Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) Review

AN AFTERLIFE NOSTALGIA SEQUEL

THAT ACTUALLY WORKS


 

Everyone knows the words “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! If there’s something weird and it don’t look good, Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! I ain’t afraid of no ghost…etc.”. Such is the iconic song (sung by Ray Parker. Jr) from the 80’s movie Ghostbusters. Debuting back in 1984, the film, which was directed by Ivan Reitman and starred Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, followed three quirky parapsychology scientists (Peter, Ray, and Egon) as they launch a ghost-catching business as paranormal events begin to occur in New York City. The original Ghostbusters film went on to become a global success and critical acclaim; cashing in at the box office roughly $295 million against its $30 million production budget as well as launching a multi-million-dollar franchise in the process. Following the success of the first film, franchise tag was given to Ghostbuster, including a sequel movie in 1989 (i.e., Ghostbusters II), two animated television shows (The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters), as well as various toys and a couple of video games. In 2016, a third Ghostbusters film was greenlit, directed by Paul Feig and the starred an all-female lead cast, including Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. Unfortunately, while the film did pay homage to the original source material and acted as a somewhat reboot to the franchise, 2016’s Ghostbusters was ill-met by many critics and moviegoers, with the film considered to be a box office bomb; finding the studios abandoning any plans to the move forward with potential sequel features. Now, five years after the failed Ghostbusters reboot, Sony Pictures (Columbia Pictures) and director Jason Reitman return for a true successor to the 1989 Ghostbusters II, with the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Does the movie find a new audience with his paranormal angst and misadventures or is the film weighed down by the classic pitfalls of trying to capture old nostalgia into a new motion picture?

THE STORY


Faced with hardships and being evicted from her home, Callie (Carrie Coon) is out of options, electing to uproot her family, including her daughter, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and son, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), to Summerville, Oklahoma to claim farmland that was once owned by her late father, who had abandoned her as a child. Once there, the family finds the dwelling falling apart and derelict, but it contains its own mysterious secrets, with brainiac budding scientist Phoebe managing to solve puzzles, exposing hidden special ghostbusting equipment she doesn’t understand what to do with. Joined by her new friend, Podcast (Logan Kim), Phoebe attempts to learn more about her grandfather, recognizing that something strange is developing inside a nearby abandoned mine, with sudden earthquakes erupting around this sleepy small Midwest town. Drawn to Phoebe’s bright intellect is her summer schoolteacher Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who recalls the exploits of the Ghostbusters Manhattan event in 1984, leading the 12-year-old girl to connect the dots a sudden experience of strange things happened around the area, soon involving Trevor and his recent crush, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), as the group seek answers from the past and the identity of Phoebe’s grandfather.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Borrowing a few lines from my review of 2016’s Ghostbusters in the opening paragraph and for this paragraph…. I will say that I’ve watched Ghostbusters (both the original and its sequel), but, while it’s been a fan-favorite amongst fans and movie aficionados, they aren’t my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the movie Ghostbusters, they just aren’t my top favorite movie to see. Maybe because I was a bit too young when I original say the original two Ghostbuster movies and they scared me a bit. So, maybe that’s why. That being said, I do remember watching the animated cartoon show The Real Ghostbusters a lot as it usually came on around the time of other classic late 80s / early 90s animated cartoon shows like Transformers and G.I. Joe. Heck, I even remember a few episodes (vividly) from The Real Ghostbusters. As for the third Ghostbusters film…. I’m talking about the 2016’s Ghostbusters all-female reboot film…. I kind of liked it. I don’t think it is that bad as some people are making it out to be, for the movie itself is still quite enjoyable, entertaining, and humorous. However, I can see why some people disliked the movie as it sort of rehashes a lot from the first film and I personally didn’t think the movie needed to have an all-female lead cast. I understand the point of it all, but it just seems a bit redundant. In the end, I think that the Ghostbusters franchise is well-founded and profitable; showcasing their paranormal adventures are ripe for another installment sometime soon.

Well, sometime soon is now, which brings me back to talking about Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a 2021 supernatural action / comedy film and the fourth entry in the Ghostbusters franchise. After the box office bomb of 2016’s Ghostbusters, the idea of continuing on with the potential reboot was abandoned, leaving the idea of another entry in the Ghostbusters series sort of ….in the dark. However, it took a couple of years for something good to materialize, with announcement that a fourth Ghostbusters film was going to be greenlit and it was going to be tied to the original two films and sort of be “disconnected” to the 2016 feature. Plus, it was also announced that Ghostbuster’s original director Ivan Reitman was going to produce the film, while his son, Jason Reitman, was set to direct the upcoming fourth film. That alone, seemed quite interesting, but I was a little bit skeptical, especially after 2016’s Ghostbusters….and I think many shared that feeling. Even when the film’s first movie trailer looked a bit “iffy” as the presentation of the footage looked a bit reminiscent of Netflix’s Stranger Things, especially with the central plot focusing on young kids encountering strange and abnormal paranormal activities. Still, the trailer did show promise…. enough for me to gain more interest in seeing Ghostbusters: Afterlife when it was scheduled to be released on July 20th, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sony Pictures decided to delay the movie (several times) before it finally landed on the theatrical release date of November 19th, 2021. So, with a full year of delays since its original release, the time is finally here, and I went to go see Ghostbusters: Afterlife a several days after its initial release (a week after Thanksgiving). So…. what did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite having a few familiar beats that plague the narrative, Ghostbusters: Afterlife felt like a great nostalgia movie that bridges the gap from original 1984 to modern times and definitely feels like a direct sequel. There is a repetitive nature as to what is going on, but I felt that it was a lot of fun and entertaining throughout….and that’s a good thing!

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is directed by Jason Reitman, whose previous directorial works include such films as Juno, Up in the Air, and Thank You for Smoking. Given his background of directing feature films that have modest production budgets as well as medium-level expectations, Reitman makes Ghostbusters: Afterlife one of his most ambitious film projects to date, especially given the fanbase for the franchise and the highly anticipated nature of blockbuster treatment for this endeavor. In this regard, I think Reitman does a surprisingly good job; approaching the movie with a sense of awareness of how belove the franchise is and what his father was able to achieve with the first two Ghostbuster features. Because of that, Reitman turns this latest entry in the franchise have a proper balance of action and drama of the Ghostbuster variety, which works in the feature’s favor of being excitement and entertaining at the same time. In addition, unlike the 2016 reboot, Reitman makes Afterlife have a great connection to the original two Ghostbusters films, with this new sequel revealing more of a “new generation” ghost busting adventure; finding the movie’s main characters have a shared experience with supernatural specters running in their family. This, of course, brings up the film’s nostalgia, which actually does work in the movie’s favor, with Reitman walking a fine line of fan service moments of the franchise past, while also establishing new characters. To me, I think Reitman did a great job in these moments and actually enhances the viewing experiences of the movie. Overall, I think that Reitman did a great job in making Afterlife accessible to all; finding a narrative that works well in branching out a fun that has plenty of nostalgia to celebrate the series past, while also making new ground for a new generation to enjoy what made Ghostbusters fun and entertaining.

Unlike Paul Feig’s 2016 reboot film that had a more PG-13 / R rating vibe that usually plays to the director’s strength, Reitman shapes Afterlife for a more family friendly variety by making the Ghostbuster sequel have a more PG / PG-13 tone. That’s not to say that the movie is drench in lighthearted cuteness for the younger cast as there is still plenty of spooky supernatural fun that made the Ghostbusters franchise a unique experience. Of course, Afterlife, much the previous two original films, have that more accessible nature to younger viewers, which makes it good for its viewers of a new generation to watch the feature. So, while I mentioned before that the movie had that “Stranger Things” vibe from the feature’s promotional marketing, that aim seems true, but it actually works in the film’s favor; providing a paranormal playground for the character to play around with, yet still offering thrills of the supernatural kind of ghostly monsters running amok.

In addition, with the movie acting as a continuation to the original two Ghostbuster films, Reitman does pay tribute to the late actor Harold Ramis, who played original Ghostbuster character Dr. Egon Spengler. I won’t say how they pay tribute to Ramis’s Egon in the movie, but I will say that it was good and I liked how it was weaved into Afterlife’s story.

In the film’s presentation, Afterlife has a good and solid production; feeling right at home for a supernatural adventure film of today’s blockbuster variety. The movie doesn’t really “go big” with extravagant settings or needlessly complexed background nuances, with Afterlife having some limitations by the feature’s story setting. That being said, what’s presented definitely works, with Reitman and his team to creating the small, almost sleepy town of Summerville, Oklahoma and recreating the “small town” feeling, which (again) juxtaposes the large supernatural that looms overhead. With that, the film’s “behind the scenes team”, including Francois Audouy (production design), the entire art direction team, and Danny Glicker (costume design) do a great job in bringing this cinematic world to life within the film’s setting and background visuals. Speaking of visuals, the CG effect shots in Afterlife are actually pretty good and utilize some great visuals whenever ghostly paranormal beings are displayed on-screen. The shots don’t break any new ground, but are still visually fun and detailed to make the feature’s more spectacle shots pop. Coinciding with that, the cinematography work by Eric Steelberg aides in those visual effect sequences; creating some nifty / slick moments that do make for some flashy cinematic pieces that work very well. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Ron Simonsen, is a terrific musical composition for Afterlife, which has both that whimsical charm for some of the lighter portion as well as capturing the same style and flavor of that of the original movies. It doesn’t outshine Elmer Bernstein’s original piece, but it definitely is a solid musical score for Afterlife, which definitely reflects the film’s nostalgia themes and recollection.

There are a couple of issues that Afterlife can’t overcome within its presentation that, while not taking away from the entertainment of the feature, still becomes a little bit problematic in both the movie’s undertaking and execution. Perhaps the biggest thing that the movie struggles to find is in it’s own rhythm of storytelling. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, Afterlife is basically somewhat of The Force Awakens of Ghostbuster films by ways and means of reaffirming what has come before with a load of nostalgia references and reflections that vaguely mirror the original 1984 film. Thus, it’s kind of sad to say that Reitman keeps Afterlife in the nostalgia realm of retreading familiar plot points and ideas for this new generation of ghost hunters. This also keeps the movie from venturing out into new territory with the plot and characters of the film having a sort of repetitive nature to what’s come before…. even if the character themselves are brand new to the Ghostbusters timeline. Basically, Afterlife flirts with nostalgia and, while that can be a good thing (as mentioned above), the makes the film lack originality.

One particular part of this is film’s recycling of ideas, including utilizing a familiar villain to be the antagonist of the feature. I definitely can see where Reitman and his team wanted to go with this, but it comes off as a bit unoriginal and a bit contrived, especially since the 2016 reboot was heavily criticized for creating a similar problem in its climatic ending. Again, the nostalgia factor is there, but lacks the grandiose feeling of being something new and creatively done. Afterlife also lacks the necessary “bigness” and / or scale that it wants to be. Much like first Thor movie, Reitman keeps everything relatively small, with the characters running around a small town with a larger looming threat around the bend. The juxtaposition of this, however, doesn’t exactly work; resulting in the movie lacking a grandiose narrative of “saving the world” magnitude…..something that the first Ghostbusters feature was able to pull off. Judging from the film’s movie trailers and marketing campaign, I sort of figured this was going to be the case, so it didn’t bother me as much, but I did kind of want to see something with little bit more “oomph” rather than relying fully on nostalgia callbacks and recycled ideas.

Coinciding with that, the film’s pacing is a bit sluggish throughout the feature. With a runtime of 124 minutes (two hours and four minutes), Afterlife does have a lot to unpack, especially as it tries to establish a group of new character / heroes to follow as well as trying to stage an impending apocalypse mayhem of which the narrative is building. Given all that, one would think that the feature would be jammed pack and moving at a brisk pace from one sequence to the next, but that’s not the case. Reitman seems to relish to much in momentary nostalgia a bit too much; creating an unbalanced pacing problems throughout the entire movie. Even the original 1984 Ghostbusters film had a much great understanding attention to the movie’s story pacing; edging through scenes that take a little bit longer. This makes Afterlife take a bit to get going and, while the journey gets good, the movie does have a tendency to hit a few slow snags here and there.

What definitely helps overlook some of those criticisms and problematic areas is Afterlife’s cast, which is solid across the board; finding the pool of acting talents for the feature (despite being major or minor players in the film) up to the task of playing their respective characters in whatever capacity that the story calls for. With the movie acting as the “next generation”, the younger cast members takes more precedent than the adults and actually hold their own in their own respective ways. If Afterlife was given a central protagonist character, I would say that the character of Phoebe Spengler, who is masterfully played by young actress McKenna Grace. Known for her roles in Gifted, I, Tonya, and Annabelle Comes Home, Grace has certainly become an accomplished young actress, which is shown through her past body of work, and perhaps one of the reasons why she was chosen for such a lead role in this Ghostbusters sequel. Grace plays Phoebe with one of intellect vigor and quirky charm; finding the young girl to be a somewhat gifted with a love of science and the unexplained, yet lacking social engagement / interactions. Grace walks a fine between those, which makes her portrayal of Phoebe to be quite memorable.

Behind Grace, young actor Finn Wolfhard turns a solid performance as Phoebe’s older sibling, Trevor Spengler. Known for his roles in Stranger Things, IT, and The Turning, Wolfhard, amongst his younger co-stars, has the most experience of taking centerstage, especially with some of his roles being more prominent in pop-culture / popularity. Because of this, Wolfhard’s acting talents are a bit more stronger and it clear shows whenever he’s on-screen by shaping Trevor to be the somewhat moody, wise-cracking teenager. It’s nothing new nor original, but Wolfhard turns a fine performance in the youthful role of Trevor and is a fine foil to Phoebe’s quirky behavior.

Lastly, young actor Logan Kim, who makes his theatrical feature length debut with Afterlife acts as the comic relief character as Podcast, Phoebe’s summer school classmate and often refers to everything in the form of his podcast. Kim actually does a good job in comedy department and delivers that corny / off-beat goofy kid who says wisecracks comment. Since he’s not part of the Spengler family, Podcast ends up being the least important of the trio of young characters, but still manages to turn a fun performance, especially with a young actor who doesn’t have much past experience compared to his other co-stars. Of the younger cast, the only one that doesn’t shine as much as the others is actress Celeste O’Connor as Lucky. Known for her roles in Freaky, Irreplaceable You, and Selah and the Spades, O’Connor seems fine in the role of Lucky, a high school student from Summerville town and Trevor’s love interest, but the movie doesn’t seem interested in her character. What do I mean? Yes, I do understand that her character is a supporting one and not a main one, but her whole character kind of feels like an afterthought in Afterlife; only really participating in the main narrative at the very end. Kind of disappointed in that.

Of the supporting adult characters, actor Paul Rudd takes centerstage and charms his way throughout the movie as Gary Grooberson, a summer school teacher who gets entangled with Phoebe’s family investigation into the sudden paranormal resurgence in town. Known for his roles in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Ant-Man, and I Love You, Man, Rudd has become a comedic powerhouse within his various roles in comedy feature endeavors. Thus, seeing him a part of the latest Ghostbusters sequel movie is no stretch of the imagination and…in fact…. Rudd actually shines in the movie. He’s always used to playing the quirk, goofy character and his portrayal of Grooberson fits the bill to a “T” ….and that’s a good thing. Personally, he was probably my favorite new character in all of Afterlife. I just kind of wished that he was more in the movie. Still, looking beyond that, I think that Rudd was solid in the sequel.

Opposite Rudd’s Grooberson, actress Carrie Coon plays Callie, Phoebe and Trevor’s mother as well as being the daughter to the late Dr. Egon Spengler. Coon, known for her roles in Gone Girl, Avengers: Infinity War, and The Post, has certainly made a name for herself in Hollywood as a character actress; finding a lot of her roles complexed and interesting, with Coon relishing the chance to play such roles. In Afterlife, however, I was a bit unimpressed with Coon’s portrayal of Callie and is probably the weakest character in the movie. It’s not for a lack of trying on Coon’s part as she handles herself well with the material that she’s given, but I think it was mostly “how” she was written in the narrative. Ultimately, she comes off as a bit aloof and not fully caring as to what’s going on; acting as a whiny, stressed out mother than anything else, which is disappointing because Coon deserves better (still love her as Margo Dunne in Gone Girl). Thus, the character of Callie is my least favorite character in Afterlife.

Additionally, as seeing the film’s marketing campaign and internet buzz surrounding this project, Afterlife does have some returning Ghostbuster characters come back to play a part in Afterlife’s narrative. I won’t spoil it or say who is in it, but it definitely put a smile on my face when they appeared in a few various areas in the movie.

Lastly, Afterlife does feature a post-credit scene during the end credits portion of the movie. Again, I won’t spoil it for what is presented during this scene, but it was definitely amusing, and leaves door open for a possible continuation in the near future.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Moving to a small rural town to close up their grandfather’s estate, Phoebe and her family soon discover who he was, what was he doing out there, and what legacy he left behind in the movie Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Director Jason Reitman latest film sees the franchise return back to its roots by providing a sequel endeavor that harkens back to the two original Ghostbuster films of yesteryear; filled with nostalgia and recollections of the past for a new generation. While there are a few areas where the film could’ve been streamlined and expanded upon for a better viewing experience, a movie itself was still quite enjoyable, especially thanks to Reitman’s direction, those same nostalgia filled moments, fun characters, and a solid cast across the board. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, I do agree that the movie somewhat played it safe as I kind of wanted to see a few things play out differently, but I think that what was presented definitely works and it is a worthy successor to Ghostbusters II. Plus, while I did like the 2016 reboot film more than most, I do feel that Afterlife was much better of the two sequels and felt of a more direct connection to the original films. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “recommended” one as fans of the first two Ghostbusters movies will enjoy this sequel as well as casual moviegoers, who are looking for movie escapism. The movie does end leaves the door open for a returning adventure in the Ghostbuster world and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what materializes on the horizon. In the end, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a great “back to basics” for the franchise; returning to the narrative roots of the series for some fun nostalgia ghostly mischief of its past, while creating a foundation for its own future.

4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: November 19th, 2021
Reviewed On: January 13th, 2022

Ghostbusters: Afterlife  is 124 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive langauage

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