The Hollywood recipe for reviving a classic franchise for a new generation has now been firmly established. The recipe makes a cake. Yes, a cake, one that the studio is allowed to have and eat too.
The first step is to retell the classic narrative as you might in a traditional remake. But rather than wipe the slate clean, you acknowledge the original movie and devise a way to have history repeat itself. They’ve rebuilt Jurassic Park. They’ve rebuilt the Death Star. Michael Myers has escaped again. Another serial killer dons “Ghostface”.
This method of maintaining canon while rebooting a franchise allows the studio to both entice a fresh audience while catering for nostalgic adults. You can have new characters and also bring back Luke, Leia and Han. You can have your cake and eat it too.
If you have any desire to enjoy Ghostbusters: Afterlife, then you have to completely accept that this is such a cake. This is the intent of both Sony and director/co-writer Jason Reitman. But, unlike the original movies, supernatural comedies for ADULTS, Afterlife is resolutely a KIDS movie. It retells the classic narrative. It pays homage to the legacy of the originals.
Reitman, whose father Ivan directed the 1984 and 1989 movies, treats the material with the reverence it deserves. Let’s face it, 1984’s Ghostbusters is arguably the best comedy ever produced by the Hollywood system, certainly post the American New Wave. Its 1989 follow-up is the most thoughtfully crafted sequel to a hit American comedy. So Afterlife has a lot to live up to.
On the balance of it, Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan have baked the perfect cake. With the wide-eyed wonder and youthful energy of a young person’s action comedy, steered by a talented young cast, the script offers an introduction to the mythology – and fun – of the franchise. Reitman’s proven himself as a writer of sharp indie comedies and he applies that skill here. Afterlife has a number of jokes and one-liners that land, and the theatre I attended often erupted in laughter.
Paul Rudd somewhat fills the void left by Bill Murray though he, of course, doesn’t share Murray’s darkness, that barely contained melancholy. But Rudd’s got precise comic timing and he proves a valuable addition to proceedings.
But there wasn’t just laughs. The pre-ordained cameos elicited from my theatre actual applause. There was a level of excitement amongst the audience not felt for some time. As the nostalgia and schmaltz dials to eleven in the final act, you’ll either embrace the sentimentality or resist it. I got a little choked up.
While a Ghostbusters movie without Bill Murray riffing as Dr. Peter Venkman in the lead role was always going to feel different (not to mentioned the relocation from New York City), Jason Reitman has created a well-paced adventure for young people. While the cynics might continue to lament the avalanche of recycled content, there’s also something to be said for the safety of nostalgic escapism. As the real world continues to circle the drain, the argument for taking a two-hour detour of laughs, applause and tears feels all the more compelling.