Before I get into the very serious business of eviscerating Jason Reitman’s new Ghostbusters movie GhostBusters: Afterlife, a soulless Happy Meal of a movie that expects you to just make a meal of the cardboard box and be happy with that, I feel as if I must first flash my nerd credentials with regards to this particular property. (And as with nearly all big studio movies that’s all Ghostbusters is now—property, real estate, a patch of cement to get flipped over and again for the sheer spectacle of profit margins.) Because that’s where we are as film critics—the fans, who this was supposedly made for (and what a slap-dash affront of a gift it is), will dismiss us as hoity-toity dilettantes, too busy licking watercress sandwiches and balancing the pince-nez on our noses to properly appreciate a good old fashioned sliming when we see one.
So please, know me. I have adored Ghostbusters since childhood. Adult Me gets that it’s a slapped-together goof that coasts on its leads charms, but I’ve got the starry-eyed curse of nostalgia for it nevertheless. For one it’s a foundational “Why I moved to New York City” text for me—I fully cried the first time I stood outside the firehouse in Tribeca. I’ve seen the 1984 original and its sequel more times than there are hot dogs stuffed in Slimer’s face. I watched the animated series every Saturday morning like it was my religion, and I had every toy my meager allowance allowed me to get. (Holla for “Fearsome Flush” the Ghost Toilet, baby.) In the vast wasteland between the 1989 sequel and the 2016 Lady Ghostbusters reboot (which is more fun than this one, fight me) I googled “how to make your own Ecto Cooler” on multiple occasions; indeed right this minute sitting in my kitchen lay a crate of juice-boxes of that gorgeous electric green god nectar that dates five-years-old, just in case of Ecto Emergency. I’ve had dreams set inside the surreal cartoon landscape of the Containment Unit vis-à-vis the Sandman, for Vigo the Carpathian’s sake!
Point being I know this franchise like Egon knows Twinkies, and I cannot in good faith recommend Ghostbusters: Afterlife as a quality anything. Oh there are empty calories—very very empty—to be had in some of its relentless fan-servicing. I too can feel the pull of my inner child raising one of his little child fingers and pointing at the Proton Pack while saying to himself, “That there is a Proton Pack.” It sure is, Little Me! But if this is fan service what is it in service of? What, I ask you? I can go home tonight, any night of any week, and re-watch Ivan Reitman’s two movies and get my Venkman-Barrett rocks off that way. In Afterlife there’s something ghoulish and uncanny in nearly every explicit call-back that comes flying at us full speed, then suddenly dropped in front of us like ten hundred tons of marshmallow fluff—is this all there is? There aren’t enough bent spoons in all the world for all of this careless sugar slop, Jason Reitman.
A large part of the problem as I see is contained in the wince I just had while writing that last sentence, where I only allowed myself to vaguely hint towards “call-backs” because I wasn’t sure what “surprises” I should “spoil,” and a more soul-deadening way to write about the movies I can’t imagine. These four-quadrant big-budget I.P. spectacles have become all about “surprise” in the absence of little things like “plot” or “character” or “writing.” If I spoil the fan-service that’s tossed at us fans what the hell is there left to even write about of note? These “surprises” are literally all there is, a string of familiar objects glopped together with CG mush and lazy gags. There’s more than a little morbid symbolism to the spiraling Soul Tornado this sucker ends with.
Should I force myself to go into detail about the fascinating family life of the displaced Spengler clan? Is that even a spoiler, that they’re Spenglers? I don’t know! I’m sure somebody will be angry at me for revealing that but this review is no doubt at this point one big anger magnet, so what’s one more. So there’s Mom Spengler (Carrie Coon, faultless), Boy Teen Nerd Spengler (Finn Wolfhard), and Slightly Younger Girl Nerd Spengler (McKenna Grace) — and no I’m not going to be bothered to learn their names if the script for the movie can’t be bothered to keep straight small frivolous things like their “ages” or “personalities.” So the “Shhhh they’re Spenglers” Spenglers are broke, and Mom’s estranged dad Egon — who doesn’t get named until halfway into the movie even though it’s clear from Scene One that’s who he is … so why I ask you, why is the movie so coy? Save the fact that that “revelation” is literally all it has going for it in terms of “story” of course. So five minutes into the movie “Shh It’s Egon” Egon officially drops the dead into “deadbeat dad” and shuffles off the mortal coil. Oh and Spoiler alert, I suppose! Ahh!!!
So from there The Family That Shall Not Be Named shuffles their nameless asses off to the Middle of Nowhere, Iowa or whatever, where The Dead Dad Who Shall Not Be Named had a great big dirt farm and a falling down house that he has left them. Once they’re in nowhere town they decide to stay, because broke, and so Teen Girl starts going to summer school because, well, I guess the plot demanded a role for Paul Rudd? Otherwise why she’s going to summer school makes no sense. Rudd, who bless him sure tries, picks up the slacker scientist mantle as one Mr. Gary Grooberson—and yes I remember his name because the script says it about fifteen times, as that’s apparently a joke that’s worth repeating over and again. Oh and mining that same rich vein of humor there’s a sidekick character nicknamed “Podcast” (Logan Kim) who, stop me if you see this one coming, has a podcast. And honestly being forced to write all of this down has me starting to think that Harold Ramis had the right idea. (I am sorry, Harold. For everything. But mainly this movie.)
Once all of these fascinating Cassavetes-level personalities are plopped out before us, well that’s when the plot kicks into gear. And when I say “plot” what I mean is that “somebody cut and pasted these new people into the script from the first Ghostbusters movie and then went and had themselves a fancy dinner on the studio’s dime.” Nothing on-screen reads like anybody gave one big Twinkie about what they were doing, which is vaguely in the loose comedy spirit of the original film, sure, just sans any of the easy charm that flowed from its not-ready-for-primetime 80s players. But that carelessness starts to read as nigh on offensive once the movie also tries to ladle on real-life syrup about it being a tribute to those we’ve lost. Again, my apologies to Harold. It’s the movie that doesn’t actually care, man!
As the film flop-sweats towards its grand conclusion suddenly characters who have no reason to know things about the things that are happening know everything there is to know, all of them immediate big-time ghost experts—I experienced a whole-body-cringe when Podcast could categorize ghosts by sight a day after learning that ghosts actually exist. Once upon a time these movies, in their admittedly lackadaisical way, appreciated the concept of education. These dudes might’ve been slackers but they worked hard to earn that! But in Ghostbusters: Afterlife it’s less than even just the simplest of pro-nerd lip-service — the legacy’s been just handed to these people, passed down through genetics apparently. No work needed. (Hello, Jason Reitman.)
And who has time for thinking when there’s so much “surprise” to be had? Anyway, I think we’re supposed to assume that the characters YouTube’d everything there is to know about everything in the span of a day—even that falls apart under a whiff of scrutiny but sure, why not. That’s how we’ll save the world. That said I really I can’t recommend anything better than you yourself YouTubing up some good videos right there in the theater while this movie’s playing in front of you. Hell maybe bring up Papa Ivan’s 1984 film on your phone and hold it up in front of the movie screen itself—I can guarantee a better time that way, that’s for devil-dog damn sure.
Image sources (in order of posting): Sony,