How 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' Can Step Out of the Shadow of a Giant

Filmmaker Jason Reitman, whose father Ivan Reitman directed the original installments, isn’t attempting to ape, in terms of either scale or comedy, what came before.

Who you gonna call? This morning Sony Pictures released the first trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a legacy sequel to Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989), which ignores the 2016 Paul Feig reboot. Speaking of legacy, Jason Reitman, son of the first two films’ director, Ivan Reitman, takes the helm this time around to deliver a sequel to his father’s work. The plot, which revolves around the grandchildren of Egon Spengler, portrayed by the late Harold Ramis in the original films, picks up 30 years after the last reported ghost sighting. When supernatural occurrences start shaking the foundation of small-town Oklahoma a new generation of Ghostbusters is formed. The scope and scale of this film looks to course correct where the 2016 film went off the rails and deliver the sequel that fans of the franchise have waited 30 years for.

It’s clear from the opening moments of the trailer that Afterlife isn’t attempting to ape, in terms of either scale or comedy, what came before, something Ghostbusters II and the reboot both struggled with. Instead there’s a kind of naturalism that seems to be employed here with a struggling family consisting of a single mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), and her two children, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), who have no other choice but to move into an old farm house that has been left to them. While the small-town dealings with supernatural and the presence of Wolfhard will surely invite Stranger Things comparisons, Afterlife isn’t set in the '80s, although it is dealing with an '80s property. While there will undoubtedly be a fair bit of nostalgia that comes with the film, especially when concerning the original Ghostbusters who are said to play some role in the film, Afterlife feels modern and surprisingly low-key. So low-key that not even Ray Parker Jr.’s earworm of a song is used. In fact, the most surprising aspect of the trailer may be just how much this looks and feels like a Jason Reitman film rather than a summer blockbuster.

Jason Reitman, best known for indie dramedies like Juno (2007), Up in the Air (2009), and Tully (2018) has charted a path distinct from the high-concept comedies of his father, which made his decision to tackle Ghostbusters surprising. Yet, his work is concerned with the dysfunction of modern families, and how the past impacts the present with characters forced to evaluate whether their lives are better served by being beholden to it. And it would seem that these themes will drive Ghostbusters: Afterlife, with Phoebe’s teacher Mr. Gooberson (Paul Rudd) bridging the fandom of the past with the needs of the present, i.e. it’s no coincidence that it is Phoebe, who shares her grandfather’s look and curiosity, appears to be the driving force of this adventure. Any concern that Reitman would be echoing his father’s work seems to be dismantled in this trailer, as the shift in setting, style and tone promise something more interesting than a semi-remake of the 1984 film.

When it comes to reboots and legacy sequels, the word grounded gets thrown around a lot. But the thing is, it was a grounded nature that defined the original film. While so much of '80s blockbuster filmmaking has been thought of in terms of excess, Ghostbusters presented a working reality. It was fantasy, but the lifestyles of the Ghostbusters, their uniforms, car, and tools of the trade all seemed functional and workable, something that has presented many a cosplaying opportunity for fans over the years. Even the comedy seemed to be far more grounded than the kind of wackiness that was presented in the 2016 film. The Ghostbusters weren’t action heroes, or even the coolest people in the room. They were blue-collar workers, whose ghostbusting was depicted with all the grandeur of being a plumber. It looks like much of that perspective will be retained in Afterlife.

Despite the enduring popularity of Ghostbusters, which has spread across animated series, comics, video games, merchandise and music, there has yet to be a sequel that caught on in the same way that first film did. Arguably, Ghostbusters II deserves a re-evaluation, but nevertheless, the franchise has spent over 30 years chasing the original film. Jason Reitman doesn’t appear to be chasing anything, and in fact, his disinterest in tackling the property for so long (something he discussed in 2007) may be the very reason why he’s the perfect person to push the franchise forward. Reitman has already stepped out of the shadow of his father, which may mean he’s the perfect person to evaluate the shadow cast by Ghostbusters ’84 and move beyond it because, it would seem, he ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

  • Richard Newby
  1. by Carolyn Giardina , Aaron Couch