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

“I’m sorry I didn’t believe.”

Tom’s rating: Which is scarier? One giant Stay Puft man or a million mini Stay Puft men?

Tom’s review: I recently took a trip back to my home state, and that required a couple of shorter flights. I didn’t realize one of the big things airlines use for in-flight entertainment now are apps for the airline tied to a plane’s internal wi-fi, which allows you to watch recent films on device. My first leg of the trip, I started watching The House of Gucci over a lady’s shoulder with no sound. My second leg of the trip I downloaded the app and tried to pick up where she left off, and to be honest I liked it better with no sound (man, those accents were bad) and turned it off. That’s when I switched over to “that new Ghostbusters flick I wanted to watch.”

Lesson one, watching a movie on your phone on a plane is a bad viewing experience. Lesson two, those free earbuds they give you are pretty terrible. I think that’s partly why my opinions on Ghostbusters Afterlife completely changed when I was able to finally sit down at my house, darken the surroundings, turn up the volume, and watch it with my kid and wife in the privacy of our home.

Watching only half of the movie, by myself, and on a little screen with bad earbuds? Yeah, I lost a lot of the details and magic. On the other hand, witnessing my son’s reaction to when Phoebe and her ghost grandpa played a few moves of chess together made all the difference, and the movie won me over big time.

At first I couldn’t help but think that I was really missing the goofy Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd sense of humor that permeated the original Ghostbusters movies. Instead, Ghostbusters Afterlife seemed to have the more subdued Paul Rudd sense of humor, which is great in its own right, but strangely felt out of place at first… right up until the part where the army of mini Stay-puft men appeared and, BAM, the rollercoaster ride was in full swing.

Mckenna Grace KILLED her part as the bad-joke-telling-child-scientist Phoebe by the way. I think as a child actor it must be hard to outshine Finn Wolfhard, but she did, and it was spectacular to watch. In fact, the casting for all the younger actors was amazingly on-point and really made the show fun.

There were a few points that didn’t seem to make sense to me in the movie: mainly, that Spangler went off the deep end and was unable to convince the other ghostbusters to help him fight off the return of Gozer. Secondly, that a mass ghost hysteria could be forgotten in one generation. Finally, that Ray Stantz would be the only fan of the Mystical Tales of the Unknown Universe podcast and not have put the connection together that “Podcast” was residing in Summerville Oklahoma with Spengler.

That said, um, it’s a fun movie about ghostbusting? Who even cares about all that?

The most fun moment of course was when all the old Ghostbusters reunited at the very last minutes of the movie to trap Gozer and tug on our nostalgic heart strings with their proton packs. Seeing them all together alongside the ghost-ier version of Spengler gave new meaning and a deeper sense of place and time to this follow on. It’s funny that a goofy ghost movie could evoke those kinds of feelings, but it did.

Ghostbusters Afterlife was well worth the rental price. Just don’t think that watching it on your Android device during a flight will bring the same sense of joy as watching it together on a big screen with your family.

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
  • The biggest mystery of the movie: Who was Callie’s mom? Why was this not addressed?
  • Glad they snuck in Sigourney Weaver somewhere. That needed to happen.
  • Second after-credits segment… wait a second… was that the breaker for the master containment unit about to go out?

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