Can Ghostbusters: Afterlife Recapture the Franchise’s Magic?

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Paul Rudd and Carry Coon in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. (Sony Pictures/@Ghostbusters/via Twitter)

A few weeks before the 2016 Ghostbusters all-female reboot was released, its cast joined Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The Paul Feig project was an object of controversy from its announcement. This promotional decision presaged the final product’s decision to lean into gender politics without actually providing a requisite amount of originality or crowd-pleasing comedy. (It was also one of the first things that made me think Donald Trump might win against Hillary.) The 2016 Ghostbusters performed poorly enough that its requisite post-credits sequel tease will remain forever that, much like the end of Mac and Me, Paul Rudd’s favorite film.

So instead of continuing along this path, Ghostbusters will be handed “back to the fans,” to use director Jason Reitman‘s also-controversial phrase. In his case, there’s something almost literal about that: Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, director of the first two Ghostbusters films. But this has also meant bringing back surviving members of the original cast (Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Dan Akroyd), Paul Rudd, and Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things. Today, we got our first full-length trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, due out this November:

With a rural setting, hints of the mysterious and unexplained, a friendly allied high-school teacher (played by Paul Rudd), and even Finn Wolfhard, it’s clear that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is going for a Stranger Things aesthetic here. But with the implication that the story of the first two Ghostbusters movies has fallen into the status of forgotten myth even as events proceed to reveal it as true, I also got from this trailer something of a Force Awakens vibe from the proceedings — something clinched by the hint of the grudging return to proceedings of Peter Venkman (Bill Murray’s character), in older, crankier, and perhaps reluctant-mentor mode, à la Harrison Ford’s aged Han Solo.

That aspect of The Force Awakens was both a bit duplicative (we had already witnessed the descent into obscurity of the Jedi order in A New Hope) and somewhat-implausible: In the span of a few decades, could something like that really be lost? Perhaps we can allow such storytelling license in a galaxy depicted as so vast, and so . . . illiterate. But Ghostbusters: Afterlife appears to be premised on the notion that an explosion of paranormal activity, witnessed by millions of people in America’s most populated city . . . becomes merely an urban legend within the span of a few decades? That might be too much.

Or maybe not. I’m willing to wait and see whether the comedic framing of Ghostbusters can support the kind of dramatic gravitas and themes of family inheritance, memory, and whatnot that Ghostbusters: Afterlife appears to be striving for. At any rate, I think it has a better shot of success than the misbegotten 2016 reboot.