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Let's Talk About Ghostbusters: Afterlife's Controversial Cameo

Paul Rudd in Ghostbusters: Afterlife
(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Warning: SPOILERS for Ghostbusters: Afterlife are in the trap. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to go in cold, turn back and bust some of our spoiler-free coverage of the film. 

There is a moment in co-writer/director Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife that’s bound to be the talking point among whomever has seen the film. It’s something that, while feeling like a natural inclusion in this movie’s climactic third act, still felt like a bit of a surprise. Through a controversial cameo, this brand-new chapter in the classic paranormal comedy franchise has what some might see as a bittersweet moment that really hits home.

Or, if you’re in the other column, it’s a crass moment that highlights everything wrong with the concept of a “legacy-quel.” Seeing as these sorts of matters rarely have a clear cut “right answer,” I want to talk out both sides of why this Ghostbusters cameo could and couldn’t be seen as a problem. While the decision on which argument is more compelling lies with you, the reader, the least we can do is discuss this scenario in full. As such, here's the last call for spoilers, as we’re about to discuss Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s big moment, for better or worse.

Celeste O'Connor McKenna Grace Logan Kim and Finn Wolfhard in Ghostbusters Afterlife

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Who Is The Controversial Cameo In Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

During the climactic battle on the Spengler family farm, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), her new crew of Ghostbusters and the remaining OG members all take on Gozer the Gozerian and its Hell Hounds. Just when the battle seems to be at a pivotal moment between success and failure, the spirit of Phoebe’s grandfather, Egon (Harold Ramis) appears and helps her steady her proton stream. Success is achieved and the dearly departed Ghostbuster gets a final moment of closure with the family and friends he seemingly abandoned. What’s more, this is done with full usage of Mr. Ramis’ likeness, giving the audience one last chance to see Egon Spengler in action, busting ghosts and saving the day.

Bill Murray Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis freak out over a ghost in Ghostbusters.

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Why Some May Disapprove Of Egon's Ghostbusters: Afterlife Cameo

You can practically hear the alarm bells going off in terms of what the internet discourse is surrounding that Ghostbusters: Afterlife moment. Viewed from a certain angle, the return of Harold Ramis/Egon in the franchise’s latest entry could be seen as an absolutely horrible call. Without the proper permission, or even used in the wrong context, digitally resurrecting a beloved actor who’s no longer with us could feel like a sucker punch that’s being used for “all of the feels” in a sequel that has an entire franchise riding on its back.

Considering we’ve seen digital representations of deceased actors used to sell products, as well as to appear in other legacy-quels like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, that sort of reaction isn’t unfounded. In its worst case, bringing an actor like John Wayne “back from the dead” to sell Coors Light is an absolute travesty, though that’s not exactly what’s going on here. Looking at the other side of Harold Ramis’ return to this franchise, there are certainly positive points to be mentioned.

Harold Ramis holding up a Twinkie in Ghostbusters.

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

The Reasons Why Ghostbusters: Afterlife's Cameo Makes Sense

For generations of Ghostbusters fans, Egon Spengler was an integral part of what made the team in Ivan Reitman’s first two films work so perfectly. His presence was so essential to the finished product, as the absence of his character would have been palpable no matter what. Structuring this film’s story around the surviving Spengler family members, and their feelings about the loss in-universe, makes that emotional core an even stronger hook to hang the entire movie upon. Including Harold Ramis’ likeness as Egon’s spirit in Ghostbusters: Afterlife not only gives the character’s family and friends the chance to say goodbye, it leaves fans with the same sort of opportunity as well.

Tossing aside the ghostbusting action for a moment, this is a movie that absolutely lies in Jason Reitman’s wheelhouse. While also providing a bridge towards more Ghostbusters action-comedy romps, Reitman’s penchant for stories about families and human emotion shines brightest through the moment that Egon gets to step back in and save those who meant the most to him from the great beyond. That’s fine and well, but what happens when you restore the ghostbusting action and the legacy of the Ghostbusters franchise back into the equation?   

Logan Kim and Mckenna Grace test out equipment in Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

(Image credit: Sony Pictures/Ghost Corps)

Does Egon’s Appearance Serve The Story Of Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

So does Egon Spengler’s fond farewell to the world of Ghostbusters serve the story of Afterlife? From where I’m standing, it absolutely does. Watching that moment unfold in real time, it was actually the moment that fully turned me from cynic to fan. As someone who wore their VHS copy of Ghostbusters out, only to switch to my copy of Ghostbusters II taped off of HBO, that scene actually brought me to tears. Because of writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, a sequel could be made that gave Egon a proper sendoff, while also building his legacy into the fun and adventure the series always represented; and it was about time too. 

For decades, a proper third entry in the existing canon of these films has been teased, and by the time it was actually made, Harold Ramis, and by extension Egon, couldn’t be there for the ride. The story behind just why that was is equally heartbreaking, as the real life falling-out between Ramis and former collaborator Bill Murray after Groundhog Day certainly didn’t help matters. Eventually, through the idea presented in this movie, and the blessing of Harold Ramis’ family, one final movie with the whole gang was possible. 

Again, the decision on whether Ghostbusters: Afterlife stuck the ending or not on this big moment is up to you. Should you have read this rundown before actually seeing the movie, you owe it to yourself to see the actual finished product before weighing in. To that point, you can catch the latest blockbuster chapter in the Ghostbusters legacy, as it’s currently showing only in theaters. For all other films remaining on the calendar for this year, check out the 2021 release schedule, and see what's ready to scare up some business before the end of the year. 

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.