Sequels are more often than not derivative stand-ins for the, usually, superior predecessor films; incapable of being surpassed much less properly followed up. “Ghostbusters” is a timeless classic; following a formula no continuing sequel or ill-fated all-female reboot could duplicate successfully. For years, people eagerly awaited the third entry to close out the trilogy but that day and film never came, and eventually; Harold Ramis passed and it seemed like all hope was lost for a proper cap off to such an iconic franchise. Things remained dead and dormant until low and behold; Jason Reitman, son of the original film’s director; Ivan Reitman, took it upon himself to craft the ultimate love letter and cinematic send-off to his father’s flawless work with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
Set many years after the dissolvent of the original Ghostbusters team, a mother (Carrie Coon) and her children; Phoebe and Trevor (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) lose their home and are forced to move to a dilapidated house; left to them by their deceased grandfather, in the middle of nowhere to try and make a fresh start. While discovering long-forgotten secrets about their family, Phoebe and Trevor inform their teacher (Paul Rudd) about strange goings-on at their house and in town. Soon, an ancient evil from the Ghostbusters’ past becomes unearthed and now a new generation of Ghostbusters must take on the proton streaming mantle and stop this threat before the world is engulfed by the dead rising from the graves once again.
After the awful, disastrous bomb that was Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters,” the story and the legacy desperately needed a fresh start. “Afterlife” is, in many ways, not just a continuation of the original story but a genuine love letter to the actors, the fans, and to the reunion that we all hoped we could see but was sadly denied. This is very much a family story; right down to the lineage connecting the director’s love for his father’s work. There are so many callbacks from signature sounds, signs, dialog, and imagery that lovingly take us back to everything that came before while still crafting a new story with new characters that fit into the narrative without being carbon copies of Spengler or Venkman.
While the nostalgia factor plays high with the ghosts featured here, they’re given new takes and new approaches that keep them from being rehashed golden oldies so old and new fans will definitely appreciate them. I cannot begin to describe how pleased I was to see practical effects returning in this modern-day blockbuster. Watching Paul Rudd wrestling with a terror dog face to face while gawking at miniature Stay Puft Marshmallow men in a Walmart brought me more joy and satisfaction than I ever thought possible. Speaking of joy, kudos and much applause are deserved by Mckenna Grace; easily the best character in the film. She may be young but she carries the film with effortless grace (pun intended); nailing every intentionally bad joke and providing an adorable sense of weirdness that perfectly fits in this kind of framework.
Finn Wolfhard is always a welcomed presence though personally, I felt this film could have used more of him and a more developed role outside of “car guy,” same could be said for his would-be girlfriend who got even less but deserved more. Time management seems to be the biggest problem for Jason Reitman’s nostalgia wave to overcome. It takes a bit too long for the new crew to catch their first ghost (though when they do it’s definitely one of the biggest highlights of the film) and other elements including further exploring Ivo Shandor feel rushed for the sake of time. The film wants you to get a feel and sense of who these characters are and how their family is going to hit you in the feels and funny bones then mix in the ghostbusting and try to make it all work cohesively together. For the most part, it works but not quite all the way.
In a lot of ways, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” relies too heavily on callbacks and fan service to feel like a complete film. This feels like an apologetic reunion to give the fans and Harold Ramis what they always wanted to see happen but spends a bit too much time doing that instead of paving the way for a proper passing of the torch generational send-off. However, while not every new character in the film gets proper in-depth examination, the ones that do excel in personality creativity and genuine comedic spontaneity. Grace and Rudd expand the universe brilliantly with their chemistry and comedy and the stellar ghost hunting sequences are a true spooktacular spectacle to behold when they do occur. There’s room to grow and room for more beyond a fond farewell to Harold Ramis’s legacy and I hope we won’t have to wait another decades-long wait for more.
I give “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” 3 stars out of 4 stars.
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