With the moviegoing public’s love of nostalgia and movie studios’ love of taking the low-hanging fruit in the form of repeatedly revisiting previously popular properties, it was inevitable that someone would take another crack at Ghostbusters. Even though the 2016 female-led reboot didn’t do well critically or commercially, Columbia Pictures decided to try one more time with Ghostbusters: Afterlife (113 minutes, plus a mid-credit scene and a post-credit scene). This new entry isn’t a reboot so much as a sequel/tribute to the 1984 original (it especially shows a lot of affection toward the late Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014). It certainly works in that sense, with a lot of nods/references that are sure to be caught by fans. It also has just enough charms of its own to make for a mildly diverting couple of hours.
Callie is struggling to make ends meet taking care of her teenage son Trevor and pre-teen daughter Phoebe. When her estranged father dies, she moves them to his creepy farmhouse. While Callie tries to deal with reminders that her father abandoned her, Trevor makes new friends and Phoebe begins to realize that her grandfather was a ghostbuster who was battling evil in this unassuming small town.
After fans violently rejected them going in a different direction in the 2016 version (in a lot of cases, they hated it sight unseen), Ghostbusters: Afterlife sucks up to its base with a ton of fan service. There are constant visual/verbal references and call-backs to its predecessors. It is like director/cowriter Jason Reitman’s main goal was to honor his father Ivan’s movie, rather than focusing on making something completely his own. If that sort of thing annoys you, this is definitely not for you. It is approximately 70% tribute, 30% original material, give or take a few percentage points.
Yet I still kind of enjoyed it, despite being exactly the sort of person who is annoyed by excessive fan-service. Part of it is that I am a big fan of Ghostbusters, so some of the references did put a smile on my face. But the bigger part is just how loving this movie is and how likable its cast is. I wasn’t really able to care about the story because it felt a lot like “Hey, remember Ghostbusters!?” However, the characters were charming and the tone was genuine enough to keep my attention.
Carrie Coon, a favorite of mine, is funny and vulnerable as Callie. As Trevor, Finn Wolfhard, treading familiar ground after Stranger Things and It, is good at convincingly fighting supernatural creatures. Phoebe is the standard smart, lonely, nerd, but McKenna Grace plays her with a conviction that makes the character an appealing hero, instead of merely irritating (the same cannot be said for her friend Podcast, who is comic relief with only the tiniest bit of personality). Then there is Paul Rudd, delightful as always, getting laughs from the simplest of lines as Phoebe’s science teacher.
Though I did enjoy them, I am unsure if they are enough to entertain people who haven’t seen Ghostbusters (or who aren’t as enamored with it as these filmmakers obviously are). A lot of the bigger plot developments would be greatly lessened by a lack of knowledge of the franchise. Same with several of the gags. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as a stand-alone movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife fails; as an attempt to honor a beloved comedy, while keeping the property alive for a possible sequel, it generally succeeds. It only wants to be the latter, which will likely make it fairly divisive for audiences. I am right in the middle on it though, admittedly, my expectations were pretty low. I was expecting a groan-inducing mess, so I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be okay.
3 out of 5
McKenna Grace as Phoebe
Finn Wolfhard as Trevor
Carrie Coon as Callie
Paul Rudd as Mr. Grooberson
Logan Kim as Podcast
Celeste O’Connor as Lucky
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman