After years of waiting for a true third Ghostbusters movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been finally released (following a year and a half-long pandemic delay) and the result is worth the wait. Previously, a Paul Feig-directed reboot was released in 2016 that bizarrely decided to start over the Ghostbusters franchise rather than be a continuation, and the result was a disaster. The film didn’t utilize anything that made the original films great and played like one long SNL sketch.
For years, Dan Aykroyd had been trying to make a third Ghostbusters film, but Harold Ramis’ passing made this difficult. Enter original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason. Jason Reitman grew up on the set of the original Ghostbusters movies, even having a bit part in Ghostbusters II, and he ultimately became a great director himself.
In fact, he’s probably a more consistently good filmmaker than his father. Despite the lineage, it was honestly a little surprising that Jason Reitman was taking the Ghostbusters reins, because none of his movies are remotely like the ones his father made (Stripes, Twins, Meatballs), and he had never helmed a big-budget movie before.
Reitman’s career as an indie filmmaker is a rarity nowadays, when low budget success often gets directors a blockbuster superhero movie offer.
With 2005’s Thank You For Smoking, Jason Reitman burst onto the scene as a hot new director who specialized in character-driven comedies. He followed up that movie with Juno and Up In The Air, the latter of which both received considerable Oscar attention, including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.
The rest of his filmography hasn’t quite achieved the success level of his first three movies, and his last film, The Front Runner with Hugh Jackman, about former democratic senator Gary Hart, made just $3 million at the box office. So Reitman needed a hit in order to be commercially and critically relevant.
While it feels perfect that Jason Reitman is directing a sequel to his father’s classic film, the pairing of him and Ghostbusters is much more special than just birthright. Directing and co-writing, Reitman brings a sensibility missing in today’s blockbusters. His talent for making character-driven movies made Ghostbusters: Afterlife better than it should have been. With big-budget movies dominated by Marvel and Fast and the Furious entries, it’s refreshing to get one where you actually care about the characters and view them as real people, even if everything around them is fantastical.
The first blockbuster, Jaws, is a thrilling adventure, but one of the most interesting things about it is watching the characters go through the story’s trauma. Even Roland Emmerich created relatable characters for Independence Day that the audience could care about. Before CGI got so good (and honestly less expensive), filmmakers had to rely on other things to hook an audience, and big blockbusters used to be much better written. If you look at Jurassic Park vs Jurassic World, the difference in quality is vast. Jurassic Park actually has a 10-minute scene where the characters debate the ethics and morals of bringing dinosaurs back to life. The main character, Alan Grant, has a great arc in that in the first act he makes clear that he doesn’t want kids, yet he’s forced to “evolve” and be a caretaker for Hammond’s grandchildren when they’re lost in the park together. Jurassic World has no such character moments or arcs, and the real star of the movie is the excellent CGI dinosaur creations.
This is because filmmakers know now that audiences come for the special effects, so that’s what they focus on instead of the true craft of cinema. With great cinematography and production design, Ghostbusters: Afterlife looks like great care and attention went into making it – the same care that goes into smaller films where storytelling is paramount.
All Marvel movies today look and feel the same, as if they came off an assembly line and the decision where to put the camera is a manufacturing decision as opposed to an artistic one.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t even seem like a comedy at certain points. It feels like a family drama with comedic moments sprinkled in. In that way, it reminded me of the original Men In Black, which had a comedic tone, but played its sci-fi elements seriously and, like Jaws, relied heavily on the strength of its characters.
The original Ghostbusters was silly, but it wasn’t an all-out farce like the 2016 reboot. There was a nice balance of serious and silly moments, but in the era of sub-par and expensive special effects, it is more a showcase for its compelling characters and quality screenwriting. Watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it doesn’t feel like Reitman is making a movie meant to fulfill the needs of the audience or to set up a cinematic universe (though it does set up a sequel). It just feels like a story he wanted to tell that he felt was right.
While the ending may draw controversy for some “CGI trickery” that I won’t spoil here, it also won’t leave a dry eye in the house, and I can’t remember the last time I felt that emotionally involved with the characters in a big-budget blockbuster.
I truly hope that Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t the last time that story, characters, and craft are prioritized above special effects in a movie intended to be a blockbuster. Those three things haven’t been bringing people to the theater in recent years, but hopefully, with this film’s success, we’ll see more of such balance in the future.
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