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Movie Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife

By Jason Koenigsberg

The retro train (or retread train) continues on with a stop at Ghostbusters junction smack dab in the heart of the midwest instead of the Big Apple. Thirty-seven years after the original comedy classic was released it is getting the Force Awakens treatment that was so profitable for the Star Wars franchise that Columbia obviously wanted in on the action and is hoping their cute little Mr. Stay-Puft dolls can sell as much as baby Yoda.

The movie opens up with easily recognizable music notes over the Sony and Columbia Pictures logo. Personally the old Columbia Pictures logo is synonymous with me and the Ghostbusters score playing over it, that’s how much I watched the VHS tape as a child. I suppose that is who this movie was made for, adults that grew up loving Ghostbusters as a kid because this is less of a movie and more of a constant parade of references to the 1984 Ghostbusters hoping that adults like me will be proud of ourselves pointing out all of the references, and it starts early and never lets up even in two post credits scenes. The opening shot is an ominous circular cloud hover over a mountain as lighting flashes. The incessant references begin with the second shot displaying a sign that states ‘Shandor Mining Co.’, those who know the original Ghostbusters will recognize that name. So right from the first moments the references begin and they never let up, as stated through not one but two post credits sequences. That is not a movie, that is a sad grasp for nostalgia. If this is what movies have become then it is no wonder why Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBOMax TV shows are attracting more talented actors, writers, and directors instead of the big Hollywood studios.

Now, this is not the first movie to be guilty of relying on nostalgia to carve out a reason to exist. In fact there are several of those movies you can find I gave positive reviews for, but they had other impressive attributes that made the film entertaining to watch. This just felt like the writers, producers, and director wanted to combine Stranger Things, the very popular Netflix series that relies on 80’s nostalgia as part of its DNA, along with callbacks to every minute detail that the original movie has to offer. There are two reasons why Ghostbusters:Afterlife fails. The most prescient being that all of the new characters we are introduced to are very bland and uninteresting. Not even People’s Sexiest Man Alive the ageless Paul Rudd could make his geologist summer school teacher fun. So the audience is left with over 90 minutes of boring, mundane, tedious plot to trudge their way through. This movie is really slow to get going and by the time you realize it is just an uninspired remake of the first picture you are going to know exactly where it is going and be disappointed before it reaches its predictable climax.

Paul Rudd holding a ghost trap in ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’

The second reason Ghostbusters:Afterlife fails is because the biggest mistake they made with this movie was taking New York City out of the Ghostbusters. There is a reason why the action takes place in a small unpopulated mining town, but Ghostbusters and even Ghostbusters 2 (1989) and the 2016 remake/reboot all took place in New York City and made the most use of that city as any movie ever has. These movies are iconic for taking place in New York and how they utilize the city where it is practically a character every bit as important as the ones played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, or anyone else who made a career for themselves after appearing in the original. Ghostbusters always worked because it took place in New York City and it was unimaginable that it would have worked as well in any other setting. Ghostbusters:Afterlife proves that theory because the story did not work, cornfields are no replacement for skyscrapers, Walmart is no Tavern on the Green, and yellow taxi cabs, hot dog stands, and Lincoln Center are far more interesting than empty diners, empty parking lots, and spooky caves where the big action set pieces take place.

Now the only aspect of Ghostbusters:Afterlife that is rewarding is finally seeing our heroes back in action, that does not come until well into the final act during the climactic battle with Gozer the same ancient evil Sumerian Godlike creature they battle on top of a Manhattan high-rise in the first film. Well they battle him/her in the climax here on a dirt farm in Sumerville, Oklahoma, see how clever the writing is? Also note the sarcasm. But that is when finally practically out of nowhere our 3 living Ghostbusters from the original appear and it was at that point when I said ‘Finally!’ and the movie put a smile on my face. Seeing Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson in their iconic suits with their proton packs ready to do battle with the supernatural did live up to expectations and really contain the best scene in the movie with a sometimes awkward yet tastefully done homage to the late great Harold Ramis who’s character Egon Spengler is integral to the plot of Ghostbusters:Afterlife. This movie left me wanting more of them and less of these forgettable characters that were not even good enough to be on Stranger Things. The fact this movie makes you spend over an hour and a half with such banal characters in such a banal plot with these guys waiting in the wings to show up and save the movie, and the day, is unforgivable. We all kind of know that Bill Murray has contempt for this role which made him a huge movie star and allowed him to have the life he has had since this is the biggest hit of his career, but Dan Aykroyd loves this movie and loves to play Ray Stantz. Seeing him in the movie made me think of another great Dan Aykroyd movie from the 80’s. I wish Ghostbusters:Afterlife went the Blues Brothers route and the plot involved Ray, always the most enthusiastic of the Ghostbusters bringing the band back together so to speak after finding out about his old friend Egon’s death and wanting to finish the work Egon had started. That would have been a more satisfying movie for fans of the original because then they would have at least gotten to see the Ghostbusters they wanted to see for more of the runtime instead of a mediocre plot that ended up being nothing but a remake of the original with significantly more prosaic characters and setting. That way they could have had more sequences in New York as the original Ghostbusters drive out to the country to investigate the paranormal activity Egon discovered before his passing. It could have been half road movie, half retread and took place at least half the time in New York City.

Basically I guess I just wanted a completely different movie than what I was given with Ghostbusters:Afterlife. Jason Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman who directed the original two Ghostbusters. But his son has directed a few great films and was even nominated for a well deserved Best Director Academy Award for the George Clooney movie Up in the Air (2009) so he did not get this job just because of who his father is. He also has a history with the franchise starring as the obnoxious kid in Ghostbusters 2 who tells Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson that they are “full of crap”. The problem here was not with the direction, it was with the script that Jason Reitman obviously approved that was hoping to appeal to older viewers with the constant references some of which were clever, most of which were eye roll inducing, and the plot involving the kids discovering the Ghostbusters for themselves hoping to appeal to the younger viewers that did not grow up with the original. The new stuff was not interesting and the stars from the original only improve the climax and were not enough to save this movie, certainly not enough to spend money on.

Skip this movie. Instead stay home and watch the original, or Ghostbusters 2 or even the all female reboot which I did not think was as bad as the rest of the internet makes it out to be. Check out this member berries clip from South Park. This is basically all Ghostbusters:Afterlife has to offer.

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