In the world of franchises, sequels, reboots and remakes, there are true fans and then there’s everybody else. Jason Reitman (filmmaker) was busy preparing for the 2019 premiere. Ghostbusters: Afterlife, he took heat for asserting during an interview that his film would “hand the movie back to the fans,” a quip everybody, understandably, read as a dig at Paul Feig’s ill-fated 2016 remake, featuring women actors in the lead roles.
Reitman quickly backtracked, claiming he had “nothing but admiration” for Feig and his actors. As it turned out, Reitman was merely clarifying the issue. Ghostbusters: Afterlife—not a remake but definitely a sequel—Does cater, heavily, to those who have made a weird religion out of the 1984 original (which was directed and co-written by Ivan Reitman, Jason’s father, also one of this new film’s producers). Is it the younger Reitman’s fault that, in making a modern film that also in some ways honors the work of his father, he has also fed into the tyranny of fandom? Perhaps not. Regardless of his intentions, Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t original or appealing enough to stand on its own. Maybe it really is only for true fans—the rest of us most likely have better things to do.
Continue reading: How Ghostbusters: Afterlife Fits Get in on the Long-Running Franchise
A broke single mom, Carrie Coon’s Callie, rounds up her two kids, awkward teen Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and shy science nerd Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and treks to the farmlands of Oklahoma. Her father, from whom she’s long been estranged, has recently died; he’s left her a decrepit house bedecked with the kinds of ominous, hand-painted signs often made by country crazies in the movies. It turns out that her father was Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis. He also wrote the scripts for the sequel and the original movie. Having alienated his fellow Ghostbusting pals (played by Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, all of whom return here for some gently amusing ghostbusting high jinks), he’d grown more and more eccentric and withdrawn in his later years, obsessively keeping watch for a cataclysmic supernatural event he felt certain was coming.
Sounds nuts, right? Then Phoebe finds a ghost trap on the property, and begins monkeying around with it—local science teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who is also conveniently handsome enough to double as a love interest for Callie, helps her figure out how it works. While they manage to catch a small, harmless ectoplasmic animal, the abandoned mining nearby may hold more dangerous secrets.
It is possible to do some thing with this plot. Ghostbusters: AfterlifeIt has some modest charms. With its semi-old-school special effects—who isn’t a little nostalgic for those staticky, zig-zaggy ghostbuster-gun effects?—it seeks to delight us with its homespun wholesomeness. Its gentle, adventurous nature seems to be fine for even the most anxious children. There’s even an army of mini Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, angry and adorable at the same time, if you discount the fact that they rip more than a page from the Minions handbook.
That said, it takes forever for any ghosts to get busted—and that plot device seems like an afterthought, anyway. Ghostbusters: AfterlifeIt is not about zipping ghosts, but about Family, Reconnection, and Forgiveness. These should now be registered entities such as Saran Wrap, Legos, and Pepsi. Never misunderstood or silly. Ghostbusters: Afterlife feels fully parent-approved—and where’s the fun in that?
Worst of all is the mawkish role it fashions for Ramis—who died in 2014—to play from beyond the grave. The past Ghostbusters: Afterlifewhen the movie is over, we are able to hug and cry together. It is designed to tug at the heartstrings and sets out with grim determination. The original GhostbustersYour childhood was an integral part. It may continue to influence your adult life. Ghostbusters: AfterlifeThis is the movie for you. But as Johnny Thunders—who surely would not approve of this excessively eager-to-please movie—once sang, “You can’t put your arms around a memory.” And no one needs a movie that leaves them with an armful of air.