Why worry? ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is a welcome addition to the franchise

The recently released installment in the iconic 80s’ universe feels more like a sequel than other attempts, despite leaning heavily on nostalgia

By Josh Hadley

The newly released “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a return to the franchise’s form. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

The Ghostbusters’ history is fraught with fright.

The franchise started as a coke-addled, 300-page sci-fi epic from the mind of screenwriter Dan Aykroyd in the early 1980s that was based loosely on old, hacky movies. The idea was eventually refined by screenwriting partner Harold Ramis into something manageable.

Originally called “The Ghost Smashers,” the film was written as a vehicle for Aykroyd and the late John Belushi to riff and indulge in onscreen hijinks, but the trouble began with Belushi’s death.

When the title was changed to the much better “Ghostbusters” apparently no one on the film remembered Filmation’s live-action “Ghost Busters” TV series from 1975 so a lawsuit ensued.

Then, even before the movie comes out, the super-popular theme song is revealed to be a plagiarized work with Ray Parker Jr stealing not just the beat but the entire structure from Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug.”

At this point in time, most of the script that Aykroyd wrote with Ramis was unfilmable by 1984 standards and Bill Murray proceeds to ad-lib his way through the film rendering the movie a nightmare to edit.

Despite these rocky roads, the film was released that same year and became a cultural signpost.

Due to this demand, a sequel was fired up right away, but varied reasons and accounts delayed production until 1989 when “Ghostbusters II” was released.

The sequel was underwhelming and, in many ways, a pseudo-remake of the first movie which followed many of the same beats and was considered lazy and uninspired by many (myself included).

Following down the franchise’s rabbit hole, a slimy slew of spinoffs followed suit.

There was of course “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon series, as well as Filmation’s “Ghostbusters” cartoon based on the 1970s television show. There were comic books, role-playing games, and in 2009 the “Ghostbusters” video game (written by Aykroyd and Ramis) which could be considered the only “Ghostbusters III” a hopeful audience could get.

In 2016, Sony Pictures decided to reboot the franchise with a team of the least funny people in the history of film. Considered a strange flash-point, I saw this reboot as an unfunny reel devoid of laughter that may have forever sullied the Ghostbusters’ name.
Thankfully, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was born this year.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a breath of fresh air. Despite its stumbles (which are plentiful), the film isn’t forced and comes from a place of honesty and emotion. The new addition to the franchise comes from director Jason Reitman (son of the original film’s director Ivan Reitman) honors the legacy of not just the Ghostbusters and its fans but of the now late Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler.

The plot starts years after the events of the first movie (and apparently “Ghostbusters II” seems to not have happened). Egon is trying to stop Gozer (the franchise’s seemingly unkillable nemesis) from reentering the world.

Things don’t work out and his estranged daughter and grandchildren must take up their grandfather’s battle.

That’s the plot boiled down quite a bit, but the movie feels like a real sequel instead of a needless rehash. The 2021 installment presents itself with the familiarity of the original film and that is already a win. The film features cameos from the still-living cast, a nod to the “Ghostbusters III” we will never get.

Taking off the franchise-tinted goggles, there are some major issues with this movie. The first is that it overloads you with nostalgia. I don’t think a minute goes by without some reference to the first movie. It becomes oppressive. It is distracting how much this movie wants to remind you of the first film.

The cast is filled with positives and negatives. Not counting the cameos from the original cast—which are all well and good and watching Murray enjoy himself onscreen was worth it—there are far too many characters in this movie. Many of them are just there for major portions of the movie and only become useful in the finale. They should have combined some of these into one or two that function the same. There are some standouts though.

Mckenna Grace (“Young Sheldon,” “I, Tonya”) is simply amazing in the lead role as Phoebe. She brings a childlike enthusiasm mixed with the inquisitive bloodline which she nails perfectly. Carrie Coon (“Gone Girl,” “The Post”) plays the role of Phoebe’s mother, and she brings a great adult figure into the mix to play off the goofy teacher character played by Paul Rudd.

The film is not without story problems, but the majority of those can’t be discussed without some major spoilers. These problems are something that should have been fixed in the scripting phase and without said changes, the plot requires some mental gymnastics to make it fit.

With all of this, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a welcome addition to the franchise, despite its over-reliance on nostalgia and gaping holes in logic. Thankfully, this addition is a bright spot amongst some of the previous piles of ectoplasm that attempted to resurrect this beloved universe.

Josh Hadley is an analog warrior writing for the varied likes of Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Horrorhound, The Dark Side, Hustler, Delirium, Cashiers du Cinemart and many others. He’s a veteran of low-budget television and film. Flying through the night with a VCR and the perspective of a Luddite, Hadley zigs while others zag and takes you along for the ride.

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