The Dark Herald Recommends Ghostbusters AfterlifeThe Dark Herald
Ivan Reitman’s early years in Hollywood are something he would like swept as far under the carpet as possible.
His salad days body of work includes such titles as Columbus of Sex, Cannibal Girls, Rabid (starring Marilyn Chambers in her only non-pornographic role), Shivers, and that groundbreaking classic, Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia. All of these movies were all slightly better than they had any right to be, but it looked like he was never going to find his way out of B-movie hell.
In 1979, Reitman found himself producing yet another college sex comedy, but he had a slightly better cast than usual, some kid hot off of Saturday Night Live called Belushi was signed. The director, John Landis, only had one credit but the kid was showing promise, Kentucky Fried Movie had been a terrific little comedy on a microscopic budget. The script was (for a wonder) funny enough (courtesy of Harold Ramis) that he wouldn’t need all that much nudity to keep the audience interested. To top it all off, the movie had a title that did its job by telling the audience everything they needed to know about National Lampoon’s Animal House. It was enough of a hit on a modest budget that a lot of the people who had worked on it were lifted out of the schlock mines.
Reitman naturally asked Harold Ramis, what else have you got? Turns out he had a military comedy called, Stripes. Belushi wasn’t interested but Ramis’ friend Bill Murray was. And just like that, Reitman was no longer a one-hit wonder.
He had one last B-movie in him; Space Hunter Adventures in the Forbidden Zone but that was just something he did to keep the lights on while he was developing a new project that Murray, Ramis, and their friend Dan Aykroyd had brought him.
A supernatural special effects comedy called Ghost Stoppers.
There was a rights issue with Ghost Busters.
As everyone knows Ghostbusters (1984) was one of the biggest comedy hits of the decade.
Here is the big thing you need to remember about Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis. They had all been part of the counterculture movement of the 1970 but by the mid-Eighties, they had gone from hippie to yuppie and were ready to cash in. However, they still had an air of being edgy-cool around them. They had reached a crest of a wave between youthful rebellious energy and mature competence in 1984, and everyone kind of knew it. The timing had been perfect to produce a lightning in a bottle mega-hit.
In 1989 it longer was.
Rather than moving forward, all of the Ghostbusters backtracked on their development. The movie had to arrange things, so the setting and characters were basically back to square one, and ready to repeat their plot arcs from five years ago. Ghostbusters II was the worst kind of sequel, a shot-for-shot remake of the original. And none of the actors were perceived as cutting edge by then. They were all part of the establishment by the end of the Eighties. I knew it was going to be bad when I saw the first shot of Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson being clowns at a kid’s party and Aykroyd was fat.
Ghostbusters II bombed and rightfully so.
But while Dan Aykroyd was nuts, he liked making money, so he wanted to keep making Ghostbusters movies. Ivan Reitman was completely on board with this idea as was Ramis. Ernie Hudson couldn’t stop panting after it. The only guy who dug in his heels was the one Ghostbuster they couldn’t do without, Bill Murray. Smartass conman-with-a-heart-of-gold, Peter Venkman was the real star of the show, without him they had nothing, and everyone knew it.
Ghostbuster fans have been furious with him ever since. There was a thirty-year shower of shit over Murray’s continued absence on another sequel. I have heard every accusation, imprecation, and asseveration imaginable about Bill Murray’s abject refusal to do another Ghostbusters.
You know what I haven’t heard? An explanation as to why Ghostbusters III would have been any better than Ghostbusters II.
Sorry to break this to you but there is absolutely no reason to think it would have been an improvement. They probably would have had to bring in another writer because Harold Ramis, (it hurts to say this), ran out of steam early as a writer. His IMDB credits page gives mute testimony to this. Of his twenty writing credits since Ghostbusters II only five of them don’t have the name Ghostbuster in the title. His last good movie was Analyze This (1999).
Bill Murray made the right call. His smartass-trickster shtick from Stripes was played out long before he did Ghostbusters III. Audiences were done with it. Going back to Peter Venkman would have been a bad career move.
However, the Ghostbusters franchise was never quite dormant. There were cartoons and quite a few video games. The 2009 game is probably as close as you’ll get to the illusory sequel to the original, but it really isn’t close enough.
Sony Pictures had desperately wanted a franchise other than Spiderman for years and despite its spotty track record, Ghostbusters looked like it was worth a try. After the death of Harold Ramis, Sony executive and incompetent boob Amy Pascal decided to force out Ivan Reitman and try literally anybody else.
Paul Feige pitched his usual shtick of a female-led parody and Pascal declared it genius.
You know the rest. I’m not going into all the reasons that Ghostbusters (2016) was godawful, that would be a 40,000-word novella. Regardless, that overpriced turd of a movie did not stick when thrown against the wall. It was a major bomb.
After the blood was mopped up off the floor and Amy Pascal was sent into internal exile, Sony still didn’t have a new franchise. Reitman’s son, Jason pitched an idea, and the new CEO who had a business (and not entertainment) background said, here is your very small budget, don’t go over it.
Ghostbusters Afterlife is a fantastic little movie. It delivers on everything you, the Ghostbusters fan, need it to deliver on. If you aren’t a Ghostbusters fan, I pity you but also, yeah, there is a decent little comedy with a few minor flaws for you as well.
But it’s the real Ghostbuster fans that are going to love it.
**********SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT****************
The movie starts with a shot of a purple, supernatural cloud hovering over a mountain like the one over the Sedgewick Hotel in the original movie. A proton pack fires into it and cut to a chase scene with a truck. The driver is barely recognizable as Egon Spengler. The truck crashes and Egon has to make a run for it on foot. He gets to a dilapidated farmhouse and is clearly setting up an ambush of some kind. He holds up an occupied ghost trap as bait, the entity that was chasing him attacks, and he is on foot. it looks promising for a moment but then there is a blowout and it’s obvious that whatever Egon’s plan was, it has failed. He has enough time to hide the ghost trap and then he is killed.
Credits roll and then we meet Egon’s estranged daughter and two grandchildren.
Their characters are quickly and effectively established. Callie, the Mom, is Penny from Big Bang Theory after she’s bid farewell to thirty and had a couple of kids.
Phoebe, her daughter gets her brains from Grandpa Egon as well as his very dry sense of humor. She is hyperintelligent but a little on the ASD spectrum.
Mom: You should make some friends.
Phoebe: What should I make them out of?
The joke works because by then you know that she is smart enough to actually have some options with regards to constructing companions from scratch. As a man who is married to a hyperintelligent woman, I can state for a fact that they got the character completely right with Phoebe. I was watching Lady Cataline’s spirit animal on the screen.
The older brother, Trevor is played by Finn Wolfhard who is just as good an actor today as he was when he was eleven. Finn is a child actor on the cusp of becoming a former child actor. Meaning he’s wooden. Truth be told most child actors aren’t that good at acting which is why so few of them make the transition to an adult thespian. His movie function is to drive the car because Phoebe is too young to do that. His practical function is to bring in the Eighties-friendly Zoomer audience.
So, the family gets evicted and has to move into their grandfather’s house in Oklahoma. They aren’t wild about it because Egon took care of it about as well as you think he would. It is nearly uninhabitable.
While there are some complaints from her children, I liked the fact that they accepted the situation. This was it, there was no going back to New York. And better still there wasn’t a constant, unending stream of constant anti-rural-America bitching and non-jokes. It was a nice change of pace from what I was expecting.
Phoebe begins to suspect their new house is haunted because when she moves one piece on a chessboard at night before bed, she finds a counter move has been made in the morning.
At school, she gets to know a science teacher, Mister Grooberson, who hates his job because the kids at summer school aren’t into science, (so he shows then Eighties horror movies on VHS). But he is quite interested in the unusual seismic activity around town because there shouldn’t be any at all. Phoebe is also intrigued; it gives her something else to do besides play chess with the ghost in her house.
Grooberson is also interested in Phoebe’s Mom Callie.
In the meantime, her brother Trevor starts chasing after a local girl. Honestly, the big question about Trevor was, could he be lifted out the story entirely? Or did they just want a kid from Stranger Things? Okay, in a rural setting a driver would be needed for a girl barely in her teens. So, no, they need the older sib. The thing is, I was so put off by Finn Wolfhard, I was genuinely wondering if a big sister-tomboy character wouldn’t have worked just as well. The answer I came to is, not quite. The older sibling needed to be attractive to a local.
Yes, a hot girl could do that but…
In a tight-knit rural community, it works much better if the local is a girl. A seventeen-year-old rural girl will find a new boy from the city “very interesting.” He wasn’t there to watch her vomit during the school recital when she was ten or trip over her robe and face plant when she graduated from grade school. The new boy simply wasn’t on hand for any of those awkward little humiliations of adolescence. That automatically makes him “very interesting.”
Phoebe finds out about the Ghostbusters and that her grandfather was one of them.
She then develops a relationship with the silent ghost at the farmhouse. She figures out that it has to be Egon.
Phoebe: I think I was visited by my grandfather’s ghost last night.
Podcast: Cool! Was he all moaning with chains?
Phoebe: No. That would be weird.
I was touched by how Jason Reitman used props to show the developing relationship between Egon and Phoebe. Egon was represented by a swivel-headed lamp.
Phoebe: How did you get this cyclotron so small?
The lamp swivels over to illuminate a bunch of advanced degrees on a wall.
That scene was nearly perfect. Reitman had Egon’s dry sense of humor being projected by a lamp.
McKenna Grace’s performance in this movie absolutely carries it. The Reitmans probably couldn’t have made this flick if they hadn’t found her. She is effectively the Venkman of the new franchise. She is that integral to this film and Ghostbusters’ future.
The Spenglers work out that Egon abandoned his family to save the world from another plot by Shandor from the first movie. So, there is some closure between the ghost of Egon and his daughter Callie.
A-n-d a lot of plot points from the 1984 flick are repeated at this point. It’s a little weak but you don’t have to slow things down with a lot of exposition either.
When Callie and Grooberson become the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper you know what their function is and what they will do. It’s not very daring but this wasn’t a flick that could afford to be daring either.
So, Gozer is awakened. It’s basically a replay of the climax from Ghostbusters (1984) although I felt it was effective in context.
However, there are some additions that don’t work at this point. We finally meet Ivo Shandor who has only three lines and then Gozer tears him apart. It was completely pointless. More so, because Shandor was played by J.K. Simmons and frankly you don’t hire an Oscar-winning actor for a fifteen-second cameo. I suspect he had a much bigger role at first, but they had to shut down because of Covid. When it was time to finish the movie, he was already working on Spiderman. The only reason I can think of for using the footage was to establish Simmons as Shandor for a sequel. It’s not like being dead is a disqualifier for a character in this universe.
More things happen.
And the new Ghostbusters try to execute Egon’s original plan to trap Gozer. It works about as well for them as it did for Egon.
When all seems lost the original Ghostbusters arrive to save the day.
Redletter Media was ridiculously pissing themselves over the OG Ghostbusters showing up at the climax. RLM’s position is that they didn’t need to be there at all and under ordinary circumstances that would be true. They could have finished the story just fine without bringing them in. But that stinking cinematic suppository, Ghostbusters (2016) went light-years out of its way to denigrate these characters. There was a ton of little jabs at the original characters throughout. When Bill Murray’s character was killed, Leslie Jones dismisses him with the unfunny joke, “I guess he wasn’t Ghostbusters material.”
The totally uncalled-for humiliation of the 1984 cast made having the REAL Ghostbusters ride in at the last minute an absolute necessity. They don’t save the day, but they do provide a needed distraction while the new crew fixes Egon’s mega-ghost trap.
I have seen complaints that Bill Murray wasn’t trying. I don’t think that was the case, I think he brought as much of the Venkman goods as a seventy-one-year-old is capable of bringing. He was certainly trying a hell of a lot harder than he was in Ghostbusters (2016). I strongly suspect he was giving that movie as much of the finger as he could. But Peter Venkman is a young man’s character and Murray knew it all along.
The OG team does what it needs to and repairs some bridges. You can’t pass the torch if no one is holding it in the first place. The objections are silly but all the objections to this movie are silly.
Except for one. The real objection. The one they couldn’t state.
That not one inch of cultural battleground can be reclaimed after the Prometheans have planted their rotted banners on it. No changes to a franchise’s canon can be changed back once it has been altered to accommodate feminist progressivism.
But it happened this time. And within days of the second weekend’s numbers coming out, Bob Chapek launched a coordinated leak to the effect of the Reylo Trilogy would be struck from Star Wars canon. I’m sure I can find the negatives if I look hard enough and so can you but for now, I’m taking the win on this one.
This movie had its flaws but they were minor and hardly world-breaking.
The big question is: Is Afterlife as good as Ghostbusters (1984)? No, and it doesn’t need to be. What it needed to be was a very sincere effort to touch the hearts of the fans of the original and that is exactly what it did.
The Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm.