Last Updated on April 15, 2022 by Lil Ginge
Ghostbusters: Afterlife was never intended to be the greatest film ever made. And it’s definitely not. But it’s a fun tribute to one of the greatest films ever made: the original Ghostbusters.
It’s also a tribute to an earlier and more naive time in American history. A time when growth and progress and flourishing seemed ever more possible. And a time when the movies carried hope and not merely apocalypse with them.
Jason Reitman, Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman’s son, was selected to direct the next installment in this nearly 40-year-old franchise. This should have been the first clue that Ghostbusters: Afterlife was going to be a shameless nostalgia-fest for its predecessor.
And I mean that in the best way. Because a fun nostalgia-fest is exactly what we need right now.
Not everyone will love this film. Hell, not everyone will like it. And it’s not meant to be liked by everyone. If you didn’t like or even hated the original 1984 Ghostbusters, there’s really no reason you should have any interest in this film.
But for everyone else, Afterlife presents a wild journey into a glorious past while paving the way for a potentially glorious future.
The Plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Inheriting the Egon Spengler House
The plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife starts out with Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon), the struggling, estranged daughter of absent father and founding Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis in the original). She and her two kids are being evicted from their apartment.
Forced to relocate to the only property she now has, which happens to be a very large, spooky house in the middle of nowheresville, USA. Or, more specifically, Summerville, Oklahoma.
This is the creepy home where Egon spent his time since abandoning his family and friends back in New York City. The house is a painful reminder of how she was abandoned by Egon for an already angry Callie.
The house is her only inheritance – other than some debt – after Egon “presumably died of a heart attack”. (but the audience knows better).
The Spengler Grandchildren
Callie is also concerned about her two children adjusting to said new digs. Her son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) is dorky and not great at the art of romantic seduction. But he seems otherwise relatively well-adjusted if somewhat dismayed by his new home.
On the other hand, Callie’s daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) seems unable to make friends. And she weirdly devotes all of her time and energy to science, taking after her grandfather.
This puzzles, irks, and worries Callie, who has an aversion to anything related to particle physics or parapsychology thanks to her father’s betrayal.
Rounding Out the Ghostbuster Kids
Trevor gets a job at a fast-food joint in order to get closer to an attractive young girl named Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) who also works at the drive-in.
Meanwhile, Phoebe is forced to attend a sort of summer school/babysitting service where she meets a curious classmate and podcast host appropriately named Podcast (Logan Kim). Oh, and Phoebe’s hot summer school teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) turns out to be diggin’ on Phoebe’s mom.
Grooberson is also, much to Phoebe’s delight, a geologist and a devotee to the scientific method. He’s been studying why Summerville gets strange earthquakes every day. These happen despite the absence of a fault line and that creates waves not physically correlated with fracking.
Phoebe begins to find some cool equipment around the house. This starts with a dropped PKE Meter, the “ghost tracker” from the original Ghostbusters. And it leads her to discover that they aren’t alone in the inherited house after all.
But who is this mysterious spook? And what do they want from Phoebe and her family? From there, the plot thickens.
Passing The Torch To New Ghostbusters
How Reitman Made Nostalgia Work
There are two ways Ghostbusters: Afterlife could have engaged in shameless nostalgia. The first would be by reuniting Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson and making them the full-on stars of the film. An Elderly Ghostbusters movie.
This definitely could have had the potential for some fine comedy and would have felt mostly like a reunion special. Not a film set up to drive the franchise forward into the future. It would have been more of a conclusion. And the absence of Harold Ramis would have been even more affecting.
Instead, Reitman chose to introduce a new set of young Ghostbusters to carry the torch to the next generation. This is what I call the Star Wars: Episode VII method of engaging in a nostalgia fest.
Indeed, Episode VII received very similar criticisms as Afterlife: too nostalgic, too repetitive, basically just re-doing the plot of the original Star Wars / Ghostbusters films.
The Road Ahead for Ghostbusters: Afterlife
But that’s not all these films are doing. Both of these films are, yes, shamelessly dabbling in nostalgia while simultaneously introducing a new set of characters to expand the universe.
In fact, Episode VII was merely the jumping-off point for the far superior Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. In this second installment of the new trilogy, the character of Rey really came into her own. She even supplanted her predecessor, Luke Skywalker, in the ways of the force and in helping to save the galaxy from evil.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is also a jumping-off point. And it could point the way to more and even better Ghostbusters sequels featuring these likable new characters.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Nostalgia Is Alright!
Nostalgia in a film like Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t a bad thing. Reusing plot points from the original films isn’t a bad thing. (There are only like five literary plots anyway, according to my high school English teachers.)
So, if you make more than five films, chances are you’re going to reuse the same basic plot anyway. What matters is how you channel that nostalgia and how you build upon it.
There was another way this film could have gone. It could have essentially decided to end the franchise, much the way The Dark Knight Rises ended that amazing trilogy and essentially foreclosed on future sequels.
But by introducing and focusing on this new generation of Ghostbusters, Jason Reitman paves the way for a whole new story arc and expansion of the glorious Ghostbusters universe
If you enjoyed this article on Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I invite you to check out my article What Genre Is The Batman?
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