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My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
(2021)

(SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

The casting of Finn Wolfram and Hart may have been an early tell that Sony was attempting to swathe over the backlash against the Femmebusters with a similar void of inspiration, that of a pint-sized next next generation. Afterlife is very much in Stranger Things’ tonal vein, albeit not nearly as much fun. Its homage is largely a slog, spending an interminable time on the setup and, with the odd exception, failing to embrace any of the anarchic impulses of a bunch of comedians set loose on the supernatural.

I’m far from Ghostbusters’ number one fan. I found Ivan Reitman a predominately flabby, shapeless comedy director. Dan Aykroyd, meanwhile, was much too in love with his subject matter to be truly irreverent towards it. This meant there was a lot of noodling time between a Bill Murray quip or a slimy splatter of effects. Nevertheless, I readily understood its appeal. I don’t know who Jason Reitman thinks Afterlife is for, except maybe those who wish to transpose themselves with the young protagonists, presumably corresponding to the ages they were when they first saw the original.

Reitman, who co-wrote the screenplay with the once full-of-potential Gil Keenan, even spouted the following insufferably woke garbage (paying tribute to Paul Feig entirely misjudging the fanbase): “[I want to] express gratitude to you for kicking down the door on what a Ghostbuster and who a Ghostbuster can be. … You were the first person through the door, and you were the person who allowed me, and [will] allow other people, to then make Ghostbusters movies about people of every race, every gender, for people around the world. There are all kinds of Ghostbusters movies that I want to see. Thank you for making that possible”. He duly came up with a plotline all about family, because this is really the Fast and Furious franchise, and sequestered Aykroyd for his usually whoring of positive soundbites (“a beautiful, heartfelt script that takes the real DNA from the first two movies and transfers that directly to the third, the next generation”).

Ironically, for all those embracing Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it’s every bit as much a celebration of a female usurping a male domain as the 2016 movie was, with Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) the real hero focus, rather than Wolfhard’s older brother Trevor. As the aspergic-du-jour science kid, she comes packaged with gender-fluid visual coding, makes really bad jokes that are supposed to be winning, and eventually takes on Gozer when the surviving old guard fail. Of which, as wizened and decrepit as the trio are, Reitman doesn’t even try to turn their arrival into a “hero” moment, or one meriting a ripple of applause.

Yes, Phoebe has a little help from a CGI Ramis – or is it Spielberg? The rendering is so vague, it’s hard to be certain – whose appropriation is faintly grotesque and somewhat creepy (and let’s be brutally frank here; Spengler was never the life and soul of the gang, and only wins points at all because he’s more memorable than Winston).

The cumulative effect is rather depressing; the gathered old men are tired and washed up, so dressing them up in their old gear is as unseemly as an eighty-year-old Ford in his pressed and starched Indy duds (there’s a mid-credits scene between Murray and Sigourney Weaver that’s amusing, but it rather emphasises, with its placement, that Afterlife isn’t that movie. Instead, our first encounter with Stantz has him unconvincingly advising us that Egon Spengler can rot in hell).

Added to which, the slavishness to Ghostbusters’ designs and concepts represents the worst kind of slavish, sequel-trilogy nostalgia baiting. Bring back a Slimer (variant), Staypuft and Gozer. Fetishise the designs, vehicles and paraphernalia. The score too is very ’80s, riffing on Bernstein (which would be fair if the movie itself was tonally consistent with the first two).

None of the main performers are exactly a bust, although Carrie Coon has a particularly thankless mom role, barring a brief opportunity to act possessed and “woo” Paul Rudd’s also-possessed Gary Grooberson. However, the material they’re given is nutritionally empty. Rudd’s the only one mustering even a scintilla of the originals’ impudence as a slovenly summer school teacher (a character straight out of an ’80s movie). Settling the class down to watch Cujo (“Imagine Beethoven if he contracted rabies and just started mauling children”) and then Child’s Play raises a smile. Olivia Wilde is definitely no Slavitza Jovan, and I’m unsure why JK Simmons was wasted like this. Credit to the supermarket mini-Staypufts sequence, though, brief as it is; it’s a capsule form of what could have been, a great, twisted Joe Dante-esque revel in sado-masochistic self-immolation.

Grooberson: Yeah, I know the Manhattan ghost stories.

While it seems churlish to mutter about these things, I will, since the movie is putting an emphasis on a “realistic” world, rather than the cartoon one of I and II (and 2016, for that matter), and in thrall to the universe’s continuity. Through the Spengler family, the picture is boosting science (Phoebe refers to humans as “meat puppets” – delightful – and attests “I don’t believe in ghosts”), yet Grooberson (“Science is reckless!”), a geologist, is avowing there was a major shift in the official paradigm: “New York in the ’80s. It was like The Walking Dead”. Yet somehow, with no ghost sighting in thirty years, everything has been forgotten? Everyone has moved on? This would be like the MCU pretending NY didn’t happen. And while I’m griping, why is the Slimer variant able to eat iron bars, other than as a means to its breakout?

Jason Reitman managed to carve out kudos with his first wave of movies (from Thank You for Smoking to Young Adult), but subsequently took a pronounced critical and commercial tumble. In particular, Labor Day found him straining to be recognised for depth and nuance he fundamentally lacked. There’s no danger of that with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but he’s also entirely unsuited to the continuation of what really does look like a one-and-done concept, despite its seeming endless possibilities. Yeah, I’ll say it. Ghostbusters 2016 was a better movie than this. A generous:

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