Reappraising Ghostbusters: Afterlife

It’s now been six months since Ghostbusters: Afterlife had its world premiere at CinemaCon, and about four months since the rest of the world got the chance to see the long-awaited film. Enough time has passed for us to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and say, “OK, maybe it wasn’t what everyone wanted, but it was a perfectly acceptable film.” If you’re already of that opinion, we salute you. If you haven’t quite come around to that way of thinking yet, we hope to convince you by the time you’re done reading this article. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was always going to struggle for the pure and simple reason that the original cast is too old to play a significant role in it, and Harold Ramis is, tragically, dead. For a lot of viewers, the original cast is what made Ghostbusters. Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and (to a lesser extent) Ernie Hudson had incredible chemistry and brought the first two films to life. Their absence – save for comedic cameos in which they played different characters – is one of the reasons that the female-led 2016 version of Ghostbusters was received so poorly. Look away if you haven’t seen the film yet because we’re about to venture into spoiler territory, but they and their characters are handled far better in this film. Yes, we include the posthumous appearance of Ramis as Egon Spengler in that statement. 

The way the film handles the character of Egon Spengler is at the core of the issues that so many people had with the movie at the time of its release. Some people saw it as exploitative – a form of cinematic grave robbing that disrespected Ramis and his legacy. Others simply saw it as too trite and sentimental, focusing on the past rather than allowing the new, young team of Ghostbusters and their friends to shine. Charles Bramesco, writing in the Guardian, took particular issue with the posthumous inclusion of Ramis and Spengler and used it as a justification to call the film a “stinking, slimy corpse.” He went on to give it one star out of five. In our view, that rating is egregious.  

Kisses To The Past

It would have been impossible to make another Ghostbusters film and not show us what the original crew are up to now. It would have been just as impossible to make it and not reference Egon Spengler at all. The character was the most important of all the Ghostbusters. Peter Venkman might have had all the best jokes, and Ray Stantz gave the team its heart, but Spengler was the chief scientist. He was the guy who worked out what was going on and told the rest of the crew, allowing the audience in on the secret. If he’d been allowed to quietly die off-screen, never to be mentioned again, that would have been a far bigger disservice to the Ghostbusters franchise than what we got in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Instead, he’s at the heart of the story. He haunts his former home. He reaches out to his long-lost daughter and grandchildren. Ultimately, he reconciles with his friends. This version of Ghostbusters isn’t about belly laughs and big, scary monsters – although admittedly, it has plenty of both. Instead, it’s precisely what director Jason Reitman said it is – a film about family. 

The unspoken sadness behind the Ghostbusters story is that we never got the third film that was planned for so long. The stars simply never aligned for it. Aykroyd could never quite get the script looking the way he wanted to. Murray was against the idea of doing another sequel. Studios couldn’t be convinced. Ghostbusters 3 was always coming, but it never came. This film was about unfinished business and unfulfilled promises. It was about giving a generation of children who watched the first two films – a generation who are now in their 30s and 40s – a sense of closure. We’d all waited years for the opportunity to say goodbye to these characters who we loved so much. We finally got the chance to do it in the same instance as they said goodbye to their departed friends. 

The Wrong Expectations

While a lot of people wrote and said a lot of words about why they didn’t like Ghostbusters: Afterlife, very few people were able to say precisely why. It isn’t clear what the people who hated the film wanted from this movie. Ghostbusters has always been silly, heartfelt, and funny all at once. This film delivered all three of those films by the bucketload. It couldn’t have tried any harder to deliver them. Ghostbusters isn’t Citizen Kane, nor is it Schindler’s List. It’s also not a straight-up horror film like The Exorcist or even a comedy horror movie like Scream. It’s just Ghostbusters, and this movie was delivered on the same emotional wavelength as those that came before it. 

To those who still insist that using Harold Ramis in this way was cynical and exploitative – where have you been for the past forty years? The first two Ghostbusters films were fantastic, but they were also enormously commercial. Ghostbusters toys still sell in big numbers today. There were Ghostbusters comics to go with the Ghostbusters cartoon show in the 1980s. The children who read those comic books now play Ghostbusters games at casino sites. Ghostbusters Plus, Ghostbusters: Triple Slime and Ghostbusters Scratch are all popular at not just one casino but a whole range of successful casino sister sites enjoyed by thousands of people on a daily basis. You could make an argument that using childhood nostalgia to sell casino games is every bit as exploitative as using it to sell a movie, but nobody’s picked up a pen and taken issue with the casino All of the wrath has been reserved for what is ultimately a well-crafted, well-meaning film that was made with the best intentions. 

If you watched Ghostbusters: Afterlife when it first came out and dismissed it because it didn’t tick the boxes you wanted it to tick, we implore you to watch it again and give it another chance now that you know what to expect from it. If you do, you might just find it a whole lot more entertaining than you did when you came into it with the wrong expectations.