‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is even more ‘Back to the Future’ than ‘Back to the Future 2’

Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems designed to remind you how good 1984’s Ghostbusters is, almost thirty years later. Although director Paul Feig and the filmmakers involved in the new film, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, were smart enough to acknowledge the love that the original film still engenders, the question that was probably on a lot of fans’ minds was: What does it do to the original concept in the process? The answer comes in the most literal way possible.

One of the new series’ main directions is to drop the supernatural, replacing it with computer-controlled monsters that can only be killed with a nuclear weapon. The most devastating of these undead minions, named E-Z-Gone, and played by the Oscar-nominated Patina Miller, has been put inside a mobile rig that travels around like an infernal ghost bus. When it hears an approaching hooter, a person, child or other of, say, an elderly person, on the other side, appears behind it, which then moves. (This is how the made-up word “left-hued” describes a heightened sense of psychic awareness.) E-Z-Gone, having once inhabited the body of one of the citizens of the city after it was toppled from the airbases, is now the adopted child of that person — played by Kumail Nanjiani — and can now shape-shift into anyone’s head at will. Such perfect, horrid, and embarrassing imaginations.

And by the time it’s all over, the hero has lost several of the original characters and the team has encountered almost every side character from the first film, with all of them in almost exactly the same condition as before — a blur of “funny” videos and funhouse pictures. But one of the biggest satisfactions of Afterlife is that its mirror image from the original film is the most authentic aspect of it.

The presence of Bill Murray as Peter Venkman doesn’t just add to the phantasmagoria — the climax of the film, which sees our heroes battle E-Z-Gone and members of the inner ghost department in the device that once housed the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, features spot-on recreations of classic moments from the original film. Perhaps the closest similarity to the 1984 comedy, except for the fact that the protagonists are contemporary scientists, is the inclusion of Kevin (played, disappointingly, by the unknown Andy Garcia), the team’s morbidly obese intern and team buffer (who may or may not have acquired the ability to go invisible). Kevin looks exactly like the character played by Ernie Hudson, who himself looks exactly like Dan Aykroyd, who co-starred with Murray in the 1984 film. Except that he does. And he sings. And sometimes he looks a bit like Rodney Dangerfield, who played the film’s chief paranormal exterminator Ray Stantz.

When Aykroyd spoke in 2012 of how “sooner or later” he would return to Ghostbusters, fans were thrilled. A generation had grown up with the original film, and while it had been long forgotten, it was something that, with an old cast reuniting, fans could be excited about once again.

That’s what Afterlife is all about.

Like Afterlife, as it’s being seen in a big summer movie that marks the return of one of our most enduring movie franchises, the 1983 original was a cause célèbre. When it came out, reviewers were derisive about the laugh-out-loud antics of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and bothered by the fact that they always seemed to get into ridiculous situations. But it was such an intoxicating combination of plot, characters, and “sitcom” moments that, almost thirty years later, after all of this audience has left them behind, it remains a bit of a mystery to this person why it ever mattered.

This article was originally published by The Atlantic.


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