I went into this movie pretty head empty. I’ve gone and become very cynical about movie reboots and belated sequels. For the most part, they seem to actively ignore the charm of what made those movies so beloved in the first place. Content to cash in on an easy bit of nostalgia.
Which is what the Ghostbusters remake of a few years ago seemed to be from what I understand. I wouldn’t know, I never bothered seeing it. With cinemas reopening and the prospect of them closing again looming on the horizon, I felt I would give Ghostbusters: Afterlife a shot and see how this 4th movie in the franchise faired.
You know what, I really enjoyed it.
Going into a movie with low/no expectations is usually a sure fire way to end up enjoying it. But even after a week or so to dwell on the movie, I’ve still found myself thinking back warmly on the movie, and even how it managed to deal with the tired old tropes of nostalgic reboots that are rife in modern day Hollywood.
Taking place 30 or so years after the original movie, Afterlife follows single mother Callie and her two kids Trevor and Phoebe as they are kicked out of their apartment and relocate to an old farmhouse in Summerville, Oklahoma that once belonged to Callie’s estranged father Egon Spengler.
The kids discover that there is more going on in Summerville than is normal in a sleepy, middle America town and discover the work their grandfather was doing before his death to avoid the end of the world as they know it.
If I had to boil this movie down to a “type” when it comes to bringing back these older franchises, I’d say it’s “the same but different”. For a point of comparison, look at The Force Awakens which is a perfect example that does the exact same thing as this movie.
Like Force Awakens, Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes place some number of decades after the original movie and introduces us to a younger, fresher cast to carry the movie. These characters find themselves in a situation incredibly similar to the beats of the original story with a number of characters and locations that act as direct parallels to the events of the original movie.
It’s an approach that’s usually a safe bet, one that takes what people loved about the original and just does it again, but more modern. If I’m honest, it’s one of the things I don’t love about that particular Star Wars movie. don’t get me wrong, Force Awakens is a super fun and entertaining movie that I’ll watch and enjoy. But it lacks ambition.
All criticisms you could direct towards this movie as well. But that doesn’t mean either of them are bad movies, if anything, they’re just solid foundations for a new series to launch itself from. And given Ghostbusters lacks the insane fanbase of the Star Wars series, it’s got a much better future ahead of it I think.
I’m not here to talk about Star Wars though.
In its major beats, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is essentially a remake of the first movie, although that fact doesn’t really become apparent until the half way point. The first half of the movie, in combination with the elements it does change are different enough that this movie does feel like a fresh take on the franchise, more-so than I feel Force Awakens even managed.
The original Ghostbusters was an ensemble piece with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson carrying the movie collectively, being supported by a fantastic supporting cast that included Sigourney Weaver and Rock Moranis. Afterlife, by comparison is a very different sort of movie, more of a coming of age story following a single character.
Phoebe Spengler, played by Mckenna Grace, is every bit her Grandfather’s Granddaughter, from her personality, to her intelligence to her very look. She is an oddball, an outcast and a bit of loner. And while it might seem to not bother her on the outside, the coaxing of her mother and brother to try and make jokes and relate to other kids her age makes me think she is a little lonely on the inside.
It’s as she herself says; she doesn’t experience emotions the same way most people do, which makes her seem startlingly similar to Egon, who seemed much more comfortable in his oddball skin throughout the 80s Ghostbusters movie.
And that is the heart of his movie, and what makes it stand apart from the original that it is taking a lot of inspiration from. This movie is Phoebe’s coming of age story, coming to a new town and discovering friends and a purpose she was sorely lacking beforehand. She discovers the remnants of her Grandfather’s old life and starts to figure out why exactly he cut everyone out from his life and moved out to the ass end of nowhere.
It’s in the town she meets Paul Rudd’s teacher character, who ends up being becoming a clear parallel to Rick Moranis’s character from the first movie, who it incredibly supportive of her scientific mind, as well as making her new best friend played by Logan Kim. A character who is hilariously never given any other name than “Podcast” (because he has a Podcast).
After the clues start coming together, the movie reveals that the events of the first movie; with the return of Gozer the Gozerian once again threatening apocalypse, are set to happen again and Egon has been the only one working to hold back the event and setting up the trap that will put an end to the threat of Gozer once and for all.
I felt like the movie does a great job of walking the line between telling a new story but also referencing the events that came before and bringing back older characters in a way that seems both natural and tasteful. By the time we get into the movie’s final act and the nods to the original movie are both blatant and often, Afterlife has build enough goodwill that it comes off as fin and nostalgic rather than cynical.
I could have easily felt very jaded by the movie’s finale by the time it happened, seeing the three original actors stood in a line with a CGI Harold Ramis ghost by their side, but the movie does such a nice job of honouring that original movie while also setting itself up to be something entirely different that it all feels very genuine and respectful.
I genuinely thought Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a fun, respectful and original take on the franchise. One that really does seem to be poising itself as the jumping off point for a new series of movies to follow. I am one of those cynical people who would much rather you leave the 80s classics alone and look to do something new.
That being said though, as far as modern reboots of nostalgic favourites from several decades go, this is definitely one of the better ones. And while it might lean heavily on the plot and beats of the original, it also adds a whole bunch of new characters with a very different dynamic to the original crew one that feels different and fresh enough to give us a much different sequel that could propel this movie franchise forward.
I just hope we get a Last Jedi and not a Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom by the time the next one comes around. This cast has a lot of promise, and the promise of a Spielberg-esque story of coming of age in small town America always works on me. Which is weird considering what an incredibly “New York” movie the original was.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is well worth watching, for both fans of the original and maybe some of the younger audience who has never seen the original (which seems impossible to me). While the cynic in me could roll my eyes at the reuse of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, the return of Zuul The Gatekeeper & Vinz Clortho the Keymaster or obvious nods to lines like “Are you a God?”, in practice, it’s all in good fun and really does come off as loving nods more than anything else.
It’s a good one. And in a world where everything needs to be franchise’d these days, this a pretty strong launchpad for the Ghostbusters franchise to reboot itself and turn itself into one of big boys.