Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

How to Revive a Franchise: ‘Ghostbusters Afterlife’ and ‘Frozen Empire’

I happened to see the teaser trailer for the next Ghostbusters movie, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (scheduled for release on March 29), and that reminded me that I’ve had a review of Ghostbusters: Afterlife sitting in my drafts folder for two solid years. It’s high time I dragged that out into the daylight. So here it is.

In December 2021, for the first time in almost two years, my bride and I braved the mouth-breathing mob and ventured forth to the local multiplex, and I’m finally getting around to posting about it. Our entertainment of choice: Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Despite my rather casual approach toward spoilers (if your movie depends on a surprise to make it worth watching, you need a better writer), all I knew going in was what was in the trailers and a few online remarks about the CGI-generated appearance of a particular character. I think the filmmakers achieved exactly what they set out to accomplish, providing a suitable ending to the original films while also wrapping up the franchise in a pretty ribbon to hand it over to a new generation. It works.

The Ghostbusters vehicle, ECTO-1

According to my Facebook feed at the time, it appeared that the movie got pretty mixed reviews; some loved it, some appreciated the nostalgia, while others were turned off by it or considered it a “rehash.” I disagree with that last point; it does echo the original, but it certainly isn’t at all like the kind of combination remake-reboot-sequel Superman Returns or Star Wars Episode VII foisted upon us. The overt nostalgia tidbits are done cleverly; for example, the nod to the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man is charming and funny. Moving the action from New York to the hinterlands of Oklahoma (actually Canada, but it looks nice) serves to give the proceedings a different tempo and sensibility. The only references to the ’80s version that I felt were missing were schlubby neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) and DEA pain-in-the-ass Walter Peck (William Atherton), but I can’t imagine how they could have worked in either of them without feeling like obvious contrivances.

The new generation of would-be Ghostbusters works well as a team, balanced between two older teens and two younger tweens, with interesting differences that offer ample opportunity for contentious dynamics within the group, while also introducing a little bit of a Goonies or Stand By Me feeling to the film, thereby hitting on a different flavor of ’80s nostalgia, the plucky kid team genre.

Phoebe (McKenna Grace) fires up the proton pack

Phoebe, the central character here, is a smart, confident, socially weird 12-year-old, perfectly portrayed by future star McKenna Grace; she carries the movie and totally owns the role of Egon Spengler’s heir. Finn Wolfhard, as her older brother Trevor, is likable but awkward, with just enough snark to convince us he and Phoebe are siblings. The group is rounded out by Trevor’s crush, “Lucky” (Celeste O’Connor), a local smartass who works as a server at the burger joint where Trevor gets hired, and Phoebe’s nerdy classmate, “Podcast” (Logan Kim), who narrates everything around him into a recorder for his “supernatural mysteries” podcast. This core group gives the older teens opportunities for the playful flirty banter previously provided by Venkman and Dana, while the younger pair hit the exposition and goofball business covered by Stantz and Spengler. The age difference between the two pairs lets the younger ghostbusters have access to the old Ghostbuster ambulance while still being realistically kids.

The menace in the film ties directly and elegantly into the plot of the first one, rooted in the construction of the unique New York building that served as a supernatural “lightning rod” for Gozer and her minions. And that’s about all I’ll say about the plot.

Personally, I liked the Harold Ramis tribute, I felt it was sincere and not mawkishly sentimental. Others may disagree, but given that the franchise is built upon the premise of ghosts being real, I think it would have been strange for there not to be some manifestation like the one we’re shown. All in all, I thought Ghostbusters: Afterlife was an enjoyable adventure that did a good job of introducing a new generation of Ghostbusters with a different approach and attitude.

Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, and Lucas Kim in Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Naturally, with franchise films, there’s always a certain amount of table-setting, tying up loose ends and setting up of future events to drive the next installment, and there is plenty of that here, most obviously in the scenes featuring the original cast, including Janine (Annie Potts), Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), and Dana (Sigourney Weaver), the last of whom features in [SPOILER] a post-credit scene that address some of the problematic elements of Peter Venkman’s behavior and directly confronts one of his more repellent acts in the original.) It will be interesting to see where the story goes, especially since we don’t have to wait 30 years for the next film. We only have to wait until March.

Based on the new trailer for Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, it appears the filmmakers still have a pretty good handle on what makes Ghostbusters work and what new and old fans want to see. The action has moved from rural Oklahoma back to New York, where the new Ghostbusters team welcomes back Zeddemore, Venkman, and Stantz, with Janine Melnitz suiting up as a field operative for the first time. Perennial jerk Walter Peck (William Atherton) makes a welcome return to the franchise, having lost none of his sneering arrogance in the last 40 years. Finn Wolfhard and McKenna Grace appear to be completely at home bantering with the classic team. Ghostbusters: Afterlife did a good job setting the table, and Frozen Empire looks like it’s going to take full advantage of the setup.

3 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    I really like Afterlife and think it’s a great blueprint for a years-later continuation. It respects the original without being a remake / reset (which is already doing better than the first sequel!) and brought in a new cast without trying to say the originals sucked.
    Or dumping them on some distant planet to drink blue milk straight from some sea cow.
    I’m looking forward to Frozen Empire.

  2. SPOILERS, I guess, if you haven’t seen Ghostbusters Afterlife yet:

    There are people who think it’s very silly to make a reverent sequel to a silly 80s comedy, but when I was a kid, Ghostbusters wasn’t a silly 80s comedy– it was a big exciting and also funny adventure movie. I watched Ghostbusters 1 and 2 over and over again on VHS. And the character I identified with most was Egon. So in this way, I’m the exact target audience for Afterlife.

    I ended up disappointed. This one is steeped in nostalgia– half the script reads like IMDB trivia from the first one. It’s too packed with references and brings too much back from the original– we even get to see Egon’s collection of spores, molds, and fungus (that is probably my favorite reference, by the way, because it’s just a little visual background thing). We bring back Gozer and the dogs and the marshmallow man and all that other stuff. (And yet, not one single reference to Ghostbusters 2!) And then we cram in the original gang in the last ten minutes. I think Spider-Man: No Way Home did a better job of balancing the nostalgic return appearances of old favorites while still giving the new guys their own story.

    That said: I like the idea of turning this into a different, more Amblin-y kind of 80s movie. Everyone ragged on Podcast, but I liked him. The ghost bit at the end is maudlin but also I found it emotionally affecting, even if I simultaneously don’t like the idea of resurrecting deceased performers via CGI. There’s a lot of reconciling with absent fathers in this, and I wonder how much of it was purposefully informed by Jason and Ivan Reitman’s own relationship, or Harold Ramis’ own life (IIRC he also had a daughter he didn’t have much of a relationship with).

    My disappointment stems from hoping for something more forward-thinking than what we got, allowed to make its own jokes and moments instead of just fondly remembering old ones, pushing the story forward instead of wallowing in the past (while, yes, simultaneously wanting more screen time with the old guard). Will I see Frozen Empire? Let’s not kid ourselves– of course I will. Does the trailer fill me with the hope that it won’t be heavy on nostalgia? No. But at least we appear to be getting a new villain/threat and the old crew mixed into the plot a little better.

    1. Le Messor

      “(And yet, not one single reference to Ghostbusters 2!)”

      There were at least two. I’ve forgotten the other one, but one is that Ray works at the book shop he worked at in #2.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.