Ghostbusters: Afterlife Mocks Wokeness
December 1st, 2021 | JH
We all know Hollywood is radically infested with woke progressivism. That’s the bad news. The good news is that movies and television have never been more diverse and prevalent. This allows a lot of opportunity to view the good stuff while ignoring the bad.
Last year, I advocated watching the Netflix series Cobra Kai and offered up a list of non-woke movies from the past to enjoy while Covid closed movie theatres in 2020. I had the pleasure of heading to the movie theatre recently and have another new movie to add to our reader’s list: Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
I won’t recount the creative or entertainment value of this new movie, this is Poletical, so you can find that stuff elsewhere. What interests me is the politics of what we are again seeing in a Ghostbusters movie.
For a quick recap, the original Ghostbusters was a Saturday Night Live-type comedy from 1984 that combined horror and comedy with a bunch of special effects to create a better than average 80’s blockbuster. The appeal for kids of that generation was huge and over years the esteem for Ghostbusters only grew. It spawned an enormously successful cartoon series and eventually got a 1989 sequel that capped off the era of Ghostbusting.
Throughout the 90's, attempts were made at creating a third movie in the series, but Bill Murray never seemed that interested and Dan Aykroyd never got a satisfactory script together. Eventually Harold Ramis (Ghostbuster Egon Spengler) passed away and the idea of a return of the original Ghostbusters seemed to pass away as well.
Then in 2016 we got the Ghostbusters remake. The all-girl-power Ghostbusters remake. The woke, progressive, misandry-fuelled Ghostbusters remake. The controversy was massive and if you’ll remember back to those days, this whole thing kicked off with, you guessed it… Donald Trump. He lamented the reworking of classic 80’s films and his video took off. The internet shitlords ran with the hate and turned it into a big meme. Many, many things happened after that. Read more about it here and especially here. It was unreal how much of a flashpoint Ghostbusters 2016 became in the culture wars.
Probably the most revealing thing people learned from the whole incident was that the progressive film critics decided to love it, while the audiences thoroughly did not love it. Rotten Tomatoes illustrates the point most astutely. The Ghostbusters 2016 movie had professional critics giving it a 74% fresh rating. Audiences, however, gave it a failing 49% rating. Now there’s no accounting for subjective taste, and online reviews can be freeped by haters, but there is obviously an agenda at work here. Critics felt like they had to display their progressive bonafides by deciding to like this movie in light of all the culture war heat…while audiences assessed differently.
Contrast this with Ghostbusters: Afterlife. This film implies that THIS is what SHOULD have been made as a follow up to Ghostbusters 2. The filmmakers are very diplomatic and are never explicit in promoting things this way, but the reality is that this film promised to be “for the fans” and continue with the real Ghostbusters storyline. Not a reboot…a sequel.
To the fans, this was a victory. For woke critics this was an admission of defeat.
Consequently, the critical reviews for Ghostbusters: Afterlife have a cumulative 62% fresh rating from the critics. Audiences, however, rate this film a 95% fresh rating! This is a higher rating than audiences gave the original movie! (88% in case you were wondering)
Critics say it panders and it is nostalgia driven and full of fan service and not funny enough. That all might be true, but audiences are having a great time with it and the box office speaks for itself.
What about the movie itself? What kind of politics are we seeing?
The original Ghostbusters is usually heralded as being conservatively subversive. The “slobs versus snobs” appeal of this generation of comedies is exemplified in Ghostbusters, but they take it a step further with some Reagan-era, libertarian, anti-authoritarian messaging. For a deep dive into analysis on this issue check out this link to "overthinking Ghostbusters".
In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the politics is even more subtle that the originals, but it has thoroughly jettisoned the agenda of Ghostbusters 2016. Here are a few things of note…
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- The main character, Phoebe, is a science loving 12-year-old girl. She is revealed as the granddaughter of Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. Knowing this connection cuts a lot of slack for the character who would otherwise be saddled with the moniker of a “Mary Sue”. She provides a strong female protagonist for the viewers to relate to in an organic manner. By taking a more intelligent and realistic approach the filmmakers have created a nuanced and strong character that fulfils the “girls can be Ghostbusters too” notion in a way that is far more successful than the ham-handed 2016 intentions.
- This movie features a poor white family in America struggling to get by. It’s not often that you see a mainstream Hollywood movie featuring characters or situations like this anymore. In fact, the majority of the movie takes place in Oklahoma, a flyover red state, a Trump state.
- During a phone call to Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd’s Ghostbuster character) he talks about how great the Reagan years were and how the economy was booming. Why would they throw this into the conversation? When would you ever hear this in a Hollywood movie for no real reason? I was surprised.
- At one point in the film the kids are investigating a mine inside a mountain and there are depictions of the villain Gozer sculpted into the wall. One of the characters is surprised that Gozer is a female. Phoebe responds by saying that Gozer is neither male nor female; it's whatever it wants to be. The character Lucky then deadpans, “Pretty woke for 3000 B.C.”
A transgender joke… with wokeness as the punchline. (the wind is changing direction folks)
- The kids in this movie make up a multicultural cross section of American demographics. Pretty typical of representation in the modern age of filmmaking. None of the characters EVER mention race or ethnicity. Pre-woke colorblindness prevails.
- There’s a social conservative undercurrent to the film regarding the absence of fathers. While it’s never fully detailed, Egon Spengler was estranged or estranged himself from his family in order to pursue his Gozer investigations. This caused a lot of pain and suffering for his daughter and eventually for her family. The reconciliation at the end of the film is heart-warming wish fulfillment.
- Director Jason Reitman is a self-described libertarian.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not a political film and it’s not meant to be… that’s part of the reason people are responding to it so wildly. Audiences aren’t being ideologically preached at in a mocking and condescending manner and that’s what matters most, but the little easter eggs of non-woke conformity were noticeable and hopefully a good sign of things to come.
Did I love this movie? Not really.
Full disclosure… the original is my all-time favourite movie. I saw it with my Dad when I was seven and it totally blew my mind. I went on to become one of the biggest fans I know…just shy of being one of those middle-aged nerds that makes their own movie authentic costumes. While nothing can live up to the magic of those childhood impressions, Jason Reitman does a great job of capturing the essence of what made the franchise so endearing and enduring. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, but cringed at a lot of the scenes in a way that only a jaded forty-three-year-old would. (The remote controlled ghost trap car, joyriding the Ecto-1 through a field, even the return of the original Ghostbusters seemed a little too cosplay)
But you know who wasn’t cringing? The kids in the audience. My nephews thought it kicked ass and if I was twelve I would have thought so too. Normal movie going audiences are heading to the theatres in droves because it’s a fun, nostalgic, 80’s-ish movie that is family friendly enough for (older) kids to enjoy.
"The original Ghostbusters is usually heralded as being conservatively subversive."
So, very sorry Red Letter Media, but the world doesn’t need snarky forty-year-olds hating on a movie because it doesn’t live up to your preconceived nerd daydreams. The world also doesn’t need sneering woke film critics telling us a movie isn’t woke enough to appreciate. If you’re conservatively minded and looking for an entertaining blockbuster, that’s got some laughs and jump scares and nostalgic sentiment,you know who to call.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is currently available only in theatres.
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