franchise fans because it wasn’t rooted in a continuation of the lore, instead sticking original cast members into mostly awkward and bizarre cameos.

Then, director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1980s movies, had a vision of a girl discovering ghostbusting equipment, leading her to discover her family’s legacy. This idea eventually germinated into Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a true continuation of the storyline from the original films.

The girl is Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who along with her brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), move to Oklahoma after their mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), inherits a derelict farm from her father, Phoebe and Trevor’s grandfather. While Callie tries to make sense of her father’s finances, Phoebe and Trevor discover their grandfather was one of the original Ghostbusters, who had settled in Oklahoma to combat supernatural forces that threatened to bring an end to the world. Along with some new friends and a teacher played by Paul Rudd, they take up his mission to avert the return of the evil forces.

Afterlife is far from a perfect movie and is at times almost too reverential to the 1980s films, with a third act that is essentially a re-creation of the end of the first film, relying more on nostalgia than originality. But it respects the lore, and that’s probably enough to earn the appreciation of longtime fans.

The “new generation” plot gives the younger characters an entry point into the mythology by making it a mystery for them to solve, which is a clever way to reintroduce the concept while also providing a touching way to address the absence of Ramis (though how it’s addressed in the film does raise a lot of questions that are left unanswered). However, longtime fans will see what’s coming from a mile away, as the retread elements of Afterlife really start to wear thin by the end.

In a way, this actually makes the existence of Answer the Call more infuriating, since its story arc of ghostbusting-like equipment being used to call forth the forces of darkness rather than stop them would have been a nice fit for a next-generation Ghostbusters movie and better served Afterlife. (In Answer the Call, the equipment isn’t ghostbusters gear per se, but similar hardware developed by a bad guy — the concept could have been adapted for a story about modifying ghostbuster tech).

So, what we are left with is a movie that is a bit of a double-edged sword. Up until some fan service in the third act, Afterlife works well as a standalone movie about a struggling family uncovering a lost legacy and learning who they are, playing more along Jason Reitman’s sensibilities as an indie filmmaker. But as a “Ghostbusters” movie, it’s more like a tribute band paying homage to the original, which might make it less appealing to viewers who don’t have the nostalgia for the 1980s films.

The Afterlife Blu-ray includes some thorough behind-the-scenes materials and a few featurettes aimed at the fandom.

The central making-of video is the 10-minute “Summoning the Spirit,” which starts with Jason Reitman’s concept for creating the film as previously mentioned, and picks up from there. Supplementary to this are a six-and-a-half-minute featurette about the visual effects.

For the fans, the eight-minute “We Got One!” looks at the many references to the earlier films layered into Afterlife. There’s also a six-minute guide to ghostbusting equipment, and a five-minute look at the return of the Ghostbusters’ car, the Ecto-1. The 10-minute “A Look Back” featurette offers a reminiscence with the surviving original cast members, while the four-minute “A Look Ahead” teases what might be yet to come.

Also included is a single deleted scene, running a minute-and-a-half, that offers a fun extension of a scene between Callie, Phoebe and one of the original cast members.

2 thoughts on “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

  1. I’ve heard this stuff about the movie being too “nostalgic” and “nostalgia-filled” for a while and it bothered me until I figured out why.

    The material is called nostalgic because it is a sequel to movies from a long time ago. Is Toy Story 3 too nostalgia filled? Toy Story 4? Is Return of the Jedi?

    Personally, I think if the movie is part of a series, it must have things that make it part of that series, or it’s not part of the series. In this case, the equipment. The fact that things seem to play out a certain way from the first movie is because the modus operandi of Gozer is that things happen in a certain order. Everything else around it was completely different, including how they defeated Gozer. No crossing the streams to swing the door the other way. No giant destructor form.

    I feel like, in even a few months time, people will look at these movies as a trilogy, and there are already people watching the three main universe movies together that had never seen them before, and I don’t think they’ll look at the third one and say “obviously this movie is filled with nostalgia.”

    I greatly enjoyed this chapter in the Ghostbusters franchise.

    I also need to point something out: the equipment that the guy used to bring ghosts into our dimension in Ghostbusters: Answer the Call wasn’t ghostbusting equipment. It was his own inventions. Unless I missed something or have forgotten something about the movie.

    1. Hi. Thanks for your comment.

      The use of the “nostalgia” label to ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ was meant to apply to the idea that certain elements of the plot, namely the final battle with Gozer, exist more to get fans to like the film because it’s doing something they liked from the earlier film, which it thinks it can get away with because it’s been more than 30 years between films, rather than doing something new to push the story forward but remains within the context of the established lore. Gozer was the villain of the first movie and was defeated. I don’t think anyone would have questioned Gozer not returning again. But since that’s the direction they went, they had to change up some things just to make it different enough while playing on the most memorable aspects of the battle from the original movie.

      That’s the distinction I would make with any sequel, really. And it doesn’t necessarily mean doing similar things, if that makes sense for the story. For instance, Return of the Jedi brings back the Death Star, which could be seen as nostalgic, but it works for the story because there’s a logic to the Empire building another WMD that was proved to work. Toy Story 4 trades on our love of the characters, but is also advancing the story in a way that adds to the earlier movies. It’s also a factor of how much time has passed between the movies, as some sequels might reuse elements that were popular but the earlier movie hadn’t become iconic by that point.

      For example, I would say many things in Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy are relying on nostalgia, particularly ‘Rise of Skywalker’ in how it brings back the Emperor without much story justification.

      I would also say about ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is that the stuff with the kids discovering and learning about the equipment and the family history is fine, as it’s a good way to re-enter this universe if your not going to focus on the original characters for whatever reason. It starts to rely on nostalgia to guide the storytelling when it focuses on Gozer again in the third act, and just re-does a lot of what was already done in the first movie. Using a new villain would have been one thing (as the second movie did). Putting a new spin on what was happening in the first movie (say, for instance, that Shandor wanted to call forth Gozer as part of a plan to bring forth a more powerful demon — seeing some of the elements that expanded on Shandor’s backstory was kind of neat). Heck, even finding an excuse for a team-up of Gozer and Viggo the Carpathian would have been a kick. But they went full on re-creating the ending of the original movie as the excuse to have the original team just show up, and go through the motions that audiences know from last time, just to have it not work this time (possibly because they didn’t have Egon for the fourth stream to cross initially), and then let the new characters figure out how to solve the problem. Since the whole movie is structured around bringing back Gozer, it works for what it wants to do. The end goal is still the same, to bring back the cast for future movies, but they could have done it differently without being so blatant about it.

      And it’s one thing to be sitting in a movie theater watching it for the first time, 37 years after the first movie came out, and enjoying seeing the re-creation of the story on a big screen again with new visual effects. But watching the three movies back to back to back will have them re-fighting Gozer about two-and-a-half hours after they just defeated Gozer, so it might feel like “didn’t we just do this?” The 30-year passage of time might apply to the story, but not the audience. And that I think plays into the nostalgia argument as well, since the effectiveness of it plays better upon initial viewings that subsequent ones once viewers have a chance to think about it within the context of the whole franchise.

      This all isn’t to say that nostalgia can’t work, or that many sequels don’t have or are enhanced by using nostalgia to their benefit (‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ certainly does). There is a balance to when it is appropriate within the work, and I just think that ‘Afterlife’ started to lean too heavily on it for its ending (but was still enjoyable).

      As for the equipment in ‘Answer the Call,’ yes the bad guy in that movie invented it separately from the Ghostbusters. But when the 2016 Ghostbusters are able to examine it one of them comments that it’s a lot like their own equipment (I can’t remember if it’s in the theatrical version or just the Blu-ray extended cut). So, yes, within ‘Answer the Call,’ it’s separate equipment, but I took the reference to how similar the equipment was to be an attempt to establish a thematic connection between the ghostbusters and the villain that wasn’t developed very well. But it got me thinking that the basic idea of that could have been applied to a sequel to the 1980s ‘Ghostbusters’ if it had been tweaked to be someone modifying the original Ghostbusting equipment and thus tying it to the mythology (sorry if I wasn’t clear about that initially — I was referencing a potential story arc for the original films, not what ‘Answer the Call’ did with it). For instance, what if Egon had found a partner at one point, that that person betrayed him to obtain the ghostbusting equipment to then summon forth something, and that’s how Egon died? But the basic story of his family discovering these things about him is basically the same, and they eventually having to deal with the bad guys.

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