After the unnecessary debacle over the failed 2016 relaunch of Ghostbusters, the decision was made to salvage the franchise by instead following the trend of legacyquels and craft a follow-up to the original two films. A back-to-basics approach that makes good on its promise to bridge one generational gap with the other, original director Ivan Reitman’s son, filmmaker Jason Reitman takes over the reigns for this new entry. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker, who’s never relied on his father’s legacy to keep his career going with hits such as Juno and Up in the Air, makes this family affair a worthy one. While it may not attempt to reach some of the outrageous highs of the original, Ghostbusters: Afterlife largely succeeds as an entertaining, heart-filled adventure that works on its own merits, until it decides to make the leap into member-berries territory.
Single mom Callie (Carrie Coon), along with her two kids, the angsty Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and whiz-kid Phoebe (McKenna Grace), move to a secluded farmhouse inherited from her recently deceased father, whom she never knew. The house is filled with old artifacts and ghostbusting equipment left behind, causing the wannabe-scientist Phoebe to start exploring through the lost relics, even finding the run-down Ecto-1 car. Phoebe and Trevor are sent to summer school where their teacher, Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who shows his less-than-enthusiastic class Cujo and Child’s Play, assists the kids with their discovery that connects back to the notorious “Manhattan ghost sightings” of the 1980’s.
Approaching the material with an old-school sensibility, director Jason Reitman gives the Ghostbusters franchise a refreshing new spin that sets itself apart from the other films, when it tries to. Reitman’s visual sophistication has never been greater, embracing a Spielbergian sense of whimsical adventure with threats of danger. The central mystery is highly compelling, taking its time to establish character depth and intrigue over wall-to-wall action. The cast is first-rate with McKenna Grace making for a particularly confident screen presence. As the only other adults in lead roles here, Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd share a natural chemistry with one other. Their individual moments are just as engaging as any of the larger set pieces or plot revelations. Reitman, and co-writer Gil Kenan, retain the strong blend of playful frights and comedy found in the original films. Afterlife gets a little spooky, a bit atmospheric at times, particularly in the intense opening sequence, but also has plenty of sharp wit and heart.
The, admittedly few, set pieces certainly aren’t wasted with one chase sequence set through the small town that is absolutely thrilling. The new, and familiar, ghosts are highly memorable and some are even responsible for what has to be the most prominent usage of practical effects and puppeteering in a major studio blockbuster in the past several years.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is at its best when it keep things simple and its focus narrow. Set aside any knowledge of the franchise, and this is still a hugely charming coming-of-age film. It’s when Afterlife decides to fully embrace its franchise roots and turn straight into nostalgia-baiting territory where it begins to lose its footing. The extended climax eventually tosses aside most of its intentions of being a standalone film and instead exchanges homage with obvious fan-service, even if it is undeniably satisfying. Without divulging into spoilers, the surprises that come are truly earned, but are presented in the absolute laziest, most obvious form. The finale even manages to pluck directly at the heartstrings without ever feeling overly manipulative, but its resonance is undercut by the excessive callbacks.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an undeniably engaging, well-crafted adventure that only stumbles when it comes time to connect everything back to its roots. Fans of the franchise will be most pleased by the bittersweet tribute to Harold Ramis and expanding of the franchise’s mythology, even correcting one or two plot holes for good measure.