Kino Korner: Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Why the fuck is the locus point of the culture war the movie Ghostbusters? That’s not rhetorical; I’d really like to know. For whatever reason, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call was a microcosm for the fight between liberal progress and reactionary forces. The movie’s quality was secondary to how it fit within a larger narrative that included Gamergate, feminism, white feminism, the alt-right, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and more. Ghostbusters: Afterlife comes at a time when the Democratic President’s signature accomplishments have been stymied and watered down by Rita from Arrested Development and a political cartoon drawing of a coal magnate. “Wokeism” has seen a backlash. A lot of people, myself included, dread an impending Republican wave midterm as well as the specter of a Donald Trump 2024 campaign. I’m reminded of the end scene in Burn After Reading. I’m fucked if I know what we did, but I learned not to do it again. But then Jason Reitman and Sony decided to fucking do it again.

Following a prologue that takes great pains to obscure Egon Spengler whenever possible, up to and including the moment of his death, we settle in with our Ripped-From-The-Amblin-Playbook single mom (Carrie Coon, The Playboy Club) and two shitty kids (Finn Wolfhard, The Goldfinch; McKenna Grace, I, Tonya) as they move to a fictional town in Oklahoma because they’ve been evicted and have nowhere else to go. They are the proud owners of “the Dirt Farmer”’s property, as everyone in Summerville calls it. Because we know we’re in a Ghostbusters movie, there’s no real mystery to what resides at the farmhouse. PKE meter, firepole, various molds and funguses, they’re all there and you know they’re there because they were in the first Ghostbusters.

But let’s first characterize our characters. Carrie Coon (short for Caroline Raccoon) doesn’t have a job, can’t pay the bills, drinks to excess on a regular basis, but as Paul Rudd says, she’s a “good mom”. Carrie Coon is a tremendously talented actress so it sucks how little she gets to do here. Finn Wolfhard, well, wolfs hard and thoroughly. He’s at the cusp of his schtick no longer working and I think he knows it. As for McKenna Grace, she’s been made over to be Lil Egon, and at first I thought she was going to be spectrum or spectrum adjacent, but no, she’s just doing sort of a Harold Ramis impression. There’s a scene where she tries on Egon’s old glasses and they’re the same frames as hers. Too often her aptitude for science lapses into basically knowing magic but whatever, who comes to a sequel to Ghostbusters expecting realism and reasonable plot developments.


“What’s more, in 32 years I’m gonna buy and sell your asses!”

Running parallel to each other are Wolfhard’s Trevor, with his garbage scooping arms and twiggy alien body, fixing up the Ecto-1 and Lil Egon first playing chess with a familiar ghostly presence and then doing a Resident Evil floor puzzle in the living room to find a ghost trap. Along the way Lil Egon nets a sidekick, the shit-you-not he’s actually named Podcast. Shang-Chi, Kingo, Podcast…why, we’re positively drowning in positive pop fictional portrayals of Asian males! I know in kids movies “comic relief” is code for “the most annoying little shit in the film” but Podcast takes it to a new level. Not only does he have a podcast, he sticks recording equipment in front of people and expects them to play along. That’s not how you get guests; not even Maron does that anymore. He’s Data from The Goonies with less charm as well as the Ray Stanz surrogate. He believes in lizard people conspiracies, the supernatural, all that, but that doesn’t matter because Lil Egon sees it for herself like 10 minutes later. (I wanted to see Podcast’s conspiracy ravings devolve into rank antisemitism; it’d be an interesting choice in a movie with a dearth of interesting choices.) Podcast has no particular expertise and doesn’t even get to wield a proton pack by the end of things.

With the help of Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd, Role Models), Lil Egon discerns what the trap she found is when she brings it in to summer school. Paul Rudd functions as the one adult who seems to remember the Ghostbusters, as though the rest of society would consider them yesterday’s news. I’m sorry, but if what happened in 1984 New York happened, it’d be the equivalent of 300 9/11s. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man alone killed thousands of people. Speaking of which: no way in fuck is that logo staying. The company would be lucky to survive. If Ronald McDonald stomped on a few hundred people, goodbye Ronald McDonald. It’s lazy writing that no one remembers that time we learned that the supernatural exists besides some 80s kid science teacher because the other option is to imagine a world which has integrated proof of the paranormal into everyday life. That would require imagination and does not exist in the Ghostbusters blueprint so away it goes. So instead they watch YouTube clips of the original film and I sunk down into my seat and wanted to die. But imagine those YouTube comments. There’d be racial slurs against ghosts you didn’t even knew existed.


Look at it this way, kid: at least you’re not introduced with a “gong” sound.

For a film as reverential to Ghostbusters, Afterlife is not really Ghostbusters…at least at first. It’s Stranger Things, as evidenced by the fact that Stranger Things is in it. It’s the aesthetic of every Steven Spielberg film and more importantly every Steven Spielberg ripoff film of the 1980s. But it’s also closer to the material that Jason Reitman covers in his actual films. I guess he’s learned that Hollywood has crowded out the market for midsize adult dramas like Up in the Air so he asked dad for some help. “Da-ad, can I have the keys to Ghostbusters?” “Well, as long as you promise not to crash it like you did Men, Women and Children”. Anyway, it’s for this reason I call it the least Ghostbusters movie as well as the most Ghostbusters movie, because it has all the feeling of those point and click games like Gone Home only it’s littered with Ghostbusters shit everywhere. When Lil Egon goes down the firepole (why would there be a firepole in a BARN?) to Egon’s secret lab, she sees a hoarder’s worth of GB memorabilia. Molds! Funguses! That goofy helmet Rick Moranis wore when he was possessed and they were testing him! His fucking jumpsuit has a Nestle Crunch bar wrapper in the pocket, because that’s a thing from the first movie! In a later exposition dump scene it’s established Egon absconded with some proton packs and the Ecto-1 but it seems to me he took every single scrap of Ghostbusters ephemera that wasn’t nailed down. Now I’m imagining him with the firepole strapped to the roof of the Ecto-1, driving from NYC to Oklahoma.

The big set piece of the first half is them going through downtown Summerville in the Ecto-1, trying to catch this iteration’s equivalent to Slimer, Muncher. Muncher is Slimer stripped of joy, more obese than ever, voiced by Josh Gad. That we’ve gone from the spirit of John Belushi to the grunts and screams of Josh Gad is a sad and accurate indictment of society. A weird caterpillar monster that shoots bullets, Muncher “munches” on metal, hence the name. (I’m surprised he didn’t bite Podcast’s arm off, setting off the homage line “he munched me”.) This is one of the three new ideas Afterlife includes. The other two are modifications to the Ecto-1: it can release an RC car with a trap strapped to it, and now the car has a gunner seat, because why not. When did Egon add this? I guess things get tiresome on the dirt farm and sometimes you make unnecessary modifications to vehicles you no longer use. This stunt winds them up in jail, because there was a jail scene in Ghostbusters, and when Lil Egon asks for a phone call, Bokeem Woodbine says “who ya gonna call?” and I almost left the theatre. Fuck you. Woodbine, by the way, has one scene but is fifth billed. Where’s my Woodbine scenes, Mr. Costanza?

You know how I said this was the least Ghostbusters movie? Well, now it pivots to the most Ghostbusters movie. In some egregious product placement, Paul Rudd goes to an empty Walmart to pick up some ice cream after his thwarted date. As if you needed more proof this was for children. In any real situation Rudd would be hitting the beer section and drowning his sorrows in Keystone Light, because he knows he doesn’t deserve good beer. This is all set up for him to witness the mini Stay Puft Marshmallow Men, which are apparently Gremlins now. Strike another beloved 80s property off the list! Other than nostalgia value it makes no sense why they’d appear. Ray picked the mascot as the form of the Destroyer in 1984. Why would Gozer decide, hey, better recycle that mascot and have them commit mischief against each other rather than turn on Paul Rudd? Seriously, they’re turning each other into smores and shit. Far be it from me to impugn the narrative consistency of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but I must. Also at the Walmart is a terror dog, introduced with its head in a bag of dog food. Hey, that’s sort of a joke! I’ll take it. There’s so little humor to this movie that something like that is an oasis.


No longer do you have to go to Thailand to buy a little Asian boy covered in cum.

Here’s where things become a Ghostbusters speedrun. Paul Rudd is transformed into the Keymaster, Carrie Coon becomes the Gatekeeper (replete with inexplicable wardrobe change into Sigourney Weaver’s outfit from, you guessed it, Ghostbusters) and the mine that used to employ the town is actually a secret temple of the dead dedicated to Gozer. Get ready to hear the name “Ivo Shandor” a lot. (Played by J.K. Simmons, who is a tough competitor for “who gives a shit cameo role”, only matched by award winning playwright Tracy “Mr. Carrie Coon” Letts and the woman who plays Gozer.) The purpose of the lore in the original was to give the world a lived-in feel, and the seriousness of it was frequently punctured with jokey asides. Here there are multiple joke-free exposition dumps about ancient Sumerian whatever the fuck. Speaking of exposition dumps, Dan Aykroyd struggles through a real steamer that explains what happened to Egon, the Ghostbusters and why it’s called “Crystal Head Vodka” when “Crystal Skull Vodka” makes so much more sense. He shouts out Reagan specifically as the glory years (cue the “Ghostbusters is secretly reactionary and therefore Hitler so don’t you dare laugh at it” thinkpieces as well as Jonah Goldberg’s annual ill-advised “Sieg Venkman” piece in the National Review), and after that ghost sightings diminished and everyone went their own way. In a cruel twist of fate, Ernie Hudson became the most successful of them all. Ernie Hudson, who probably sleeps in his Ghostbusters uniform so he can go to cons at a moment’s notice. Aykroyd spends a lot of time on the phone with a 12 year old girl he doesn’t know is all I’m saying about that.

Summerville is awash with ghosts, including the cab driver from the original and an eyeball ghost my roommate pointed out was actually from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. Credit to the film for divining inspiration from two sources. Where’s my Ghostbusters 2 references? Egon kept a fucking Hall of Justice trophy room for the first movie; where’s the Vigo the Carpathian painting? Where’s Peter MacNicol with a pin poked through him, under glass? Jason Reitman literally appeared in Ghostbusters 2! Maybe they’re saving it for Afterlife 2, in which a “Lost Leonardo”-like controversy about a Vigo portrait springs the ‘Busters back into action after being out of commission for five years for some reason. Anyway. It’s off to the conclusion of the original, only replace the boys with Lil Egon telling deliberately shitty science jokes to catch Gozer (Olivia Wilde because why the fuck not) off guard.

It wouldn’t be a nostalgia fistfest without cameos by the originals, so after Ray spends an hour on the phone with a child the whole gang decides to Scatman Crothers it to Bumfuck, Oklahoma, complete with the proton packs they shouldn’t have because Egon was supposed to have scampered off with them all. Man, this is just pathetic. Seeing 70 year old men wearing their old clothes from 40 years ago and trying to evince the feeling of the original filled me with the opposite of glee. They can’t defeat Gozer on their own because it’d diminish the new characters, so they’re just ineffectual. It’s going through the motions. “Are you a god?” Ray says ‘yes’ this time, because do you fucking get it, you stupid fucking baby. Crossing the streams doesn’t work because Olivia Wilde uncrosses the streams. Good thing Egon spent 30 years turning the entire farm into a trap, and again I’m wondering why Ray “I’ll believe anything” Stanz blew him off besides “this is the only way the plot ‘works’ with Harold Ramis pushing up daisies”. Maybe fucking cancel the movie on account of dead creator, ever think of that, you fucking assholes?



Now, you might think me precious or naïve, but I really didn’t believe they were going to go there, the route of CGI ghost Harold Ramis. There was precedent for my naivete: the opening kept faux Egon out of focus as possible and in the scenes of Lil Egon trying to fix the proton pack, Ghost Egon was an invisible presence. That was fine. I would’ve been totally okay with Egon affecting events invisibly. It hews to the demands of the plot without coming off as overly ghoulish. Speaking of overly ghoulish, that’s what they decided to do after all. Lil Egon is trying to help out with the proton pack but it’s not enough, so there comes a ghostly hand to help her out. Which doesn’t even make sense, because I don’t think pushing down harder makes for a harder stream? The hand becomes a full on Peter Cushing in Rogue One bullshit bearded Egon (because unlike Harold Ramis, Spengler stayed in shape!). Imagine you’re Bill Murray and you have to look with a mixture of melancholy and awe at Bob Gunton wearing a bunch of golf balls all over himself so he can recreate your dead friend’s visage. We get plenty of money shots of the four doing their thing and ultimately it’s mediocre white male to the rescue as Finn Wolfhard, who knows nothing about anything, shoots at the power lines and they’re able to suck up Gozer once and for all. Instead of a parade the multigenerational Ghostbusters receive nothing because Summerville ceases to be a location in this film about halfway through.

You might be wondering how Ghostbusters: Afterlife squares the circle of Egon as absent dad and Egon as great dad simultaneously, because we’re not going to sign off without redeeming his character somewhat. Well, in Egon’s lab Carrie Coon finds a whole wall that proves dad stalked her throughout her childhood. That’s enough! The “Do It For Her” collage Homer Simpson had on the wall of his sector heals all wounds. Like, having photos of your kid through stages of her development doesn’t make up for not being there literally her entire life. I have to believe there’s a version that could’ve existed that didn’t make him a deadbeat dad, especially as it uncomfortably echoes him being an inadvertent deadbeat dad in real life. This film literally ends with Ghost Egon and Carrie Coon embracing, him dissolving into stardust, and among the stars “FOR HAROLD” appears. Fuck this shit. Fuck this shit forever. I’m rarely offended by spectacle but I’m offended now. There’s a toy two-pack of Lil Egon with a Ghostly colored Spengler so don’t fucking tell me capitalism isn’t snaked around this bullshit. Technically “FOR HAROLD” doesn’t close things out, it’s the Ecto-1 driving in NYC while Ray Parker Jr.’s theme blares. Did the surviving Ghostbusters drive their old property all the way back to New York? Who knows. Who really fucking cares.

It wouldn’t be a tentpole without unnecessary post-credits that set up more fucking garbage you’ll feel compelled to watch. First, Venkman and returning champion Sigourney Weaver recreate the psychic shock tests from an obscure little flick called Ghostbusters. Baby Oscar is nowhere to be found. What I wouldn’t give for a Jonah Hill-looking 30 year old standing in the doorway and this just becomes a remake of Cyrus. (Film I’d watch be watching…) The second post-credits, because of course there has to be one, Winston and Annie Potts share drinks and talk about Winston’s financial success, intercut with him reopening the firehouse that Ray said became a Starbucks. Cue red glow of the containment unit. Better movie if it’s a Starbucks that has to deal with a ghost containment unit left over from the Ghostbusters. Would you like a mocha with SCREAMS? Literally everything outside, like, A Serbian Film would be a superior exercise in filmmaking.


The family that busts together must make very clear they’re not biologically related or else people will get into a lot of trouble with Johnny Law.

I would say there’s some subtext behind Reitman taking the reins from his dad, but it’s not subtext—it’s text. Afterlife is about your dad, and how you feel about your dad, whether your dad is Harold Ramis or not. As far as I know Harold Ramis is not Jason Reitman’s dad, but stranger things have happened. Get it? STRANGER THINGS. Afterlife is more or less taking up the family business after expressing a hereditary aptitude for it, and in the case of this specific film the family business is busting ghosts. Lil Egon feels adrift from her family until she finds out her grandfather was also a quasi-autistic science whiz. Jason Reitman slots neatly also in the Carrie Coon role, resentful of the father whose calling interfered with their relationship. (Need I also mention Harold Ramis had a secret daughter in real fucking life?) We’re supposed to go, oh, Reitman has closure now that he realizes his dad ignored him in favor of doing something truly necessary: directing that movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes pregnant. Maybe Ivan Reitman also kept a creepboard of Jason’s childhood, maybe not, I don’t know. If this fucking guy went to therapy we’d still be able to say “yep, Paul Feig made the worst Ghostbusters movie bar none”. If there’s one thing we need less of in Hollywood, it’s filmmakers exploring their daddy issues, and if there’s one thing we need even less of, it’s filmmakers exploring their daddy issues while painstakingly recreating shit you remember from four decades ago so major motion picture companies can wring some money out of the intellectual property that’s just been sitting there. Seeing this, I wish I could barge into my dad’s old company and tell everybody “hey, I’m [my dad]’s son, so I’m timekeeping now”. Fuck Jason Reitman.

Him and Gil Kenan, director of the similarly imagination bereft Poltergeist remake, write a slavish blowjob of a script that makes Stanz’ ghost beej look like first base foreplay. In the promotional rounds Reitman boasted of “easter eggs” that fans would appreciate, yet the entire fucking thing is an easter egg. As a result the “new” material isn’t given enough room to develop. Besides Lil Egon, every other character is a cypher. Did I mention Finn Wolfhard’s love interest, Lucky Domingo? Yep, she’s a black girl named Lucky, and like Winston before her, she’s the character of color that comes into the movie midstream and never receives character development relative to the others. Not that Wolfhard is much better; he likes cars and wants to get laid. That’s it. I don’t think he even gets a moment with his grandfather. I swear he’s in here because some exec went “we need some of that Stranger Things energy. Get someone like that Stranger Things kid. Not him, obviously; someone like him!” Paul Rudd’s charms can only go so far and he’s benched for a good stretch of the proceedings so he can be inside a dog monster. Carrie Coon has a few moments but again is overshadowed by a skybeam bullshit CGI ending and precocious shits taking Ivan Reitman’s movie for a spin down main street.


“He’s in those Marvel movies, he knows how to quizzically react to shit that isn’t there.”

Suffice it to say I didn’t care for Ghostbusters: Afterlife much and I am resigned to the notion that unlike Paul Feig’s shitfest, this will do well enough for a sequel to be greenlit. After all, why would a Ghost Corps production company even exist if they didn’t intend on wringing every last drop from this Gen X fantasia? If this has any relevance to the culture war, and I think it does, it’s that shallow retreads of known properties (known as “the Force Awakens maneuver”) fare better than straightforward remakes that tie into the most tedious cultural debates. Trump doesn’t have a view of Afterlife because it’s unnecessary. Say what you will about Feig’s, it took a chance. Why take a chance now when you can hollow out a beloved toyetic property and wear its skin around? What’d KMFDM say? “Nothing new it’s the same old shit/If it works this good why fuck with it”? I can’t wait to be a decrepit old fuck in 2060, watching a Finn Wolfhard ravaged by age sleepwalk grimace his way through firing a proton pack against nothing to the delight of all the zoomer man-babies. Hopefully the seas have taken us by then.

Leave a Reply


Next ArticleDeliver The Profile Episode 204: Skull & Crossbones