So finally, after several delays, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been released. But the big question is, was it worth the wait? Well, that’s why I have written this article. An article that I’m going to split into various sections. A quick history lesson, a confession and then finally, a review. Now, I’m doing this review spoiler-free. While I will be touching on plot and story points, I’m not going into detail and if I do, I’m only covering things already seen in the trailers. So yeah, no spoilers here, just my honest opinion of a film that has taken over three decades to arrive.
It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have a cinematic Ghostbusters III. Truth be told, a Ghostbusters III movie was on and off the cards a few times over the years. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had been working on a third film for years, but various obstacles prevented the film from being made… mainly Bill Murray being a bit of a dick about the whole project. As it was looking less and less likely that a third film would be made, Aykroyd and Ramis reworked the scripts they had been writing and changed used them in Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009 instead.
Often seen as the ‘third film’, the game was well-received by fans (I personally found it a tad tiresome and repetitive). But the success of the game led to talks of a proper Ghostbusters III film once more and once more, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis started to work on a script. Then, sadly Ramis died in 2014 and the hopes of a new Ghostbusters flick died with him.
All was not lost however, as a new Ghostbusters film was made. 2016 saw the release of a remake with an all-female ghostbusting team. Fan backlash aside, the new film was meant to be a springboard for a whole interconnecting Ghostbusters universe and a new production studio was created, Ghost Corps. The idea was to make multiple movies, TV shows and (possibly) even new video games all under this Ghost Corps label. However, the Ghostbusters remake tanked at the box office and almost killed off Ghost Corps before it even had a chance to live. However, Ghost Corps did have one thing up their sleeves that they were working on at the time.
A new Ghostbusters film was announced. It was nothing more than a teaser image and for a while, it was believed to be fake. A fan-made image just to mess with people. Then a very small teaser began to circulate around social media. It looked convincing… but again, it was being dismissed as a fan-made thing. Until Jason Reitman confirmed it was real. But who is this Jason Reitman fella? Only the son of Ivan Reitman, the director of the original Ghostbusters movie. Not only did we have confirmation that there was going to be a new flick and from the son of the original film’s director too… it was going to be set in the original film’s universe. Not a sequel to the underperforming remake from 2016, a sequel to the ‘proper’ Ghostbusters.
Fans went wild with anticipation, they waited for more news and info. After a while a title was announced, Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Then at the end of 2019, a trailer was released. Just from that short, out of context edited two minutes and forty-five seconds, the world saw a Ghostbusters film, more importantly it ‘felt’ a Ghostbusters film. At the end of the trailer, fans were told it was coming summer 2020, about a six or seven month wait. Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic hit hard, cinemas closed over summer, which meant no films were released. Ghostbusters: Afterlife was delayed for a whole year until summer 2021. But the pandemic was still very much ongoing and doubts began to rise over the film seeing that delayed summer 2021 date. Other films were getting delayed or delayed even more (see the James Bond flick No Time To Die).
Ghostbusters fans were fit to burst. They had waited decades for a cinematic Ghostbusters III and they knew there was one all finished and ready to be watched, but that damn pandemic was casting a huge black cloud over the whole thing, another delay was looking very likely. Eventually, that delay was announced. Instead of a summer 2021 release, the film would have a November 2021 release. Long story short and finally, Ghostbusters: Afterlife hit the big screen, thirty-two years after the release of Ghostbusters II.
When it comes to Ghostbusters, I’m not as big of a fan as so many others are. I do often think that the first film is over-hyped. Now, I’m not saying that Ghostbusters is a bad film, very far from it. I enjoy it, it’s great. I just think it’s a decent, goofy, throwback to classic comedy-horror flicks like Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff or Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man or Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. Abbott and Costello did a lot of these types of flicks. I do like the film but I do think it is highly over-praised at the same time.
On the whole, the Ghostbusters franchise is pretty damn weak. As good as the first film is, it was followed up with a pretty ‘okay’ sequel. Ghostbusters II lacked so much of what the first film had. Bill Murray seemed to be totally bored, he said of the film in 2008 that:
“We did a sequel and it was sort of rather unsatisfying for me, because the first one to me was … the real thing. They’d written a whole different movie than the one [initially discussed]. And the special-effects guys got it. There were a few great scenes in it, but it wasn’t the same movie.”
Even the director, Ivan Reitman, admits they got it wrong:
“It didn’t all come together. We just sort of got off on the wrong foot story-wise on that film.”
Reviews at the time were not kind and while I think some of them may have been overly critical for the most part, they also made several great points. Ghostbusters II was a very lacklustre sequel to a really good film. Part of the reason it took so long to get another sequel off the ground was because everyone involved (except Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) decided to wash their hands of the whole franchise after the sequel.
Between the first and second film, there was the animated TV show The Real Ghostbusters (which is on YouTube via the official Ghostbusters channel with episodes uploaded weekly). In all honesty, the first two seasons are great, season three is pretty good too… and then season four started. The show was retitled to Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters and it all went very wrong. I need to do a more detailed look at just why this show went downhill so much from season four onwards, just not here and now. Anyway, the show was really damn good and even tied into the movie, with the movie (supposedly) being a fictional take on the ‘real’ Ghostbusters of the show. They even go to watch the film within the cartoon show in the Take Two episode.
The cartoon show had its own sequel with Extreme Ghostbusters. But by the late-nineties, the Ghostbusters franchise was dormant. Aside from the 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game… errrrr video game, which was said to be a ‘proper sequel’ to the films at the time, the franchise was pretty much dead. Then we had the whole rebirth via the Ghost Corps production studio, the 2016 remake, etc. But overall, the Ghostbusters franchise is really rather weak all told. A very good first film, a very ‘meh’ sequel, a great animated show that went bad, a video game that was above average at best and a much-hated remake. As a whole franchise, it’s all very underwhelming. And that is my confession in a rather large nutshell. Ghostbusters (aside from the first film) is rather weak. Something I have always felt, to be honest.
Which makes watching this film and writing this review really very ‘interesting’ as I don’t really feel any compulsion to get the rose-tinted glasses on, while being blinded by nostalgia. I’m a fan of the first film, but not to the point of hysteria and I like to think that I can watch this sequel with a relatively open mind… while knowing the franchise is okay-ish.
If you have seen the trailers over the last few weeks, then you should already know the basics. Egon dies and he leaves his rundown shack of a farmhouse to his daughter. She moves in with her two children, Egon’s grandkids. One of those children, Phoebe, is a bit of a whizz-kid, very much science orientated like her grandfather. However, there’s more to the farmhouse than it just being a rundown shack. Egon discovered something, something his grandkids have to deal with.
Really, and to no surprise to anyone, this is a passing of the torch movie. The old Ghostbusters making way for the new blood. I thought the kids really pulled it off too, to the point where I wasn’t even that bothered if the original cast turned up or not. The two main characters being Phoebe and Trevor (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) really do carry this film and you can see a lot of Egon Spengler in Phoebe. Then there’s Podcast (Logan Kim), yes that is the character’s name… cos he’s a podcaster He was great fun and had quite a few funny lines and he felt stereotypical eighties side-kick, just in a 2021 film.
I did say I’m avoiding spoilers here but it’s really not a spoiler to say that Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman and Winston Zeddemore are all in the film, it’s been an open secret since the first trailer. I’m not going to tell you just how they are used… but it is pretty fitting. While they really are nothing more than glorified cameos, that is all that’s needed really. Of the three, it is Dan Aykroyd who gets the most screen time and that feels right too, he was always the one that delivered the exposition. Plus, Janine Melnitz is back too, even if her role really is only a minute or two.
The story most definitely works and it fits right in with the events of the original film. While this is being called the third Ghostbusters film, for me, it felt more like an alternate Ghostbusters II. From what I recall, I don’t even think the events of the sequel were mentioned in this one. The events of the first film are mentioned and referenced several times. Very, very, very slight spoilers here. There’s a bit in the film where the kids discover a prophecy, dictated by years. Various cataphoric events throughout history are linked to the years found. 1984 and the events ghost invasion of New York from the first film is one of those years… yet there’s zero mention of the events from Ghostbusters II. Ray does say a line of dialogue that kind of, in a roundabout way, very loosely, seemingly and quite possibly alludes to a small plot point in Ghostbusters II. That being that they went out of business because they did too good a job of cleaning up ghosts and they all went their separate ways. However, in Ghostbusters II, they get back together and the main plot kicks in. But here in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, they just split up according to Ray. So yeah, it seems this ignored the events of Ghostbusters II to work as a direct sequel to the first film. I may be wrong, but that was the impression I got.
One thing I really did love about Ghostbusters: Afterlife is something I really enjoyed about the remake and something sorely missing from the first film. You see the characters become Ghostbusters. In the original film, they just become Ghostbusters because the script says so. They get the firehouse, get the car and there you go, they’re Ghostbusters now. In the remake, you see the characters create and build their equipment, they test it out they evolve and become Ghostbusters. The same goes for this film too. the kids discover Egon’s old equipment and they tinker with it, they learn how to use it. They don’t find it and just become Ghostbusters, in fact, they don’t really become Ghostbusters proper until the last 15-20 minutes. And I really liked that, the characters grow and evolve, they become.
There were some negatives for me. The fan-service is off the charts and I do think the nods and references to the original were certainly a bit overdone even clumsy at times. From tiny little background details like vertically stacked books, which are fine, to more in your face and obvious ‘who ya gonna call’ dialogue or a close-up shot of a Twinkie that did make me groan a little. Of course, I knew going into this that the references would be there, I just feel that there should’ve been fewer of them. This really does work as a great sequel to the first film and can even be held up in its own right. It really didn’t need all the fan-service, to be honest and some of it just felt too forced and awkward. As if Jason Reitman thought he needed to tell the audience that they are watching a sequel to Ghostbusters every other scene.
The third act is basically a remake of the first film too. That did disappoint me somewhat. Mainly as up until then, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is doing its own thing, it is standing on its own two feet and really impressed on its own merits. Then the climax arrives and you are just watching events from the first film, very slightly remixed. The same events happen to two side characters, the same lines from the first film are used, the same plot points, a lot of the same iconography, images and effects are reused. Yeah, that last third of the film is good… but just too familiar and with what happens up to that point, I’d rather that it did its own thing instead of rehashing the finale from the first film.
Then there’s the absolute ending. Without spoilers, something happens at the end that made me let out an audible sigh. It was something I feared the film would do when it was first announced, even more so when the title was revealed and it was something I knew for sure the film would do when I watched the opening. Even so, when it happened, for me, it was too much. It should’ve been more subtle, more suggestive. Instead, it was like, ‘hey look what we did everyone… it’s a Ghostbusters sequel remember!’. Yes I know some Ghostbusters fans will tear into me for this, but it really is just a tad on the cheesy side, it was too on the nose.
Overall though, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a fun romp. It feels right, it feels very eighties. Imagine if The Goonies had walked onto the Ghostbusters set and you have Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Taking the action away from the big city and placing it in a small town really works, it feels more personal and more involved. While Harold Ramis died back in 2014 and Egon is no longer alive, the character is very central to the plot. For the most part, both character and actor are treated with respect.
There are a couple of credit scenes. The first one is nothing more than even more pointless fan-service. As great as it was to see these two actors together, the scene just felt desperate. It’s also a surprise that is ruined if you pay attention to the credits. The last scene after the credits is more fitting and is most definitely sequel-bait. But it is sequel-bait done well and a scene that really made me smile.
For me, Ghostbusters: Afterlife really does work, for the most part. I loved the two main leads with both Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard carrying the film well… even if it is Mckenna who does most of the carrying. But she is wonderful and picks up the Ghostbusters torch very well. I do maintain that some of the fan-service was a bit OTT and clunky and that final act was disappointing when compared to how well the rest of the film came across. But yeah, this is a great sequel that really does work. Ignore everything else, re-watch the first film before going to see this and you’re in for a treat.