The Newest Entry in a Franchise That Should be Forever Locked Away in a Ghost Trap.
DIRECTED BY JASON REITMAN/2021
RIP nostalgia. We’ve had a good run, though in hindsight, it’s actually been a problematic circle. Whether it’s worshipping the past so much that that it creates a double-edged sword of rebooting older properties into films instead of original content and then destroying those reboots on reddit with a vigor that can only come from someone who has nothing else in life to fight for; whether it’s electing officials based on a cherry-picked privileged view of the past to take us back to; or whether it’s mindlessly escaping to the 80s and 90s to ignore the horrible, virus-infected present we currently live in due to those leaders we elected – nostalgia is a tornado-like cycle that engulfs us all.
In Edgar Wright’s recent deliciously-messy Last Night in Soho, he took a rather brilliant swipe at the seductive deception of nostalgia that made the film so refreshingly antithetical to all other films that cave into it, I forgave its problems.
Yet with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, any progress we made was immediately destroyed by a 75 million-dollar fan film that needs nostalgia to do most of the work for it as it barely even qualifies as a film in isolation from the original.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is just restrictive filmmaking. It is worried about connecting the dots and having everything that happened in the original happen here again so it doesn’t get yelled at in Twitter comments. It’s references first and story a distant second.
The plot revolves around Dr Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis in the original) living in the middle of nowhere, estranged from his family and the other Ghostbusters, seemingly for selfish reasons, but actually it’s so he can battle a devil-spirit lurking in a nearby mine. He is killed in the opening scene and his disgruntled daughter and grandchildren inherit his worthless house and debt, and soon learn they inherit his responsibility as well.
From there, the film is just an unfocused mess that panics if it goes 5 minutes without a wink and nod to the original. The humor is insepid and it has little of its own voice. It’s just a exercise in dudes who proudly tell you the original is their favorite movie ever to point at the screen like the Leonardo Dicaprio meme every time a callback pops up.
If there’s any credit to the film, Mckenna Grace is pretty excellent as the granddaughter who takes the mantle as the leader. I can’t wait to see her in better movies. And Reitman may be giving in to the toxic underbelly of fandom who went nuts at the 2016 estrogen version by feeding them the red meat of loyalty to the original, but at least he doesn’t play into their dubious mindset. By making the young girl the leader and showing a relationship between Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor and Celeste O’Connor’s Lucky as being a respectful love affair that she basically controls and he scrambles to catch up after his macho attempts at courtship don’t work, the film seems to have its frightened heart in the right place. At least in the first half, as the second half realizes that romance is as boring as we do and all but forgets about it.
There’s kind of an environmentalist thing happening here with making the spirits analogous to fracking, but it’s so half-baked and seems to want credit for messaging while doing it so inoffensively that the bros who like to proudly announce they don’t watch movies for political messages, like they’re the only ones who matter as they scream out loud their 1-star yelp review for political art, will in no way be confronted or challenged by it.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife somehow hits all the beats of the original yet feels more like Stanger Things meets Transformers in its executions. Jason Reitman promises Easter eggs in the movie to the original, which seems like Gus Van Sant claiming his version of Psycho has easter eggs.
I don’t worship the original. It was good but also just one of many films of the 80s I watched, enjoyed and then moved on. So perhaps to diehard fans this may be what you need. But to me, it felt soulless.