Ghostbusters: Afterlife Isn’t Your Typical Hollywood Blockbuster, It’s a Real Film

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

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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No, Ghostbusters 2016 Is Not Better Than Ghostbusters II

This week marks the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the true third installment in the Ghostbusters franchise. Fans have been waiting for the long-delayed third film, not just over the course of a pandemic, but really, since 1989.

Original star and writer Dan Aykroyd had tried for years to make a true Ghostbusters sequel. Stories were developed that featured the original cast, as well as some that had new casts of characters that had been trained by the old guard. Unfortunately, a major roadblock was Bill Murray, and his disinterest in returning (apparently he said he would only return if he was a ghost).

Over the course of the 90’s and early 2000’s, many proposed Ghostbusters movies were announced, but failed to ever get off the ground. Sadly, Harold Ramis’ passing in 2014 put the kibosh on the original crew ever returning together again. So, instead, the 2016 reboot with an all-female cast was greenlit. The film goes by many titles – the opening proclaims it as just Ghostbusters, while the end credits and Blu-Ray/DVD covers refer to it as Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. From here on out, it will be referred to as Ghostbusters 2016.

Fans maligned the film and it did mediocre box-office, but recently, there has been a growing trend amongst viewers to compare it favorably to Ghostbusters II. I’m here to say that as disappointing a movie Ghostbusters II is to some, it’s of course better than Ghostbusters 2016!

The first Ghostbusters is such a perfect movie. It’s a beautiful blend of comedy and sci-fi and it really feels like a movie about best friends, made by best friends. Ghostbusters utilized each of its performer’s comedic strengths and didn’t shy away from getting a little dark when it could easily be very silly. Despite the fact that 3 out of the 4 Ghostbusters are scientists, it feels like a blue-collar film. They curse, smoke, and work hard doing a dirty job, and despite the fact that the movie is a comedy, it respects its macabre subject matter and takes its scare scenes very seriously.

Ghostbusters II was inevitable, but it took too long to get made. In between movies, the children’s cartoon show The Real Ghostbusters became popular so the more family friendly Ghostbusters II feels more like an adaptation of the cartoon show rather than a sequel to the first.

The biggest problem with the sequel is that it repeats the beats of the first film almost exactly. The film features montages of them catching ghosts, as well as a period where no one believes them, then they get bullied by a bureaucrat, and finally conjure up a giant figure in the third act. To so clearly parrot the formula of the original is unforgivable from a storytelling perspective, yet there is so much good stuff in Ghostbusters II that it’s impossible to call it a bad movie.

Rick Moranis’ expanded role as Louis Tully is comic gold, and the courtroom scene is one of the best scenes in either film. Peter MacNichol’s Yanoush steals every scene that he’s in, and the film doesn’t avoid menace. For a comedy, there are actually a few geniunely scary moments, such as when Dana’s bathtub tries to eat her, and when the gang finds themselves in the subway surrounded by decapitated heads on pikes. It’s hard not to love these characters, and they’ve become iconic for a reason — something the film proves. Ghostbusters II may not be a great movie but it’s, without question, an entertaining movie. 

And that brings me to Ghostbusters 2016, a film mired in controversy due to its decision to feature an all-female cast. Despite all that, the problems with the movie have nothing to do with the cast’s genders. The entire cast is talented and funny, but the movie’s problems are ultimately with the writing and directing.

Director Paul Feig brings a style of humor to the movie that’s different than the first two, and because of it, there are no stakes. Unlike the original which created a real world with fantastical things happening, Ghostbusters 2016 exists in an unbelievable world. And the unbelievable happening in an unbelievable world isn’t all that interesting. The original Ghostbusters films had humor coming from the main cast while the rest of the movie’s world was serious. However, Ghostbusters 2016 has funny characters in a funny world where all of its inhabitants are idiots who crack jokes, riff endlessly, and are just plain stupid.

The other big thing about Ghostbusters 2016 is the setting. Despite being set in New York City like the originals, it was mostly filmed in Boston and never feels like a New York movie.

Ghostbusters is one of the best NYC movies ever made, and 1980’s NYC seeps from the pores of every shot of the first two movies. The hard and grimy NYC setting matches the fact that these are really working class guys doing amazing things.

Also, the writing of the original film’s characters were spot on, with each one having a specific personality trait and finding the humor in that. The four women all have the same personality traits as the originals do, yet they all can’t seem to stop riffing as if the entire movie was one big improv sketch.

And why does the only non-scientist character have to be black again? And speaking of science, one of the better aspects of the original films was that it really took the ghost science seriously, to the point where the conflicts had to do with the struggle of trying to trap ghosts. Ghostbusters 2016 forgets the science of the supernatural and its finale is a CGI-filled spectacle of the characters just zapping ghosts in cool ways, which just isn’t as interesting as the jeopardy featured in the original.

While Ghostbusters II may not be as good as the first one, it still features an amazing and iconic cast firing on all cylinders. Despite its faults, it will never be worse than Ghostbusters 2016, or whatever it’s called. Did I mention the dancing? Why is there so much dancing in that movie?

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