‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is a Sweet Family Tribute That’s Too Family Friendly
The new film tries a little too hard to appeal to everyone.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is, surprisingly, much better than it should be. Director Jason Reitman wrote the film in absolute secrecy after saying for years that he had no interest in carrying on the ghost-busting legacy his father, Ivan Reitman, started with the original 1984 comedy classic. There have been countless stops and starts over the years developing the threequel. Some may even remember playing the 2009 video game that Dan Aykroyd himself said was “essentially the third movie.”
After Harold Ramis (the original Egon in Ghostbusters) passed away in 2014, the story for Afterlife suddenly came into focus and work on the film began, even though Paul Feig’s 2016 reboot was already planned. Over 30 years in the making, the result is a charming, family-friendly action fantasy that mostly works as an homage to the original team and a new introduction to the ghost world for fresh-faced fans of the franchise.
Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), the new blood of the series, are quickly introduced when both kids get dragged by their Mom, Callie (Carrie Coon), to their recently deceased grandfather’s dilapidated house in the middle of rural Oklahoma. While their mother is busy settling in and recharging her dating life with Phoebe’s science teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), both teens start to discover hidden secrets within the house. A connection between mysterious earthquakes and an ancient temple eventually uncover a direct link between the supernatural occurrences happening around town and the events that nearly destroyed New York City in the first film. Maybe grandpa wasn’t so crazy, after all!
Phoebe uses her grandfather’s P.K.E. Meter (a.k.a. the Specter Detector) early on. Gradually, we’re re-introduced to everything we remember from Ghostbusters: a dusty but still functioning proton pack, a wrinkled grey flight suit uniform, and of course the vintage hearse ambulance known affectionately as the Ecto-1. These cute nostalgia nods are clearly meant to serve as fun easter eggs for the older generation and cool retro discoveries for the younger audience. The way we reconnect with these cultural touchstones in a new story feels familiar and foreign at the same time. This highlights the main problem that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is trying so hard to reconcile. How do we tell a multigenerational adventure story that appeals to everyone and serves as a living tribute to what came before?
Inevitably, the more connective tissue popping up in Afterlife undermines such a well-intentioned sequel. The magic of the original turned Ghostbusters into an inarguable comedy classic. But it probably shouldn’t have worked in the first place. There were multiple rewrites before the script really came together and the casting changes replacing John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and John Candy are now legendary. Afterlife has the unenviable task of making the old new again. Showcasing the iconography from the first film and following similar beats that lead up to a rematch involving Zuul and Gozer sounds good in theory. But, ultimately, highlighting what we love can make everything seem less iconic. The Ectomobile screaming down the streets of Tribeca in 1984 is indelible; when it’s smashing through a cornfield spilling out into Main Street it starts to feel like a piece of intellectual property.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that Paul Rudd gets confronted by a terror dog and a group of Stay Puft mini-marshmallow critters in one of the film’s biggest action set pieces. From early footage this looked like a potentially ridiculous sequence. But it’s actually the moment when both films come together and truly complement each other. Rudd is a perfect addition to the family. Luckily, his character was reworked after originally being rumored to play a new addition to the Ghostbusters squad. He channels a little bit of Rick Moranis’ nosy neighbor energy when he took over John Candy’s role as Louis Tully.
Kid actor Logan Kim is also a welcomed new face as Phoebe’s science lab partner who goes along for the ride as an audiophile with his own podcast. What’s odd is that Kim’s character actually wants to be called “Podcast”. It almost feels as if Jason Reitman and Dan Akyroyd, along with writer Gil Kenan forgot to change his name in the final draft of the script. Carrie Coon plays a fairly clueless Mom and Finn Wolfhard is also a little underdeveloped. He falls victim to a plot that’s ultimately just trying to get the old gang back together.
Really, this should be marketed as a direct sequel to Ghostbusters. Unless I missed something in a final end credits scene, there is no mention of Ghostbusters II at all. Everyone recalls the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man kaiju attack in New York City. But, strangely, no one remembers the time when the Statue of Liberty came alive and took a dip in the Hudson River. Maybe there’s more love for the 1989 sequel than the original cast even realizes. I personally couldn’t help humming a little of Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” from the Ghostbusters II hit soundtrack on the way out of the theater.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife could also be described as a rural remake of the original set on the dusty roads of Oklahoma instead of the dirty streets of Manhattan. Although Sony and the production company Ghost Corps, Inc. are in charge of the Ghostbusters brand, the end product here is another example of the continuing Disneyfication of the movie industry. Ghostbusters had edge. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is way more entertaining and fulfilling than expected. But it feels safe even when it pretends to be scary. A fitting tribute to Harold Ramis and the legacy he helped create, the families behind and in front of the camera should still feel proud, regardless of the unavoidable criticisms and comparisons to the ’80s classic.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife will open exclusively in theaters Friday, November 19th, 2021.
The new addition to the Ghostbusters legacy from Jason Reitman has its heart in the right place but gets a little too caught up in eighties nostalgia.