A love letter of the highest magnitude on the P.K.E meter.
Phoebe and Trevor are two teenage siblings torn away from their family home as their single-parent Callie falls further into debt. Their only option is to hold up in the abandoned farmhouse of Callie’s late father. But in the unfamiliar surroundings, Phoebe’s curiosity leads her to discover who her grandfather was…
To summarize the Ghostbusters franchise recently as concisely as possible: It is surprising that people even gave this film the time of day after the disaster that was the 2016 remake. Indeed, these ghosts of the past are felt only momentarily as Sony Pictures doggedly maintain their “Ghost Corps” logo during the opening credits.
Fortunately, this is swiftly forgotten as the movie begins.
To compare the 2016 movie with Afterlife is like comparing night and day. In fact, if you watched that last movie and quizzed yourself with questions like: Why didn’t they do this idea? Why didn’t they do a sequel like this? (Instead of lying that it was a sequel.) Well, this film is exactly those ideas that should have been used. Ghostbusters Afterlife is the third film we have been waiting for, and heck, it is probably the best Ghostbusters sequel ever made.
It only took 36 years.
Written and directed by Jason Reitman, the son of Ivan Reitman who directed the first two movies in 1984 and 1989 (and was producer on this release) Afterlife has a far, far better understanding of the franchise than Paul Feig’s attempt.
After an intriguing opening, drenched in shadow and foreboding, we are introduced to the underdog, struggling family of Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). The film follows Phoebe primarily, an intelligent prodigy whose intellect has her distanced from anyone else her own age. The moment the movie proves it is written correctly for a Ghostbusters film, is when Phoebe meets her teacher Gary (Paul Rudd) and suddenly there are dynamic character developments happening everywhere. All woven into the storyline quite seamlessly, with maybe one minor exception.
While there is an obvious connection between Phoebe and her grandfather, the film doesn’t rely totally on this relationship. In fact, dynamism is plenty between her, Trevor, and their sceptical and downtrodden mother. These characters feel realized and each one has a little bit of development.
The humour too, is so far and away better than the improvised garbage of the 2016 movie. It is remarkably deadpan, with Mckenna delivering some blisteringly good “non-jokes” befitting her ancestor. Paul Rudd, of course, is always a gem to have in a comedy role, and does not disappoint as the “kid-in-a-toyshop” connection between generations.
The pacing is much more in line with the original movies. It takes its time to evolve; it doesn’t throw excessive action at you immediately, and gives time for scenes to manifest. The sleepy rural town our characters find themselves in is unremarkable, and clues are dotted around to suggest what may be about to transpire.
When the action takes place, it is just about believable enough for a Ghostbusters movie led by kids. It is well choreographed, and there are a couple of new gadgets which (considering the amount of time between events) do not feel unlikely to have been made between movies. For someone who grew up with the cartoon and the movies, it was joyful to see somewhat familiar gadgets spring out!
Without spoiling anything, the movie is an effective love letter to the bygone movies of a bygone age in cinema. If you grew up with the movies and the cartoons, and perhaps could not stomach what the franchise was distorting into recently, you will definitely have a lump in your throat by the end of the movie. It was certainly surprising, and perhaps the Reitmans had some personal investment in making the movie what it was.
If there was any criticism, it begins to border spoiler territory. So consider that a warning there.
Firstly, Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard (who even got to dress up as Ghostbuster in that show’s Halloween episode) felt a little extraneous to events. He was good; he is Finn Wolfhard. But there was a certain degree of utilitarian writing behind his character: Phoebe is meant to be about 12, she needs someone else to drive the Ecto-1! He’s even a little overshadowed by Logan Kim, playing Phoebe’s first friend and third part of the team, going by the name of Podcast. He was a delightful addition.
But Wolfhard’s “straight-man” persona was required to balance the others. You could say he was the representation of Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman.
The only other issue, which is minor, is the antagonists.
The film relies heavily on nostalgia already, and the Ghostbusters franchise is full of creative ideas and directions it can take. So why are we just rolling out the same ghosts and enemies again? It isn’t that bad though; it was very cool to see these creatures rendered in 21st Century effects, and it does lead us into more of the heart-felt moments towards the end. But some times it did feel a little too familiar and recycled. If you had trouble with The Force Awakens riffing off A New Hope too much, you might see too many similarities here too.
Like, why was there lots of mini Stay-Puffed marshmallow men?
Overall, Ghostbusters Afterlife is a tremendous success, delivering heart and nostalgia bombs in equal measure. We can only hope that Sony doesn’t wreck this moment of fond farewells and pleasant writing with another ham-fisted attempt at a Ghostbusters Universe…