FRANCHISE REWIND: Ghostbusters Afterlife (2021)

Ghostbusters Afterlife, 2021 (McKenna Grace) Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

“This isn’t a farm, It’s a trap.”

Oh my God, I feel so dirty after watching this movie! It might make me feel better to know that Ivan, and his son, Jason Reitman, as well as Dan Aykroyd’s respective hearts were in the right place, but it still doesn’t quite remove the stains of exploitation and cynical commercialism smeared all over this product. Ultimately, it does come down to Aykroyd. Ghostbusters is his baby, and he can do with it what he wants, and if he wants to squeeze this tit until it has completely dried out, that’s his business.

I remember being excited about this movie when I first saw the trailer some time in September 2019. It was so long ago. It was a different time, and Ghostbusters Afterlife was expected to be released in July 2020, and I have no doubt the movie would’ve been an enormous hit. It was delayed for over a year and (as of this writing) has earned $195 million on a budget of $75 million. While Ghostbusters Afterlife earned less money than the 2016 reboot starring Melissa McCarthy, the movie was produced for half the budget.

That doesn’t make it a flop, but it doesn’t make it a hit either, unlike other “soft reboots” The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, which turned incredible profits. If I were running the studio, I don’t think I’d gamble on another sequel. It simply can’t be done because the original movie’s success was dependent on the performers. These new kids are talented, but they’re not cable of providing entertainment in a vacuum, and the Ghostbusters Afterlife script (by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan) isn’t interested in mining laughs. In fact, the entire cast seems bored. Instead, we’re treated to a (kind-of) quirky “drama” with bits of humor.

There are a couple of items in the story that make no sense to me. Apparently Egon Spengler (computer-generated Harold Ramis) bequeaths a farmhouse in Oklahoma to his (loser) estranged daughter, Callie (Carrie Coon), and her kids, Phoebe (dull as dishwater McKenna Grace) and Trevor (an even duller Finn Wolfhard) where he has hidden away various pieces of Ghost-busting equipment as well as the Ecto-1. I don’t know why Venkman, Stantz, and Zeddimore didn’t confiscate this stuff, or at least store it in a place where it wouldn’t be neglected.

As it happens, Egon was prepping for an onslaught of spiritual turbulence courtesy of the resurrected Ivo Shandor and Gozer. Annie Potts cameos briefly to inform Callie the property is “worthless.” I don’t know how that’s possible, but it’s all for convenience sake, as well as confirmation once again that rich filmmakers don’t understand (or know how to write for) poor people and/or their motivations. Phoebe is a one-note character creation, Mary Sue in her abilities, but with a tinge of Egon because of the glasses and wild (Real Ghostbusters-inspired) hair; a 12-year old Einstein.

Trevor is incomplete as a character. It’s almost as if Phoebe got all the dialogue in earlier drafts, but then the writers decided she should have a brother, so they gave him a third of her dialogue. The other characters (with the exception of Logan Kim’s insufferable “Podcast”) don’t come off any better. They’re like very thin pieces of cardboard all in service to the story, which is nothing more than a variation on the original Ghostbusters, albeit in a rustic pastoral setting.

It’s a shame, because this could’ve been a beautiful movie if Reitman had stayed away from the obvious nostalgia (and the terrible ending) and set out to make his own movie. I would even accept the return of Ivo Shandor (briefly played by the great J.K. Simmons), the Terror Dogs, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Men, and Gozer if it were only to tell a story about a young woman who must learn a lesson of some kind. Unfortunately, the Mary Sue aspects of her character make it impossible for her to learn anything. As expected, the surviving Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson) return—along with the aforementioned CGI-Harold Ramis—to fight Gozer with Phoebe and save the day.

This scene bordered on tasteless. I know it was most likely intended as a tribute to Ramis, but as I said, I felt positively filthy watching it. I also didn’t appreciate the overuse of Elmer Bernstein’s incidental music from the original Ghostbusters. There are, something like, ten iterations of the theme used throughout the movie, and it gets annoying. The movie ends with two Marvel-style pre and post-credit sequences, which place the movie firmly (unlike 2016’s Ghostbusters) in the canon, and it’s obvious if the movie had succeeded, there would’ve been more movies with this young cast. I’d be more interested in prequels devoted to Shandor and his antics. Now, I kind-of want the ghost of Harold Ramis to haunt the makers of this movie.

For more Franchise Rewind, visit Second Union!

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