Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) — We came, we saw, we cried a little bit

“I’m sorry I didn’t believe.”

Justin’s rating: Third time really is a charm

Justin’s review: There are a lot of ways that I thought about starting this review, but I’m just going to say this: This was the first Ghostbusters movie that I’ve ever seen in a movie theater, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Took the family, too, and we all had a blast. Good times all around, and I came out with a smile and a warm feeling that was my childhood high-fiving adult me.

You really have to start with the subjective with this one, because I’m quite sure that Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t going to please everyone. This movie comes loaded with a lot of baggage, not the least of which was the decades-long struggle to get made, Bill Murray’s vocal refusal to step back into the Venkman role, the death of Harold Ramis in 2014, and the spectacular failure that was 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. I’m sure that everyone has an idea of what they would consider to be a perfect Ghostbusters follow-up, but I’m also sure that no two of those ideas would be alike.

So Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, elected to do a few things that I find very admirable: He concocted a genuine threequel that follows Ghostbusters II, he goes a very different path to do it, and he focuses heavily on characters and humor (rather than special effects) to pull it off. It’s not a perfect landing, but it’s shockingly close for all of the tricky threads that he had to weave and navigate to make it.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife eschews the New York City setting and the “Let’s build a business out of ghostbusting” plot of the previous films, instead going out into the middle of seeming nowhere to focus on a destitute family fleeing to the only remaining asset to their name — a remote farmhouse that was the final resting place of Egon Spangler.

While mother Callie (Carrie Coon) seethes at being abandoned by her famous father and son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) awkwardly hits on the daughter of the sheriff, daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) follows the path of science — and some odd ghostly sightings — to uncover the deeper secret of the family farm. Why did Spengler flee to this place, taking all of the ghostbusting equipment with him? Why did he virtually abandon both his family and his friends? Phoebe is drawn to these questions and gets far more than she expects as a result.

I said that Ghostbusters: Afterlife focuses on characters and humor, and I want to amend that by adding “almost to a fault.” The first hour or so is engrossing as we get to know all of these new people — including chatty Podcast (Logan Kim) and science teacher Gary (Paul Rudd) — but by about the 30-minute mark I was feeling really antsy to get to all of the ghostbusting already. But no, I was in for slow revelations and decent Oklahoma cinematography until the payoff finally arrived.

And when it does — when the spirits hit the fan, when the proton packs come out, and when the name “Gozer” emerges once more — it was good but also crammed into whatever remaining film time there was. Sequels often can hit the ground running as they’ve established their premise with earlier movies, but here it’s like Ghostbusters: Afterlife has to trod back over a lot of ground that we know already, and that cut into the actual action.

This movie also has a tricky relationship with its own franchise as it attempts to bring in a whole cast of new characters while also splashing around fan service in the form of the original cast. They even managed to bring back Egon — I won’t say how, but it should be obvious when you consider what this IP is all about. I think it’s here that a lot of people might find their biggest objections, because much like The Force Awakens, it’s really hard to balance a mix of old and new without doing a disservice to either.

I’m easy to please, though. I wanted a true Ghostbuster sequel, and I got one. I wanted something a little bit familiar and a little bit fresh, and I got both. And as much as my wife was delighted by the lil’ marshmallow dude rampage in Walmart, I was applauding the excellent cast. This is the flip-side of CGI-laden blockbusters where the characters are plot placeholders. Gary and Podcast were hilarious comic relief (I loved seeing Paul Rudd lean into his slightly slobby dad persona), but I’d be quite remiss not to praise Mckenna Grace’s performance as Phoebe. She is quirky and deadpan and oh-so-funny in her own right, and you can believe how she’d be Egon’s granddaughter. Child actors should not BE this good. But I’m not complaining.

So Ghostbusters: Afterlife became a highlight of 2021 for me, a worthy successor to the spectral throne.

Didja notice?

  • The family packs pretty much nothing in their station wagon as they move cross-country. Like, nothing.
  • The Stay Puft ad on the side of the building
  • That “who you gonna call?” reference surprised a laugh out of me

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