If you’re like me, you can’t stop thinking about the third act of Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Heck, I first saw it back in August and I still can’t get it out of my head. So much wild stuff happens and I’m delighted that with the film currently in theaters, I can finally talk about all of it with you. Because there’s a lot to talk about. Obviously, mega spoilers follow
After a whole movie of trying to figure out why Egon Spengler left his Ghostbusting friends in New York to move to Summerville, Oklahoma, his granddaughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and her friends figure it all out. Egon realized Summerville would be the place Gozer—the final villain from the original Ghostbusters—could return to take over the world. So he spent his life delaying that with elaborate technology, including a farm-sized ghost trap. However, he was unable to stop the event and died trying to do so. Thankfully, Phoebe and her friends save the day, with the help of the original Ghostbusters.
Yes. The trailers had hinted at it, both with an ominous statue and arm—not to mention the inclusion of Gozer’s good pals, the Terror Dogs—but Gozer does come back in the film. And she’s a handful. However, many things about the villain’s return didn’t sit well with me. First of all, Gozer coming back undercuts the importance of the first film in a way. If the Ghostbusters didn’t actually defeat her, what was the point? They just delayed her? Afterlife suggests that she has continued to come back over the centuries, including appearances in 1984 and 2021. So is that fate? Was she destined to be defeated all these times? We get that it’s cool to see this familiar villain again but it’s seriously confusing.
It’s also odd that while she returns the same way she did in the first movie, with the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster (this time taking over Paul Rudd’s Mr. Grooberson and Carrie Coon’s Callie) getting together, somehow she’s more powerful now. When the original Ghostbusters return and cross the streams to defeat her, it doesn’t work. She’s somehow able to physically separate them. Is that because, for some reason, this time she didn’t let her foes choose their destructor? We don’t know. And that’s a problem.
Though she’s not actually credited, that is indeed Tron: Legacy star and Booksmart director Olivia Wilde in the role of Gozer this time around.
One of the biggest questions going into Afterlife is why aren’t the original Ghostbusters around anymore? Well, there are lots of levels to that question. First of all, we find out that after Egon left them and stole all their stuff, the group kind of disbanded. Ray (Dan Aykroyd) went back to his book shop, Peter (Bill Murray) became a professor of marketing, and Winston (Ernie Hudson) started some huge company and became ultra-rich. We assume it isn’t until Phoebe called Ray that they kind of reunite.
A question we had on top of that was, why did history forget them? You would imagine actions of the Ghostbusters in 1984, and then again in 1989, would have changed the world. They basically proved there was life after death and saved all humanity from destruction. And yet, none of these young characters have heard of them? The world doesn’t study them? We asked co-writer Gil Kenan about this. “The events that took place about Dana’s apartment, the streets of Manhattan, it’s sort of ancient history in the way that a lot of global events are to a young audience today,” he said. “It takes a new story, a new focus to make those things relevant and count. So part of it was just being aware we had an audience that is not growing up with this as an inevitability, but that this is just part of the larger sweep of history. And this is a way to allow young characters like Phoebe and Trevor, Podcast, and Lucky to be able to come up to speed.”
“But the other part of it is there’s a kind of cool, flippant, Ghostbusters attitude about that,” he continued. “Which is you’re in the moment, it might seem like this is the end of the world but then a couple of years later a plane crashes, something bad happens, and history is like one of those giant gumballs where you’re just putting the next piece of chewed gum on it. And after 10 years, 20 years, let alone 37, the piece of gum you put there in 1984 might be obscured by a few million other pieces that have kind of gone up around it.”
Obviously, if you were going to include them, we would have loved to see more of the original Ghostbusters in the movie—but it’s not their story. We experience this story through the eyes of Phoebe. However, as a result, when Peter, Ray, and Winston magically appear at the end, it feels kind of jarring, despite the early set-up. Co-writer Gil Kenan told io9 about it. “We want to make sure that the audience didn’t have more information than Phoebe and her crew,” Kenan said. “So it’s important that their relationship with Egon is touched on but beyond that, the rest is sort of the audience’s relationship with them over the years. The less we articulate that and the more we leave it for the audience to fill in the blanks, it leaves room for the intelligence of the fan to build it up in their own imagination.” Wait, did he say Egon?
Arguably the most shocking reveal in Ghostbusters: Afterlife is that, yes, we see (but don’t hear) the ghost of Egon, played by the late Harold Ramis. To be fair, his presence plays a massive role in the movie up to that point. For example, in the very first scene, Egon gets killed, and right before we see the film’s title card, we see the PKE Meter light up. Egon is there as a ghost, hence: “Afterlife.” He then not only plays chess with Phoebe and helps her fix the proton pack, but he helps Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) with the Ecto-1, and leads Callie (Carrie Coon) into the basement to prove he loved her. So when we finally see Egon materialize to help Phoebe defeat Gozer it’s not exactly a surprise in the context of the movie itself, but it certainly might be a surprise as an audience member.
Of course, the chief reason it would be a surprise is that Ramis passed away in 2014. That was actually one of the many reasons a Ghostbusters sequel like this took so long; he co-created the franchise with Akyroyd and so it took years for the people involved to OK a return to this world. Once they did, they made a movie that’s about him, his family, and passing on the legacy. It’s literally dedicated to his memory. The appearance is obviously done with the utmost respect and admiration and is meant to be touching... but, I don’t know. It just felt weird to see the ghost of a man who was actually dead, especially since it was done so far after his death and made to look like he might have looked at the time of his passing. The effects are great, it’s handled tastefully, but it just left me feeling like Afterlife went one step too far into the nostalgia. Many fans will probably disagree.
Though the film’s trailers revealed Annie Potts was returning at Janine, and rumors were that Sigourney Weaver would appear as well, one person we weren’t sure of was Rick Moranis as Louis Tully. Well, unfortunately, Moranis is not back, though his helmet from the first movie does make a cameo.
You mean besides the ghost of Harold Ramis and Olivia Wilde? Yes, there are a few more cameos. First up is Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as Ivo Shandor, a crucial figure in Ghostbusters lore; he’s the man who built Dana’s building in the first film, which was meant to help summon Gozer. In this film, we learn the materials for the building came from Summerville. He also built the whole town, which is why Egon moved there. In fact, his body is still in the mountain cave where Gozer’s gate is and, somehow, remains in excellent condition. He even comes back to life once Gozer returns but she doesn’t care about this follower of hers. She rips him in half.
Casting such an incredible actor in such a crucial role only for him to be dispatched almost instantly sure makes it seem like there may have been a more elaborate backstory or subplot cut out. But both Kenan and Reitman told us that’s not the case. “Nothing was cut out,” Reitman told io9. “It is a complicated endeavor to take on this franchise, which means so many different things to different people. And as a result, we are trying to address the desires and needs of every type of person who is going to see this film. And at the same time, try to just have a good time, try to come at it with just joy all the time and involve the people that we love working with.” That obviously applies to Simmons, who has now appeared in eight of Reitman’s nine features.
The other big cameo is Sigourney Weaver. She doesn’t appear in the text of the film but has her name in the credits which, of course, gets a reaction from the audience because we haven’t seen her yet. That brings us to...
Ghostbusters: Afterlife has two post-credit scenes. The first post-credit sequence sees Dana Barrett, played by Weaver, administering the same test Peter Venkman gave to his students in the first Ghostbusters, to Venkman himself. It’s a very cute scene that has zero bearing on the plot and only raises unanswerable questions for the future. Are these two together now? Are they just friends? Where’s Dana’s son, Oscar? We don’t know and the movie doesn’t tell us.
The second post-credit scene is arguably more confusing. It begins with a deleted scene from the original Ghostbusters, now restored and installed here, with Janine giving Egon part of a gift before they battled Gozer. In the present, she still has half of the gift and is playing with it while reminiscing with Winston in his plush office. We learn that he’s become so successful he still pays for Ray’s lease and that all his success never made him feel as good as his time as a Ghostbuster. Cut to the old Fire House which, it seems, Winston now owns and the Ecto-1 rolls in from Summerville. He promises to bring it back to full condition and then we see a red light blinking in the ghost containment system downstairs. The implications here are fairly obvious. Winston might try and bring back the Ghostbusters in New York in some form. And the red blinking light suggests that there could still a ghost or two lingering in the containment center. Or something. We’re not 100% sure. But the roundabout, broad implication is “More Ghostbusters coming.”
Ah yes, the new characters. By the end of Afterlife, Phoebe at least, but maybe also Trevor, Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) have kind of become Ghostbusters, thanks to the blessing of Venkman. But all we know about what’s next for them is it seems they gave the Ecto-1 back to Winston. The film gives very little closure on their story except that Phoebe and Trevor finally know their grandfather loved them and they were able to fulfill his wishes in saving the world from Gozer. Which should be enough but, after spending a whole movie with these characters, we sure would have loved a scene or two of them decompressing after what just happened.
After its very impressive opening weekend? It seems likely. The question is, which story will it pick up? The one in Summerville or the one in New York? Jason Reitman says his movie is meant to set all that up and more. “One thing I wanted to do is set the table for Ghostbusters as a franchise to have all kinds of movies,” Reitman told io9. “I want to see all those movies. And we need to do something that really was about setting a foundation and bringing the original 1984 story to a place so that other stories could bloom. I want to see the scary movies, the funny films. I want to see movies involving the original cast. I want to see more movies involving people we haven’t even seen yet. I want to go to new dimensions. I want to go to other cultures and countries. There’s so many places for Ghostbusters to go. And the question is, what’s the starting place? That’s what Afterlife is about. It’s about these generations making amends with each other in a way that brings one story to close and starts another one.”
Honestly? So, so many. Who is Phoebe and Trevor’s dad? Who is Callie’s mom? What did she see in Egon? Why did Egon make all those upgrades to the Ecto-1 if he was by himself? Why was it important to stay out of touch with everyone? Will Gozer be back again since she came back this time? Why did the Stay Puft Marshmallows become mini Stay Puft Marshmallow men in the Wal-Mart when none of the other food did? We could go on and on.
Feel free to discuss any of those and more below. Ghostbusters Afterlife is now in theaters only.
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