[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
A tower of books stacked from floor to ceiling, so perfectly balanced that not even an earthquake can topple it. A shelf containing a collection of mold, spore, and fungus samples. A Twinkie stashed in a glove compartment. Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife is packed with allusions to its 1984 predecessor. Some of these references call attention to themselves; others are content to haunt the background without comment. In either case, fans of the original film are sure to notice them and rejoice.
A few vocal critics, however, insist that Ghostbusters: Afterlife relies too heavily on such nostalgic winks and nods, sacrificing a distinctive identity in favor of empty “fan service.” Pardon my bluntness, but I simply can’t bring myself to agree with these shallow, hyperbolic “art is dead” sentiments. Yes, it is true that the movie resurrects Harold Ramis via CGI for one last reunion with his old costars; you could make a convincing argument that this controversial creative choice sets a dangerous precedent… but in my opinion, this specific posthumous cameo appearance is executed with remarkable taste and tact, paying tribute to the man that really tied the franchise together (somebody needed to rein in Dan Aykroyd’s ambitious vision).
And while the plot revisits familiar narrative territory—wanton destruction of property during first contact with the paranormal, possession by horny hellhounds, a climactic showdown with Gozer the Gozerian—Reitman and his collaborators also contribute plenty of new ingredients to the formula. McKenna Grace's Phoebe Spengler, for example, is an inspired protagonist; her character arc—an awkward loner gradually finding herself amongst fellow outcasts and underdogs—adds a layer of internal conflict that was absent from the series’ previous two installments.
Ultimately, though, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is enjoyable neither because of nor in spite of its abundance of fan service; it succeeds on its own merits. Still, as a longtime fan (practically since I was in diapers, chugging Ecto Cooler out of a sippy cup), I can't deny that this belated sequel served me exactly what I wanted.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.