Ghostbusters as a franchise has been a mixed bag. The ‘84 movie is, of course, a five-star classic, its sequels? Well, let’s just say they’re divisive. So does the newest instalment in the comedy movie franchise about trapping disembodied spirits in tiny metal boxes work? Or should Ghostbusters have stayed dead and buried?
Well, I’m delighted to say that bustin’ does indeed still make us feel good, though admittedly with a few caveats. Ignoring Paul Feige’s 2016 outing ultimately, this new Ghostbuster film picks up the action in the modern-day, with the team disbanded and the general population dismissing ghosts as superstitious old nonsense. How the world forgot a 100ft marshmallow man attacking New York is never really explained, but, hey, stranger things have happened.
Speaking of Stranger Things, we’re quickly introduced to Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Callie (Carrie Coon), and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), a family struggling to pay the bills. Facing eviction and with no other option, Callie drives her kids halfway across the country to Summerville, where they move into her recently deceased dad, Egon Spengler’s abandoned farm. Once there, though, spooky shenanigans start to happen, and it’s not long before Phoebe starts to uncover the truth about who her grandfather really was and what he was doing in this town.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a film concerned with legacy and the notion of passing something on to those who come after you. This obviously comes from director and writer Jason Reitman, who, after years of saying he’d never make a Ghostbusters movie, has finally decided to tackle his father, Ivan Reitman’s, most famous work. So does the younger Reitman’s film escape the looming spectre of his father’s work? Well, yes and no.
There’s an argument to be made that the film is doing its own thing. It moves the action out of Manhattan, jettisons the established cast, and brings in a new generation of characters to continue kicking ghost butt. More than that, the tone is different to the original movie. Ghostbusters ‘84 has a schlubby charm to it; everything feels very relaxed and easy-going. Afterlife has more in common with an Amblin-style adventure movie. There are dungeons to explore, mysteries to be solved, and the action is upped considerably.
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That said, the film obviously draws a lot from the original movie. Nearly every scene has some reference to the ‘80s classic in it. The weirdly stacked books? They’re there. Twinkies? Yup. Gatekeepers and Keymasters? You better believe it. For the most part, these winks and nods work within the world that the Reitmans have built but there are a few slightly egregious moments where Jason is pulling out old ghostbusters iconography for the sake of it. The most notable being the mini Stay Puft Marshmallow Men. They’re cute enough but within the logic of this universe? I’m sorry, they don’t make any sense.
I think how much you’ll like Ghostbusters: Afterlife will depend on how much these references annoy you, and if you think it’s overly reliant on the original film’s idiosyncrasies. If you’re the type of person who wanted this to be a left-field departure from the franchise, a film that broke out of the containment unit and really stretched its creepy ectoplasmic legs, then you’re going to be disappointed. But if you just want another fun adventure in a world you know and love, with plenty of Easter eggs and inside jokes, then you’ll probably have a fun time with Afterlife.
As someone firmly in the latter camp, I had a blast with Afterlife, and its charm shattered my cynical armour like a stream of positively charged ions destroying a demigod. It had almost everything I wanted in a Ghostbusters sequel. The jokes were funny (although not as quotable as the original), the cast likeable, and the stakes suitably high. In many ways, Afterlife felt like the sequel the 1984 movie deserved, and I was surprisingly moved by how well it handled the late great Harold Ramis’s absence.
Of the new cast, the standout was easily Grace. The young actor was brilliant as the slightly detached Phoebe. It would have been easy for Reitman to have her do an impression of Ramis’s Egon, but there’s more to it than that. It’s more layered. Yes, she shares Egon’s slightly removed attitude and smarts, but she’s also her own character and is somewhat more vulnerable than her dauntless grandfather. There’s one moment when she makes her first friend when my heart nearly melted, and I don’t think a lesser actor could have pulled that off.
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It is a bold move to replace the original cast with a younger ‘new generation’, but I think it pays off. Before Afterlife was released and people had only got a glimpse of the trailer, there were criticisms that the movie was trying to do a Stranger Things. Having seen it, I think those fears were unfounded. While it shares a certain amount of DNA with the Amblin movies that inspired the popular Netflix TV series, this isn’t ‘Ghostbuster Babies’. It’s more a fun adventure movie that happens to star kids, and the adults get plenty of time to shine.
The more I think about Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the more I like it. I’d probably go so far as to say it’s the best Ghostbusters sequel we’ve gotten, and that’s coming from someone who likes the second movie and 2016. It’s not entirely without faults, though. While I could easily move past the references to the ‘84 movie, some elements did stick even in this fanboy’s craw.
The first is the length, the movie is two hours long, but the pace is off. This leads to a middle act that starts to outstay its welcome, and a third act that’s over before you’ve really had a chance to savour it. I wish Reitman could have trimmed some of the fat off the second act and given the third more breathing room. Honestly, I was left feeling like we were just getting to the fun bit when the credits started to roll.
My second biggest problem is petty, but I think it’ll be a major problem for long-time Ghostbusters fans. The music, for the most part, is great. Rob Simonsen does a tremendous job breathing new life into Elmer Bernstein’s haunting score. But if I’m watching a Ghostbusters movie, there’s only one song I want to hear, and it’s by Ray Parker Jr. So where was it, Reitman? Where was ‘Who Ya Gonna Call?’ Putting it at the end is just cruel!
OK, rant aside, I had fun with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I laughed, I teared up, and, god help me, I clapped. Afterlife managed to capture (or should that be trap?) the spirit of the original movie while also breathing new life into the series through a fun new cast. Will it please everyone? Nope, the murmurs from my fellow critics as we left the theatre proved it will be divisive. Maybe they missed Ray Parker Jr’s song as well? This reviewer, though, knows exactly what he’s gonna call Afterlife. Excellent!