Though I’m a proud kid from the 1980s, would it surprise you to know that I have no real affection for “Ghostbusters”? No deep love for the characters. No vested interest in their story. No warm and fuzzy feeling at the thought of a new film. I thought the 1984 original was fine and I don’t remember anything about its 1989 sequel. I thoroughly disliked the 2016 reboot and not because I agreed with shallow-minded meatheads who hated the idea of an all female cast (frankly, it just wasn’t very good).
So it should go without saying that “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” wasn’t one I was dying to see. I was more curious than excited and for a number of reasons. First, it’s considered a sequel to the original two films (sorry Paul Feig). Second, it’s directed by Jason Reitman, the son of Ivan Reitman who directed “Ghostbusters” 1 and 2. Third, I was curious to see how well the new film connected with its predecessors considering the 30+ year gap? And fourth, would they bring back that killer Ray Parker Jr. theme song (happily, the answer to that one is YES).
Basically, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a well-made movie. It’s mostly well written (more on that in a second) and it’s the kind of entertainment that will probably appeal most to the already established fan base. Reitman clearly has an affection for the material and often that affection dictates much of what we get. The list of callbacks is long and some things seem stuck in solely for nostalgia. Again, that should excite the franchise faithful. Personally, “Afterlife” isn’t a movie that will stick with me past the weekend, despite the moderately fun time I had with it.
The way Reitman (who also co-writes with Gil Kenan) connects this film with the previous movies is pretty crafty. We learn that Egon Spengler (previously played by the late Harold Ramis), a founding member of the Ghostbusters, left New York and relocated to the dried-up town of Summerville, Oklahoma. He severed ties with his three parapsychological partners and his family to move out on an isolated dirt farm where he recently died. Why Summerville? What was he doing there? Both are questions the movie answers later with varying degrees of success.
Meanwhile back in the city, Egon’s estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) is a single mother to two kids, the energetic Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and the nerdy science-loving Phoebe (a show-stealing Mckenna Grace). Callie gets word that her father has died around the same time she gets evicted from her apartment. Out of options, the three move to the farm Egon left her in Summerville. While there, Phoebe and Trevor begin learning the truth about their grandfather and what he was really up to. And as you’ve probably guessed, it has something to do with ghosts.
While Reitman eventually gets around to doing some ghostbusting, a big chunk of the movie plays like a mystery. In truth, the movie is at its best when Phoebe, Trevor, and their collection of disposable Summerville friends are following a trail of clues linking Egon to a series of mysterious tremors that has been shaking the town. These scenes give us time to get to know the main characters especially Phoebe. Mckenna Grace is hands-down the star of the movie while Coon gets some good scenes as the embittered mom and daughter. Wolfhard gets stuck with your run-of-the-mill teen boy character while Paul Rudd brings some name recognition to an otherwise throwaway role.
But then the movie gets into the considerably less interesting supernatural stuff – ancient temples, gatekeepers, keymasters, etc. It’s all pretty silly and haphazardly thrown together in a way that gets away from all the things the movie did so well early on. It does end on a predictable yet undeniably warm note and a couple of end credits scenes hint at more Ghostbusters to come. That’s more good news for fans. But I’m not sure “Afterlife” did enough to excite the rest of us for what’s to come. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is now showing in theaters.