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Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife

November 20, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the long-awaited canonical followup to the iconic 1984 horror comedy about a group of four ghost catchers in New York City and its 1989 sequel, is a movie that really embraces its status as a legacy sequel. Not only does it tell a story about legacy, establishing a familial connection to one of the original Ghostbusters, but it’s directed by Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, the filmmaker behind the two ’80s films.

The result is an enjoyable decades-later sequel that pays tribute to the first two, which were the brainchild of co-writers and co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, while updating them with more of a Stranger Things vibe. Centred around a group of adolescent protagonists, Afterlife plays sort of like Ghostbusters meets The Goonies, using the original film, a scrappy working class comedy, as the basis for a pint-sized supernatural adventure.

The main character here is Phoebe (McKenna Grace), a nerdy, science-loving kid who doesn’t really fit in. When Phoebe’s grandfather (whose identity is hinted at in the trailers) dies, her struggling single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) moves her and older brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things) into the creepy old farmhouse that he left them in his will. The farmhouse is located in a small town in Oklahoma called Summerville, that keeps experiencing mysterious earthquake-like seismic activity.

Phoebe teams up with a classmate (Logan Kim) who calls himself Podcast, because of the podcast he hosts detailing conspiracy theories and supernatural phenomena, to investigate both her family history and the tremors shaking the town. From here, Ghostbusters: Afterlife finds ways to connect back to the original film. Phoebe discovers an old ghost trap hidden under the floorboards that she brings to her summer school science teacher Mr. Gooberson (Paul Rudd), who remembers the supernatural events of New York in the 1980s. Trevor finds the Ecto-1 hidden under a tarp in the barn, and it’s not long before the proton packs and jumpsuits make an appearance.

This is notably not the first attempt at rebooting the franchise, with Ghostbusters: Afterlife arriving in the wake of Paul Feig’s all-female remake from 2016 (which was released under the name Ghostbusters, with the subtitle Answer the Call tacked on later to avoid confusion). While I admittedly enjoyed it at the time (though I have soured on it over the years), it was a tonally awkward effort that simultaneously felt like it was trying to follow the original while also redoing it with a whole new cast.

The 2016 film messed up the continuity of the series by bringing back the original cast members only to put them in random background roles (I think it might have been better received if it had been setup more as a series offshoot that still allowed the original cast to reprise their roles, or simply not brought them back at all but still acknowledged their characters), and drew the ire of fans who had spent years waiting for a third movie.

Feig’s film also misunderstood the tone of the original, turning it into a goofy comedy with actors mugging for the camera, which was a complete upheaval of the more deadpan, dialogue-driven humour of the ’84 film. This film actually goes in the opposite direction and treats the original with a great deal of reverence. And it’s understandable why this is the Ghostbusters movie that Jason Reitman, who grew up visiting his father on set of the first two films, would make.

While Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t exactly recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle comic vibe of the original, and has a more dramatic tone at times with bits of humour worked in, it does build upon the established mythology in some pretty satisfying ways. The film sort of feels like a mix between a Jason Reitman movie and an Ivan Reitman one, but it’s successful enough at blending the two styles so as not to feel like a case of crossed-streams.

The screenplay, which was written by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan (the filmmaker behind Monster House and the Poltergeist remake), packs in a ton of references and callbacks to the original, from lines of dialogue to certain plot points. Yes, a lot of this is fan service that banks heavily on nostalgia, but I had fun with it, and for the most part I think it’s genuinely done well. The film manages to tell a somewhat surprisingly heartfelt story that pays tribute to the late Harold Ramis, the one deceased member of the original cast, while also finding a satisfying way to bring back the other three (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson) for a proper reunion.

A big part of the film’s success is thanks to its young star, McKenna Grace. As a socially awkward middle schooler who describes herself as not outwardly showing her emotions, and has a penchant for telling nerdy jokes in an attempt to make friends, Grace does a very good job of capturing the mannerisms and deadpan line deliveries of her character’s forebearer. Her Phoebe makes for a likeable young hero. Rudd is a delightful presence as the science teacher who shows old horror movies to his class, and newcomer Kim manages to steal scenes as Podcast.

This is not to say that every element of the movie works equally well. It maybe runs a bit too long at just over two hours, and the story does take a little while to get going. Trevor’s love interest Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), who works at the local diner, also ends up feeling underdeveloped as a character. Despite the fact that she is given a surprising amount to do in the finale, Lucky doesn’t really register as more than a generic, one-note presence to fill out the fourth role.

But Ghostbusters: Afterlife works far more often than it doesn’t at delivering an entertaining nostalgia trip, and as a fan, I was satisfied by it. Jason Reitman has done a fine job of resurrecting his father’s beloved franchise, delivering a film that works as both sincere tribute and fun new adventure.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is now playing in theatres.

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