MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Supernatural Comedy/ Stars: McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Oliver Cooper, Bokeem Woodbine, Marlon Kazadi, Sydney Mae Diaz, Tracy Letts, J. K. Simmons, Emma Portner, and a BIG SURPRISE; Voice of: Josh Gad/Runtime: 124 minutes
I think it only appropriate to start this review off by letting you guys in on a little secret: I may not be afraid of no ghosts, but I am afraid of sequels that really ding the legacy of an iconic masterpiece. Indeed from Alien 3 and Son of the Mask to Grease 2 and Shrek Forever After to name but a few of the countless examples, cinematic history is filled with films that were iconic and then their sequels came out and everyone started scratching their heads and was like “whaa??” I think it can easily be said that the Ghostbusters franchise is a brilliant example of this since the first one from 1984 is seen as lightning in a bottle and nothing short of a masterpiece and a true representative of the decade in which it came out. The sequel on the other hand from 1989…..ehhhh not so much. Sure the film has its fans (this critic among them), but even those who are fans will concede that it is nowhere near as good as the first film. Yet whilst rumors about a 3rd film have been more on and off than a light switch (mostly due to one original star’s reticence about coming back) it wasn’t until last year that iconic in his own right film helmer (and son of the original director Ivan) Jason Reitman announced that he was starting production on a third Ghostbusters film that would also have most of the original cast coming back and the fans’ worry meter started ticking once more. Thankfully, I can now put those fears at ease by telling you I really dug the heck out of this movie. Indeed Jason has managed to give us a film that is equal parts hilarious, heartwarming, and more than a little spooky that will not only please longtime fans of this beloved franchise, but also proves to be a wonderful starting off point for those younger audience members who are just starting to find their way to this franchise for the very first time.
The plot is as follows: Picking up a solid three decades after the events of the first two, we see that following a prologue showing someone having immense difficulty dealing with a paranormal menace at an out of the way farm stead in Oklahoma, we are introduced to a single mom by the name of Callie, and her two kids Phoebe and Trevor as they are just about to be kicked out of their apartment and left homeless. Yet thankfully (?) Lady Fate decides to intervene on their behalf and give them the same farmhouse from the beginning which we learn has been left to Callie from her recently passed away father who the locals really don’t think that highly of due to his kooky behavior and his love of privacy and dirt among other things. Yet whilst Phoebe takes it upon herself to really explore their new home, we soon see her stumble upon some items that might be familiar as well as clues that Grandfather was up to something which eventually leads to our intrepid heroine figuring out and rather quickly embracing the legacy that dear ol’ granddad left in this world whilst her brother just spends his time working at the local diner to impress a girl he met in town whilst also taking their grandfather’s old yet eerily familiar car out for joy rides after fixing it up. Of course, it isn’t long before eerie and spooky things start occurring in town and thus it is up to these kids with the aid of some adult figures to put this recently-found equipment to use and not only save the town, but potentially, even the world as well…..
Now I guess I should let you know that in terms of the work done behind the scenes, Jason Reitman and his team have done something truly miraculous. That being that they have managed to make a movie that operates as not only a love letter to those of us who hold the original movie (and maybe its 1989 sequel) very near and dear to our hearts, but also is one that really puts us in the perspective of what it would be like to be a kid in this current generation who is discovering all of this for the very first time. Indeed in regards to the first claim we see that Reitman (son of OG Ghostbusters director and producer on this installment Ivan) manages to fill this film to the brim with Easter Eggs, winks, and nods of all sizes and shapes from the return of the Echo 1 to familiar things in the Echo 1 glovebox and all the way to bringing back the familiar creepy yet quirky music of the original and so much more in between that while some might make you groan due to how shoehorned in they seem, a lot of them (especially if you are as big of a fan as I am) will make you chuckle because you’ll find yourself remembering the very first time you saw that throwback for the very first time. Yes there will be those who make the claim that the amount borderlines on overkill and I completely get where they are coming from and I respect that argument 110%. However for me I loved each and every one of the throwbacks because for me it showed me that this was a movie that knew who the true heart and soul of this franchise has been since day one. In regards to the latter category I addressed, I really did feel like a kid discovering all of this for the first time again and honestly I think that is what the director wanted. Indeed over three decades have come and gone since the first Ghostbusters came out in 1984 and so I would understand if there are a lot of people out there who have tried to introduce the first movie to their kids only to be told “that’s ancient” or something to that effect. Thus Reitman, a kid himself during the making of the first two films, took it upon himself to place himself in the shoes of the current generation and give them their own Ghostbusters film. This also explains why there really does seem to be a sense of youthful enthusiasm and a lot of plot beats might seem familiar to those of us who saw the first two. It’s because whilst the winks and nods are meant for those of us who grew up with the first two, the rest of the movie is meant for those who didn’t grow up with the original two and who, if the powers that be (namely anxious studio execs and the almighty dollar) we would like to see take this franchise into the future. Finally, I guess there is one other detail you should know and that would be that the last 15-20 minutes of this film are downright emotional. I mean I won’t spoil what happens, but for those of us who have loved this franchise since the beginning or who might be able to put themselves in the situation facing certain characters don’t be surprised to hear sniffles in your theater when you get to this part. I mean I don’t know how in the world they managed to pull it off, but hats off to them for actually doing it in a way that feels genuinely earned and not shooed on in at the last minute.
Now in terms of casting, I guess I should address the elephant in the room right off the bat. By that I mean the original cast members Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and of course the iconic and hilarious man, myth, and legend Bill Murray. So, in order to avoid spoilers, here is what I will tell you and no more, no less. Yes they are all in this slice of cinema, and yes they are all playing their respective characters from the first two. No I won’t tell you where or when they factor into the narrative. I will simply say that they are very important to the proceedings and they all do sink back into their respective roles with a degree of ease that, especially for Murray (if you know you know), is somewhat surprising but will prove to be extremely delightful for those of you who, like me, grew up with these iconic characters. Make of that what you will dear reader. Moving on from that however, this slice of cinema mostly deals with a whole new cast of characters and in that respect most of the new kids on the block actually do a really good job in their respective roles. This starts with McKenna Grace in the role of Phoebe and she just completely knocks it out of the park. Indeed contrary to what you may have been able to figure out from the trailers Phoebe is actually the main character in this and as such you want an actress who is going to play this part (especially given the character’s lineage) in a way that is respectful towards that heritage without leaning too far and becoming either a parody or straight mockery. Thankfully, Grace doesn’t do either of those things and instead gives a performance that serves as a next generation twist on an iconic character from the original that is both loving and reverent to who that character was whilst also throwing in a few wrinkles that help to establish Phoebe as her own character as well. I mean this is a character that I would be completely ok with being in just this one slice of cinema, but I also honestly wouldn’t mind seeing her pick up the torch or baton from the OG team and headlining this franchise for another installment should the powers that be feel such a sequel deserves to be made. I also really loved Paul Rudd in this film as the lovably goofy science teacher Mr. Grooberson even though he only has maybe 40-50 minutes of screen time in this. Indeed Rudd not only is seriously funny in this, but he also gives this character a degree of heart and passion for what he’s studying as well as just trying to be a good role model for both Phoebe and her friend Podcast (yes that is the kid’s name, and yes I wish that was a joke) whilst also letting his own big kid loose in several scenes in the movie that will leave you on the edge of your seat laughing. Now I love the work done in this by Finn Wolfhard and Carrie Coon as Phoebe’s brother Trevor and mom Callie respectively, but I also felt that their parts were ones that could have been played by anyone. No these two clearly gifted performers aren’t bad in the roles they portray, but it does feel like one of these actors (Wolfhard) was chosen due to work they had done previously in another project which had a Ghostbusters tribute in it and the creative team was just simply trying to cash in on that.
All in all is Ghostbusters: Afterlife a perfect slice of cinema? No not even close. Is it a perfect sequel to an iconic 80s slice of cinema that has stood the test of time as a comedy classic? Again no not even close, but in all fairness the original Ghostbusters is one film that is so brilliant as is that any follow-up act is going to have a really high mountain to climb in trying to be on its level. Does that make this a bad slice of cinema however? Honestly no not really. In fact, I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: I really dug this slice of cinema. Sure there are some flaws to be found here, but this slice of cinema is blessed with wonderful work at the helm by Jason Reitman, a story that may lean heavily into nostalgia but does so with a delightful degree of heart and respect for what came before whilst looking ahead to the potential future, and terrific work from its truly game cast including wonderful performances from McKenna Grace and Paul Rudd who are just outstanding in their respective roles. Suffice it to say therefore that no Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not perfect, but it does do one thing really well: it makes bustin’ feel good again and honestly that’s one thing this franchise has sorely needed for a long, long time…On a scale of 1-5 I give Ghostbusters: Afterlife a solid 3.5 out of 5.