Ghostbusters: Afterlife – A Movie about Starting Over

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Ghosts. Whether they share this particular plane of existence with us or not, it’s hard to escape their grasp on pop culture and, indeed, real life. In literature, the concept of the ghost story goes back to Homer’s Odyssey but Roman writers such as Plautus, Seneca, and Pliny kept the horrid yarn going around the beginning of the first century.

Of course, today, ghost stories are as ubiquitous as the people they are based upon – and the shine has come off the haunted apple a bit. 

Fortunately, some old ghosts persist and, with the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife in the middle of November 2021, one of the great comedy/fantasy franchises has returned from the dead. The new instalment is the first Ghostbusters movie since 2016’s eponymous title, a film that continues to split the fanbase right down the middle. Ironically, the comic book that it was based upon, starring a gender-swapped crew of ghost-hunters, has enjoyed a large amount of success, albeit quietly.

In any case, it’s hard to argue with the Ghostbusters formula, a collection of ideas that have kept the property alive in some form or another for almost four decades. How does Ghostbusters: Afterlife slot into this storied franchise, though? Let’s take a look at where this Jason Reitman-directed picture has buried its roots and how the wider Ghostbusters franchise has managed to stay alive in the public consciousness despite a (small) number of misfires over the years.

Slimer and Stay-Puft

Firstly, Afterlife is inevitably a very different movie from the original (or even that film’s sequel). Though several of the original cast members do reprise their roles, namely, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Annie Potts, the late Harold Ramis (Egon) is sadly no longer with us. Afterlife, instead, runs with a trope that’s popular in Hollywood today, that of telling grown-up stories through the eyes of younger people. Take a look at IT and Stranger Things, for instance.

The ghosts, of course, remain intact – as much as they can be.

Starring Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Mckenna Grace (Captain Marvel), and Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Afterlife is very much a film about Harold Ramis, whose character, Egon, is central to the movie’s plot.

The characters played by Wolfhard, Grace, and Coon are all descended from the Spengler patriarch and the story unfolds around him via the efforts of the remaining three Ghostbusters. Forty years on, the Ghostbusters are all but forgotten by the world – until a familiar evil arises.

This is how Afterlife connects to the original film, via its antagonist. The new breed of Ghostbusters in Afterlife must contend with supernatural entities arriving from a mine once owned by a crazed occultist. The mine is the source of another ‘crossrip’, a phenomenon that caused the spooky outbreak in the original 1984 movie. Also reprising their roles are Slimer and Stay-Puft, albeit in reimagined forms. The latter’s new, tiny form hints at a clever bit of future toy marketing.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

That latter point, marketing, has been one of the ways that Ghostbusters has managed to transcend generations, especially given that the franchise averages one live-action entry every 12.3 years.

Similar to other sci-fi and fantasy movies from the same period, like Terminator, Superman, and Robocop, their ongoing success arguably comes from a single film rather than anything directors managed to cobble together in subsequent years. These days, It’s debatable whether anybody on earth knows what Terminator is supposed to be about.

Again, much like that trio of movie series, music plays a big role in keeping the memories alive. The Ghostbusters theme tune, written by Ray Parker Jr. and featuring the iconic line ‘who ya gonna call?’, has appeared in a wide range of media, including Just Dance 2014 and the 1986 cartoon The Real Ghostbusters. Returning to TV, Stranger Things also features an ode to Ghostbusters in its second season, in which the leading men – Will, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin – dress up as the foursome for Halloween.

Inevitably, Ghostbusters has also made the leap to more interactive media, like video games and casino slots. Beginning with the 1984 C64 game Ghostbusters, which was reportedly made in six weeks, the franchise has expanded to include almost twenty titles. Gaming websites serving New Jersey have also capitalised on the Ghostbusters’ fame by introducing a related slots game.

Caesars Casino, one of the top three NJ online casino sites, is one of these ghost-unfriendly places. Most of the imagery is reused here too, which brings the Ghostbusters identity to the experience.  Of course, merchandising of the Ghostbusters’ canon continues in some familiar ways, including Funko Pop figurines and several other toylines. Remember how great those 1990s sets were?

The Ghostbusters “Universe”

There’s a question to be answered now. As with all new beginnings, there’s always time to wonder about what comes next. Ghostbusters was always going to make a return, in much the same way as there will always be another disappointing Terminator or Transformers movie (at least the Fast & Furious franchise has the good courtesy to end after ten instalments). The ghost-hunting series of movies feels like a much more welcome addition to cinemas, though, after such a long time away from the limelight.

Ravenous fans are in for a treat. As early as October, one month before Afterlife’s opening night, director Reitman (the son of the Reitman who directed the 1984 Ghostbusters) picked his movie apart to emphasise the possibility of future sequels. Reitman stressed that Afterlife is one part of a wider “universe”.

Whether that means we’re heading for another seemingly endless soap-opera-like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is anybody’s guess but there are decades of material to play around with for the right director.

One thing that might disappoint fans is that the ghosts themselves don’t play a major part in Afterlife. The Hollywood Reporter called the spooks “MacGuffins”, a term that refers to an essential plot element that has no real bearing on the story or characters. Think of the island in Tom Hanks’ Cast Away or space in Star Trek.

As mentioned, this is a flick about Egon and the quest to rediscover the Ghostbusters and hand the baton on to a new generation. Fortunately, based on the reviews so far, it seems to have avoided the curse of nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake that tends to trip up older franchises.

Overall, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a great start to something new – once again.

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