What genre is Ghostbusters? That is a question I never really thought about, but was in my mind while watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I really like the first Ghostbusters movie and I don’t really care about the other ones; I enjoyed the second, but it was not as memorable as the first. The reason why I kept thinking about this was that I made a rare exception when deciding to watch the new attempt at a reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise: I saw the critical and fan reception. The reason for that was I didn’t plan on writing about it, because I felt like my point of view was simply not that interesting; not a newcomer to the franchise and not a hardcore fan of it, I didn’t really know what I wanted from a new Ghostbusters movie, which is why I actually never saw the female-lead reboot of 2016. I just wanted to have some fun and write about something else, but having seen it, there were very interesting differentiating views from my side and what fans made of it, which is exactly why I want to discuss it; long story short, I really disliked the new movie for a lot of the reasons most fans seem to like it and for a few specific decisions. This should not take away anything from the movie, though; I dislike a lot of movies that others like and vice versa. All opinions are correct because it is subjective tastes and not objective facts that guide them.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman with Gil Kenan as co-writer, and stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, and Mckenna Grace. The story follows a single mom (Coon) and her two children (Wolfhard and Grace) as they move to a small town to live in a recently inherited farmhouse, which holds secrets that will connect the family to the original Ghostbusters. Before I get into the reasons why I disliked the movie, I do want to acknowledge all of the good in it, because there are a lot of positives. Firstly, all the actors are great in it, but I do want to give high praise to Logan Kim as Podcast; his character being comic relief, exposition device, and a character to bounce ideas off from the protagonist would be difficult for any actor to make interesting, let alone fun, but Kim not only succeeded but was my favorite part of the whole experience. He brought a lot of flair and confidence to a character that would normally made me sigh whenever they would be on screen but instead made me smile and miss him every time he was not. Reitman is also a brilliant director and writer and those qualities are present here as well; this isn’t a soulless remake or a cash-grab and he put in a lot of love and care towards his characters. There are also a lot of funny moments and, while I found the action to be lackluster, I can see how younger or less demanding crowds would be quite entertained by the set-pieces.
Having said all of that, there were a few points that really disappointed me, especially because of the reception the movie got from fans. The main difference between my opinion on the movie and the general consensus is that I groaned and loathed the attempts at nostalgia and fan service. There are the quotes from the original, props, and some other stuff I don’t want to spoil, but they range from objects in the background to re-occurring focal points to taking entire plot sections from the original and using it again. Maybe this is the movie that broke the camel’s back on that trend for me, but I rolled my eyes every time the movie attempted to use that as entertainment; for example (and this is a light spoiler so skip this line if you don’t want to be spoiled of anything), a character finds the original Cadillac that Ghostbusters used, but it won’t show the sign of the ghost. It is supposed to be playful and cheeky towards audience anticipation, but I just found it lazy and annoying, because the intentions of those scenes are exactly that – will we see the sign? – but I couldn’t care less, since it was plainly obvious and it doesn’t matter to the character, since he does not know the history of that car. Furthermore, Wolfhard’s character is a complete waste of screen time and a sore spot for the movie; he has nothing meaningful to him and does nothing interesting. Grace’s character is the scientist; the mom is the cynical working-class mom, more concerned about making ends meet and staying away from science (which is a little ridiculous now that I write and think about it), instead of inspiring her kids and trying to be there for them; Wolfhard’s character is a teenager (which is fine), but has nothing to add to the story in any way. Most importantly though, there is that question I posed in the beginning: What genre is Ghostbusters? To me, it’s a comedy – a silly, over-the-top, goofball comedy – with added elements of action-adventure and light supernatural horror. Ghostbusters: Afterlife made me laugh a handful of times, most of those had more to do with the great performances and one of those was a scene taken straight from the original. Most people may expect a blockbuster adventure, but I loved the original movie because of its goofy sense of humor and wanted to see more of that, but I didn’t. The first hour of the movie, in particular, it felt like any jokes or attempts at comedy were made for pacing and relief purposes rather than those being the goal; it felt sluggish and slow to start when considering it as a comedy. Lastly, I want to highlight this movie’s striking resemblance to Star Wars Episode 7, which I found exceptionally odd and fascinating to consider; a new cast of characters but the driving force being the old cast with a specific focus on one of those characters; the soundtrack, for the most part, being eerily similar to John William’s score; nostalgia bait and fan service at every corner and there’s a playfulness from the crew in how they present it; a “safe” movie that doesn’t really try to disrupt or shake things up for the franchise, it just makes sure it gives returning fans what they want and entertains newcomers to hopefully become fans and come back when the inevitable sequel is announced; what preceded both movies was so bad (in the eyes of the fans at least) that it nearly killed their respective franchises. This is indicative of why I was so disappointed; Ghostbusters, for me, was a goofy idea that a lot of talented people backed and was given a shot to prove that it can succeed, and it more than that. I want to see that sort of creativity and urge to try something new (in general, I do think Hollywood has not been taking as many risks or offering new ideas as much anymore) and Ghostbusters, as a setting, has so much freedom for that; while I was ultimately satisfied with Episode 7 since I am a bigger fan of Star Wars, this is another similarity between the two. They both have worlds that can allow for many interesting ideas, characters, and opportunities for completely different takes, yet they both go for the safest and least interesting option, which is being rewarded for both by fans and critics alike.
That moment from the original that made me laugh really is the difference between the original and this reboot for me; it is the commercial the Ghostbusters make for their business. It’s a preposterous and silly idea, only made funnier by some cleverly faked awkwardness from the cast, it mirroring the commercials of the time, and some great one-liners like the trio saying “we’re ready to believe you” in a cheery tone and pointing at the camera while smiling awkwardly. That made me loud laugh the first time I saw it because I like that style of humor, and given that the context is that, for money, these three goofballs will come over to your house and believe your ghost story, then use highly-destructive proton packs to chase ghosts in your basement. Yet, I didn’t find that moment or anything like it in this new one and that is why I found it so disappointing. That ad has tons of moments like that and the original is filled to the brim with those kinds of jokes, but I guess comedies like that rarely turn into franchises or can justify the budget and capitalize on the nostalgia in the ways this reboot does. I’m glad most of the fans like it and I’m sure newcomers will enjoy it; hopefully, they will go back and enjoy the original as well.