A soft reboot of the original.
Being a “Ghostbusters” fan has been a tough gig. The original was one of the greatest movies ever — a perfectly paced, perfectly structured blend of supernatural horror and dry, witty humor that unite in some of the best comedians of their generation to create something truly special and unique.
Unfortunately, the sequel never managed to reach the same heights. A third movie failed to materialize, and it seemed like the “Ghostbusters” franchise was at an end. But time heals all wounds.
By the 2010s there were rumblings that another movie was in the works, but the tragic death of Harold Ramis ultimately put the final nail in the coffin of the third “Ghostbusters.”
Sony saw this as a chance to watch their own rebooted franchise with an all-female team of Ghostbusters (and the less said about that, the better).
Fast-forward five years and Jason Reitman, the son of the original “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman, came with news we’d been waiting to hear: a true sequel to the second “Ghostbusters” was finally happening. The original cast was coming back, and, best of all, it was going to completely ignore the disastrous 2016 movie.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” can best be thought of as a kind of soft reboot — a well-meaning homage to the original, acknowledging the events of the first.
The movie kicks off with the death of Egon Spangler — known to locals as The Dirt Farmer — who has been living as a recluse in the middle of nowhere for the past 20 years. With Egon dead, his estate passes on to his estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon), who relocates there with her two kids Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). As the family tries to settle in to their new home, Phoebe begins to uncover clues about what her grandfather was working on — something big tied to the unnatural earthquakes happening in the area. It turns out that the entire area was once owned by Ivo Shandor, the mysterious figure who was mentioned in the first movie but never appeared on screen. It seems like old Ivo’s plans to summon Gozer into the material world didn’t end with the showdown in New York back in 1984. Egon knew this, too, which was why he sacrificed everything to delay it as long as possible. But now he’s dead, and a ragtag collection of kids are the only thing standing in the way of Gozer’s return and worldwide destruction.
The parallels between “Afterlife” and the original movie are strong and likely intentional. It’s clearly a passing-of-the-torch kind of movie with a new generation taking up the proton packs and learning to work together to combat a growing supernatural threat. All the same elements are present: the first clumsy attempt to capture a ghost; the gradual revelation of a bigger threat; the explosion of ghost sightings; the Terror Dogs, the Key Master and the Gatekeeper; crossing the streams; and more.
This is all great, but plenty falls under the category of stuff that sounded better at the pitch meeting. For example, the Mini Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man that just kind of shows up for no reason. The original was an interesting combination of hilarity and sheer terror because he was basically an evil prehistoric God rampaging through New York in the guise of a cute company mascot. These things are designed to be cute rather than intimidating, and they get way too much screen time.
But I’ll tell you what doesn’t get too much screen time — the original “Ghostbusters” cast. While there were a million better ways to integrate them into the story, for what it’s worth, you get to see them show up and do their thing.
I was nervous at the prospect of hanging a movie like this on a bunch of child actors and expecting them to do the work of guys like Murray, Ackroyd and Remus, but, for the most part, they proved up to the challenge. Podcast (Logan Kim) is the equivalent of Ray. He’s earnest and kind of naive, but deeply invested in what they’re doing, while Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) acts as a standard for Venkman. She’s dry and sarcastic. Trevor is the least interesting, acting as the Winston of the group. He is not particularly knowledgeable about anything but is just there to help.
The real star of the show is Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe, the protagonist of the film. She’s a socially awkward nerd who skipped over Dad Jokes for Grandfather Jokes — oddly shocking while still groanworthy. She’s clearly smarter than everyone else around her, but she never comes across as obnoxious or patronizing. Her gradual reconnection with the grandfather she never really knew acts as the emotional heart of the film.
To sum up this film, it’s a well-meaning but slightly clunky and meandering love letter to the original. It is nowhere near as slick and intelligent, and it seems to be trying so much to please everyone that it never emerges from its shadow to be its own thing. ♦