BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME
IG @ matt.tuck.writer
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a fun, nostalgic - and often nonsensical - homage that lacks the dry wit that made its 1984 predecessor an enduring classic.
Be warned: besides some spoilers, this is an ode to Bill Murray and one of the great comedic performances of our time. No matter how many times I try to rethink this review, it devolves into an essay on the brilliance of Murray’s delivery and timing. That’s the thing: Ghostbusters is a Bill Murray movie; Ghostbusters: Afterlife is about the legacy of Egon Spengler, who was intentionally written as the most boring Ghostbuster. Naturally, Afterlife isn’t half as witty as the original. Entertaining? Yes, but not remotely as funny, and that makes sense for what is basically an Egon movie.
The ‘84 Ghostbusters is just shy of being a horror movie. Complete with jump scares, it had visuals that would fit snuggly alongside its ghostly contemporary, Poltergeist. What separated it from the pack at the time and makes it a beloved classic is the humor. Afterlife does have its share of laughs, but director Jason Reitman tended to focus more on the supernatural and borderline horror elements. The movie felt as if the humor was secondary to the jump scares and mythos building, when the original was the exact opposite.
Ghostbusters is one of the funniest and most quotable movies ever made, and that is a testament to the underappreciated genius of Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis as comedy writers, but the real glue that holds this classic together decades later is Bill Murray. He was the consummate scene stealer throughout the original movie, and he masterfully delivered every line with a dry wit that can’t be matched. Without him, there is no Ghostbusters.
That is Afterlife’s undoing. The filmmakers seemed to forget that the shining star of the franchise is Peter Venkman. Shifting the focus to Egon and his estranged family is interesting, but it dearly misses Peter's smarm and levity.
Yes, Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Ernie Hudson are part of the film. While they make a grand team entrance, they occupy maybe a tenth of the movie’s run time.
With or without Murray, any Ghostbusters movie requires its Peter Venkman, and no one steps up to fill those shoes. Afterlife isn’t without its humor, but instead of Venkman's sarcastic one liners, the comedy leans heavily on puns so bad they’re funny, and it keeps the movie from standing out in the crowd of Ghostbusters films.
The closest we get to the Venkman role is Paul Rudd’s Gary Grooberson. Rudd is as charming as ever, but it’s basically the same lovable goof we’ve seen him play countless times. By the end of the movie, he is more Rick Moranis than Bill Murray.
Still, Afterlife is not without its charm, and it’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia. Practically every scene has at least one reference to the 1984 original, no matter how clunky and out-of-place some were.
The heart of the movie is a touching story both on and off the screen. Co-writer/co-star of the ‘84 classic, Ramis passed away in 2014, and Afterlife became essentially a tribute to his iconic role as Egon Spengler. Through the magic of body doubles, careful editing, and CGI, the purveyor of fine spores, molds, and fungi returned to the big screen one last time. His spirit guides his grandchildren, Trevor and Phoebe, as they take up his fight against Ivo Shandar and Gozer the Gozerian.
Thankfully skipping the events of Ghostbusters 2 altogether, Afterlife centers on Egon’s estranged daughter, Callie, whom he abandoned along with the other Ghostbusters on his quest to postpone the Goz-pocalypse in Summerville, Oklahoma. Considering its a franchise based on capturing rogue spirits, it is fitting that Egon joined the story as a ghostly presence, though he would physically appear in the film’s final moments in what I can only describe as Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters in a mashup no one asked for.
Clearly, Jason and Ivan Reitman were banking on nostalgia to sell this movie to audiences, and it has an excess of just that. Practically every quotable line, prop, and character from the original (minus Louis Tully, unfortunately) was crammed into each scene. Everything from Twinkies to Hudson using his line, “We’ve got the tools, we’ve got the talent,” finds its way into Afterlife, and it gets a bit excessive.
The trouble is that the boatloads of nostalgia mask some real problems with the storytelling. Cinemasins will have a ball with “Everything Wrong with Afterlife” because this movie requires the viewer to put aside all logic and reasoning to the extent that it hinders the suspension of disbelief.
At one point, Phoebe discovers her grandfather’s jumpsuit and finds the wrapper of a Nestle Crunch Bar. On one hand, it was a nice callback to the joke from the original when Venkman sarcastically rewards Egon with chocolate for a job well done. On second thought, do the Retimans want us to accept that Egon held onto a random candybar wrapper for 37 years?
Speaking of sidestepping logic, the next generation of Ghostbusters instinctively know how to do practically everything. There’s Trevor, who’s 15 years old with zero driving experience (the movie clearly states he failed his learner’s permit test multiple times) yet becomes Dale Earnhardt when he’s behind the wheel of Ecto-1. Twelve-year-old Phoebe magically understands everything there is to know about particle accelerators. Practically all the kids in the movie, even the ones not related to Egon, are apparently born knowing how to operate all of the Ghostbusters’ equipment from proton packs and ghost traps to gunner seats in Ecto-1, and basically everything else Egon helped invent.
There’s also points that made me question if the screenwriters knew how things actually work in real life. I realize these are rather small things, but they’re so annoying. Remember Trevor’s learning permit? Apparently the writers assume the written test for a learner’s permit and an actual driving test are one and the same. Then there’s a scene in which the sheriff, who Spider-Man: Homecoming fans will recognize as Shocker, gets into a verbal sparring match with a pre-teen and threatens to make her spend a night in jail. Yeah, that’s not how that works with a minor, I’m fairly certain. For that matter, the sheriff’s impound lot looked awfully similar to a mechanic’s shop.
PLEASE, NO MORE
Normally when a franchise establishes younger characters filling the shoes of their predecessors, that means a whole new franchise is on the way. Afterlife gave us four new Ghostbusters, complete with jumpsuits that somehow morphed from being adult to kid sized. All we need is Chris Pratt, and this suddenly becomes Jurassic World but with ghosts.
Despite my admittedly harsh criticism, I had fun in the theater, but I can’t see myself rewatching and quoting Afterlife. Reliving the allusions and seeing the Ghostbusters on the silver screen one more time was enjoyable, but hopefully this will be the end of the franchise.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.