There’s something strange in the neighborhood… and it’s the plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife! In celebration of Ivan and Jason Reitman’s critically divisive, audience-adored sequel to the original Ghostbusters movie coming to digital on demand last week, we’ve decided to give it the (admittedly belated) Spoiler FAQ treatment! If there’s anything you were confused about, this FAQ may offer meager help! Maybe! Admittedly, it’s unlikely! God, this movie’s a mess.
Hey, why are you doing this? A lot of people loved Afterlife! They called it “nostalgia done right.”
They sure did, didn’t they? I can’t speak to their opinion, because I can’t think of a film that did nostalgia worse other than The Rise of Skywalker.
But the movie is all about a new set of kids learning about the Ghostbusters legacy and taking on the mantle for themselves!
No, it’s not. Not really. It’s about a new set of kids learning about the Ghostbusters legacy and then the old Ghostbusters—the very, very old Ghostbusters—showing up to redo the end of the original film, but worse.
Sigh. So what’s the premise of Afterlife?
Egon Spengler, originally played by the late Harold Ramis, has abandoned his unnamed wife and daughter Callie at some point in the ‘90s. That child, played as an adult by the wonderful Carrie Coon, is now the single, debt-ridden mother of two children. After she and her family get evicted from their apartment, they’re forced to relocate to the incredibly dilapidated mansion her estranged and recently deceased father left her in his will (along with even more debt).
Whoa. What happened to the Ghostbusters?
Well, after the business sort of died off—and that pun was not intended, believe it or not—Egon tried to convince them that another apocalypse was coming. I want you to read this sentence very carefully, because it is bananas: Ray Stantz, Winston Zeddemore, and Peter Venkman did not believe him.
What? Are you kidding me?
No. After the events of Ghostbusters one and two, and after Egon repeatedly revealed himself to be the only one who had any clue what was going on with all things supernatural, even though they’d basically stopped the apocalypse twice already, suddenly these guys don’t believe Egon. Egon, naturally, steals the Ecto-1 and all their ghost-busting equipment and inexplicably everyone’s jumpsuits and heads to the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. And abandons his family in the process, don’t forget.
Take a minute to process. It’s a lot.
OK. So why does Egon need to leave his family to deal with whatever’s happening in Oklahoma?
No reason whatsoever, other than the plot requires his granddaughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) to be completely ignorant of all things Egon and Ghostbusters so she can slowly learn about them through the movie with help from Egon’s ghost.
We’ll get back to that in a minute. Why don’t the Ghostbusters believe Egon?
No reason whatsoever, other than the plot requires the remaining three members to be sidelined until the very end of the film as a fan service-y deus ex machina.
Wait, why would Egon take every else’s jumpsuits?
No reason whatsoever, other than the movie wants to have Phoebe, her older brother Trevor (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), his love interest Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), and Phoebe’s friend Podcast (Lo—
I do not want to talk about Podcast. Ahem: and Phoebe’s friend Podcast (Logan Kim) dressed as Ghostbusters for the film’s final act.
Also, is Afterlife a comedy? This premise sounds kind of bleak.
It’s not a comedy. Oh, there are quips, and Phoebe tells some bad jokes to diffuse awkward situations because of her social anxiety, but this is mostly a deadly serious love letter to the first Ghostbusters movie.
But the first Ghostbusters movie was a comedy. It had some action and a few scares and some stakes, sure, but it was definitely a comedy.
I’m well aware! Because comedians starred in it!
Why does Afterlife take Ghostbusters so seriously?
Because the 40-year-old fans who got disgruntled about the 2016 Ghostbusters movie take it so seriously. But I talk about studios kowtowing to the most entitled-feeling sections of fandoms all the time, so I’d rather talk about how it ends up wrecking Afterlife as a movie.
Okay, do tell.
The first 80 percent of this movie is mainly about the kids, especially Phoebe, and it’s pretty good! The actors are good, the dialogue is fun, and they’re doing exciting things like discovering the Ghostbusters equipment and then trying to catch a ghost while driving down Main Street in the Ecto-1 in broad daylight and inadvertently tearing up the town. The last 20 percent is all about the original Ghostbusters, and they’re the problem.
How can they be the problem? People love those guys.
In multiple ways, actually. First, it turns out they’ve secretly hijacked the movie from the very beginning. What Ghostbusters: Afterlife really, really wants to be is the first Ghostbusters again—not a sequel, the exact same movie—and pit Venkman, Stanz, and Zeddemore against Gozer the Gozerian again. And in order to get them there for the rematch, but only for the final act, the plot becomes nonsense.
Well, there’s the aforementioned “Egon becomes a terrible person and the other Ghostbusters suddenly stop trusting their friend” nonsense. But then there’s the rest of the premise, which also makes no sense. You see, for some reason, there’s a secret temple to Gozer hiding in a mountain in Oklahoma, which is what Egon abandoned everybody to deal with. His plan was to capture a Terror Dog—yes, they’re back too, as are the Gatekeeper and Keymaster—and lure what seems to be the spirit of the second Terror Dog back to his dirt farm, where he’d capture it in a giant trap he’d made—a trap far, far more powerful than he’d need for just the Dog. He manages the first part, but there’s an electrical short, the trap doesn’t work, and the spirit of the second Dog kills Egon.
To be clear, a Terror Dog spirit powerful enough to murder people is loose, but then inexplicably does absolutely nothing else until Phoebe makes the horrendous decision to open Egon’s ghost trap containing the first Terror Dog, which very clearly has a ghost in it. Now, you could say that even though Phoebe has been depicted as brilliant, she knows so little about the Ghostbusters she couldn’t have known the possible ramifications of freeing the ghost. But Egon’s spirit guides her to the secret hiding place where he stuck the trap. Why?! What good could that possibly do anyone? What possible outcome is there better than the trap remaining safely hidden and unopened?
Perhaps it could—
Please let me continue. Somehow, releasing the Terror Dog spirit allows both Dogs to fully manifest in the real world. They possess the only two adults in the film, Callie and Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who free Gozer from a different trap made of proton streams that Egon had built. At some point, Phoebe realizes Egon’s plan was to lure Gozer back to his farm with the captured Dog as bait, and then trap the god in his giant trap. Do you see the problem here?
It is kind of confusi—
That was not Egon’s plan. We saw the plan, which was to lure the second Terror Dog spirit into this giant trap that was so huge it was clearly made for Gozer. But the film shows us that Gozer is safely trapped until the Keymaster and Gatekeeper arrive to let it out. Egon knew that, because he built all of these traps. If he’d wanted to trap Gozer, he would have had to let Gozer out of the first trap beforehand. But Gozer couldn’t enter the real world without both Terror Dogs being free first! None of it makes any goddamned sense and it’s all so the original Ghostbusters can steal the movie.
What do you mean, “steal” the movie?
Phoebe and Podcast manage to capture a Terror Dog after Gozer is freed, and everyone hightails it to Egon’s farm to enact his plan he did not plan. Of course it doesn’t work, but the original trio miraculously shows up in time to save everyone else from Gozer. Phoebe helps out with her proton pack, but it’s revealed that she’s being assisted by the blue VFX Force ghost of Egon, so it’s really just the original four. Trevor decides to zap the failed power cells by shooting them with a proton stream, a thing that inexplicably works, and Carrie Coon pulls a lever, but it’s really just the original four doing the same thing you saw them do in the first movie, but worse.
I still don’t see the problem with this.
Okay. Imagine you’re watching Ghostbusters for the very first time, back in 1984. Gozer is summoned and the Ghostbusters try to stop it… but this time they fail. And then three other Ghostbusters—played by 70-year-old movie stars of yesteryear like Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, and Burt Lancaster—suddenly show up out of nowhere and save the day instead, at which point the rest of the movie becomes entirely about them.
Okay, that doesn’t sound good.
If you didn’t grow up with the first movie, then you’re watching three very old men—at least one of whom clearly doesn’t want to be there—hijack the film. Seriously, once the old Ghostbusters show up, the other characters basically disappear. There’s a big, tearful farewell to Egon’s ghost, then you see the Ecto-1 drive into New York City while the original theme song plays. Next, Peter and Dana (Sigourney Weaver, in her only appearance in the film) are playing with the cards and shocking machine Peter used to hit on college girls in the first movie in a staggeringly pandering post-credits scene. In the second, Winston buys the old firehouse, which somehow still houses the old ghost containment unit. All of it is meaningless to anyone who isn’t already a major fan.
But I’m a fan and I liked it. Is that OK?
It is in the sense that Ivan Reitman and his son Jason made it for you, so why not? Just recognize that what was made for you to enjoy comes at the cost of everyone else’s enjoyment, because it makes the movie tremendously unsatisfying. Afterlife is about the kids, but we have no idea what happens to them after the battle. Do they stay in Oklahoma? Are they still dirt poor? Does their experience affect them in any way? It’s basic storytelling! Plus, they’re the ones who should have fended off Gozer. I’d honestly have forgiven a lot of these plotholes if I could have watched these kids succeed where Egon failed.
OK. Imagine watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time, but instead of Luke needing to blow up the Death Star, Obi-Wan kills Darth Vader and then everybody goes home. Actually, it’s worse than that. Imagine Luke and Han go to the Death Star to rescue Leia, and Obi-Wan shows up out of nowhere, kills Vader, and leaves. There’s no character development, no character arcs.
The closest anyone in the movie comes to having a character arc is Carrie Coon’s Callie, who starts the movie (justifiably!) hating her father only to discover he secretly loved her. It’s also so she can have a loving hug with Egon’s ghost at the end, but the stupid movie even gets this wrong.
You are really ruining all the movie’s sweet moments for me.
Look, blame Egon. Because the reason Callie decides her deadbeat dad is now wonderful and loving is because Egon’s ghost eventually leads her to his underground lab, where he has a collage of photos he’s secretly taken of Callie throughout her entire life. Isn’t that wonderful?
I feel like you’re going to say this isn’t wonderful.
Egon abandons his wife and daughter to go to Oklahoma instead of taking them with her. Callie grows up without a father, but it turns out her father was taking creep shots of her constantly when he could at any point have introduced himself. Why? Why wouldn’t he do that? Was he afraid he was being tailed by ghosts that were going to kidnap his daughter and use her against him? Ghosts don’t work like that.
Say, how do ghosts work in the Ghostbusters universe? Since Egon looks just like himself, does that mean all the freaky ghosts are demons or something? Or are they evil humans who—
I’m sorry to cut you off again, but there are an infinite number of questions to be asked about how the actual afterlife works in Ghostbusters and this is already running long and I’m emotionally spent. I’m just pretending there are rules and we just don’t know them yet.
Aren’t you taking this movie too seriously?
No more or less seriously than Afterlife is treating Ghostbusters.
- Why is the Ecto-1 covered in dust below the tattered sheet that was placed on top of the car to protect it from dust?
- Why did Egon take the Ecto-1 if he wasn’t going to use it?
- Why, when arrested, would a supposedly smart girl like Phoebe call the old Ghostbusters helpline instead of her mom? Only one of the two could pick her up from jail, while the other could be called at literally any other time.
- Was Phoebe really going to murder the sheriff? Sure seemed like it!
- When Callie and Gary Grooberson (Rudd) are possessed, why didn’t Gary get a sexy outfit like Callie did?
- Why are the Mini-Pufts so eager for the sweet release of death?
- Why did Egon install a very obvious firepole in his “secret” underground lab? Firefighters use one because they need to get out of the firehouse quickly to respond to emergencies—so why would Egon need one to get into his lab so quickly? Also, the floor is one small story down. How much time could a firepole save versus a set of stairs that have to be there, because otherwise, people would need to climb up the pole to get out? Did Egon install it purely for sentimental value? Ugh.
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