Review: Ghostbusters Afterlife Is The Perfect Blend Of Fan Service And Franchise Building
When I was about five years old, my mother—who herself was a college kid when Saturday Night Live hit the scene—took me to see a movie starring comedians she liked. I watched that movie more than once in theaters and so often on home video that the VCR tape broke. Ghostbusters was a genuine sensation that was never repeated again. Ghostbusters II was perfect for a nine-year-old, but the adults fans didn’t respond as well to it. Now, more than 30 years later, the story of Ray, Peter, Winston, and (especially) Egon gets a new chapter in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, now the gold standard for blending nostalgic fan service with future franchise building. Even more importantly, it’s a surprisingly emotional story that truly honors the late Harold Ramis. (Who still has a large part in this film.)
As this is the debut weekend for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, will spoil nothing about the fan service. Just know that fans of the original will see the things they want to see. I also won’t spoil the franchise-building moments, other than to say that they are clearly building a franchise here. We will talk about what was revealed in the trailer, but nothing more. (Spoiler review will be up later this weekend.)
It’s been clear since Ghostbusters: Answer the Call that Columbia Pictures (and Ghost Corps) want to kickstart the franchise again. Paul Feig’s movie, like every single sequel to the original film, was met with bad timing. His film also had to deal with misogyny, though. In ten or so years, we’ll know what the impact of his film was on the kids of the day, but it did fail to connect with adult fans. Ghostbusters Afterlife will likely suffer neither problem.
How Ghostbusters Afterlife Does Fan Service Right
Image via Sony Pictures
Going into this film, the trailers told us three things: We’d be following the family of Egon Spengler; familiar ghosts and baddies are resurfacing outside of New York; and the OG Ghostbusters would have some role to play. My experiences with Star Wars tells me that I should warn folks, that if you are going to see Ghostbusters III, that’s not what this movie is. Yet, where Feig’s film took place in a whole new continuity, this movie is set plainly in a world where the Ghostbusters existed. In fact, the first half of the film is all about standout star Mckenna Grace discovering the legacy of the OGs. Finn Wolfhard plays her brother Trevor, who’s less interested in the family’s spooky legacy and more interested in Celeste O’Connor’s Lucky.
The original film was designed to be family friendly, but like much of Aykroyd’s, Ramis’, and Murray’s previous work it was for adults. Ghostbusters Afterlife is Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters by way of Stephen Spielberg. Like many 1980s classic, this movie centers its story not on the adults but the kids. It wasn’t until I was on the ugly side of being an adult that I got to see a kid suit up as an actual Ghostbuster. This is a genius move on the part of the Ghost Corps folks. Not only does it help get kids even more into the idea of bustin’ ghosts, but it also means that their central stars will literally get to grow into their roles over a series of films.
The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time getting things going, and little reveals happen throughout. Things that are very familiar to the audience are just discovered or, even, overlooked by the kids. Thus, when things unfold in the third act, they are all earned moments that make sense in the logic of the narrative. The movie is less gag-focused than all of its predecessors, but I laughed a lot during this movie.
There Is More Franchise-Building Than Fan Service, Which Is Why It Works
Image via Sony Pictures
To be clear, Ghostbusters Afterlife is a very character-driven movie, both their relationships with each other and the Spengler’s relationship to Egon. Yet, savvy moviegoers can definitely spot the foundational building blocks of a franchise that could have many moving parts. One of the film’s two post-credit scenes works equally well as a moment of sentimentality and a suggestion of more to come. The young cast is constructed to resemble (in personality) the original four Ghostbusters. Some might criticize this, but I always felt that where Feig’s movie most suffered was in eschewing that mirroring.
Some folks may just watch this film looking for references to the old Ghostbusters, pointing like Leonardo DiCaprio in the meme. Still, while these elements are important, the story is more about these kids. If they get a sequel, it will likely be much less about the past and more about the future. Because as much as the story focuses on legacy, it’s all through the eyes of the kids. Ghostbusters, in any incarnation, is all about its characters. Grace’s Phoebe might be the ‘New Egon,’ but she’s also very different from Harold Ramis’ character. Because they’re kids, we get to see them grow into the kind of people the OG Ghostbusters already were when we met them.
The best way to build a franchise, especially without previously-established characters, is to tell an interesting story about interesting people. Ghostbusters Afterlife does this while still providing the fan service that makes these nostalgic films appealing to those of us who saw the first movie as kids.
Ghostbusters Afterlife is currently in theaters.
What did you think of Ghostbusters Afterlife and the fan service in the film? Was it too much? Not enough? How do you feel about the new characters? Share your reactions, thoughts, and theories about the future in the comments below. My favorite thing in the whole film was how Rob Simonson’s score perfectly matched the energy and whimsy of Elmer Bernstein’s score from the 1984 movie.
Featured image via Columbia Pictures
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book of superhero short stories, Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.