Ghostbusters: Afterlife Review: Something old, something new, all highly entertaining
*This Review Contains Partial Spoilers*
In an era of nostalgic franchises attempting to return for a new generation of viewers, the second attempt to turn Ghostbusters in a big modern franchise after the 2016 misfire ends up showing a lot more potential.
Like most modern reentries for big-name franchises, Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t really a cut and dry reboot and more a “requel” that essentially restarts the franchise within the original canon. Rather than return to the franchise’s New York City roots though, Afterlife brings fans to the small and secluded town of Summerville, Oklahoma for a more personal story that connects to an original Ghostbuster. This new setting is easily one of the big highlights for the film because it feels like a return to humble beginnings. It’s rustic setting brings back the humble, working-class roots that made the original Ghostbusters so relatable and wholesome and there’s some really awesome visual contrast. The scenes of the Ecto-1 drifting through fields of grass and these sci-fi weapons being used in this rusted old town have this visual contrast that’s stunning to see and give this new entry a distinct visual identity.
It ends up being the perfect playground for director Jason Reitman to play in as he evokes the feel of the original Ghostbusters with a refreshingly modern flair. Reitman’s definitely made a name for himself with political-based films like Thank You for Smoking and The Front Runner as well as some Diablo Cody coming of age stories like Juno and Tully, but him helming a Ghostbusters flick really put him to the test as his father, Ivan Reitman, directed the original Ghostbusters. Reitman doesn’t crumble under the pressure though and his direction here represents a great homage to the strengths of Ghostbusters and himself.
The original Ghostbusters blended horror, comedy, and family adventure with a slight adult edge excellently, which gave it a unique identity that’s maintained and displayed well in Afterlife. Within the story of a struggling single mother (Carrie Coon) moving to Summerville with her kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) to rummage through their secretive, late grandfather’s life only to discover a connection they share to the original Ghostbusters and the reemergence of a dangerous force; Reitman excellently blends genres. There are some effective scares and ghastly horrors that are fun for the whole family. The humor works incredibly well in evoking some of the best elements of Reitman’s coming of age films and the slightly edgy dialogue and attitude of the original. It’s characters also come with their own enjoyable charm and Reitman brings together a great cast to create a Ghostbusters story for a new generation.
Never have I seen someone evoke true “Ghostbusters” vibes like Paul Rudd as seismologist/summer school science teacher Gary. The way he fans out about the Ghostbusters is genuinely wholesome and the perfect kind of nostalgic audience surrogate that’s instantly enjoyable. Reitman’s comedic direction works perfectly with Rudd and his performance will constantly put a smile on your face. Really the entire cast works perfectly with Reitman’s charming direction as there are plenty of sarcastically hilarious jabs thrown around that make for a delightful time.
Logan Kim’s Podcast is also a fun addition as a charming friend to Phoebe that has great energy throughout and engagingly entertaining dialogue. Wolfhard is also fun here with Trevor’s mischievousness that stems from him finding his footing in this new town. Grace is the true breakout star of Afterlife though as the excellent blend of emotion she brings in Phoebe finding herself through her grandfather’s history and the comedic charm in her deadpan delivery really make Afterlife a refreshing modern entry. Grace has proven herself time and time again to be a young, confident lead and her performance here is definitely one of her best.
There are also plenty of fun, unexpected actor cameos and returning franchise veterans that will certainly please long-time fans, but Afterlife’s fan service doesn’t always work in its favor. Personally, there’s something enjoyably nostalgic about Rob Simonsen’s score, but it’s way too in your face and annoyingly overtakes scenes. Big beats of the story are also too similar to the original and make Afterlife feel like too much of a retread. Perhaps its because Afterlife attempts to expand on the lore of the film’s original villain Gozer and their connection to Summerville, but there aren’t enough worthwhile expansions to make it feel anything more like a generic retread. The findings about the town’s architect connecting to Gozer end up feeling kind of pointless with how little payoff there is for it and there’s a lot of recycled plot points and characters in Afterlife that make it frustratingly predictable. Also, it would’ve been nice to see franchise veterans returning mean something more than just enjoyable, but unimpactful cameos.
However, Afterlife’s story is mostly able to overshadow its faults with its surprisingly heartfelt main story that connects to a fallen Ghostbuster. Afterlife’s story definitely runs a little slow in the first act or so and maybe could’ve done more for characters like Trevor and his love interest Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), but when the film is focused on Phoebe and her family discovering and connecting with their grandfather, former Ghostbuster Egon Spangler, it’s flawless. There are these really relatable moments of Phoebe discovering herself through Egon’s story and finishing his mission for him as well as a great conversation between her and Ray (Dan Aykroyd) that’s incredibly touching. It’s passing of torch storytelling blending with modern coming of age growth that’s feels earned and the final battle is one of the more emotional and memorable theater experiences in recent time.
Afterlife’s finale is a dream come true kind of experience that beautifully brings the past and present together in a way that respectfully pleases long-time fans while creating a narrative for a new generation of characters to thrive in. Everyone has a fulfilling role to play and excels in creating an engrossingly entertaining and engaging finale. Most importantly, it’s a heartfelt love letter to Harold Ramis that uses him as an excellent connector to past and present stories to create a legacy and lineage for the franchise that gives it potential to be something more. I certainly didn’t go into Afterlife expecting to be on the verge of tears, but it’s homage to Ramis really tugs at your heart – whether you’re a longtime fan or a total newcomer. There are also some nice post-credit scenes that bring more fan-favorite characters back for some fun and hints at a possible future for Ghostbusters.
Even though Afterlife can feel like many other modern reboots and requels with how its fan service and connections to the past are a little too cut and paste, Reitman’s excellent direction and the story’s personal homages to past breathe new life into the Ghostbusters name that honors the legacy of the original in a touching way while paving a strong new direction that’s worth seeing.