Movie Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Second Opinion)
Plot: Bankrupt and out of luck, single Mom Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) relocates herself and children Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) from New York City to Summerville, Oklahoma. With only a farmhouse left to her by her recently deceased and estranged father Egon, the future looks bleak. Initially believing the town to be unremarkable, Phoebe slowly begins to uncover secrets associated with her grandfather’s ghostbusting past. When a slew of paranormal activities strikes the town, Phoebe, along with her brother, science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), and friend Podcast (Logan Kim) must face down the forces of evil and save the world from the apocalypse.
Review: When it comes to the Ghostbusters franchise, I must confess a certain degree of bias. Not only is the 1984 film the first movie I distinctly remember seeing in a theater, but it remains one of my favorite movies of all time. While the sequel pales in comparison, I still unapologetically love it. Sadly, the 2016 reboot sporting an all-female cast fell flat for me and I’d resigned myself to never seeing a legitimate sequel to Ghostbusters II. Imagine my surprise and delight when in January 2019 it was announced that a direct sequel was in the works with Jason Reitman (son of the original director Ivan) set to helm the project. Granted, the trailers did leave me a little leery, as they evoked a Stranger Things vibe that I wasn’t sure was going to work.
Fortunately, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a charming new edition to the storied franchise. While it relies too much on nostalgia at times and several moments feel a bit forced, nevertheless it manages to entertain more often than it misses.
What sets Ghostbusters: Afterlife apart from the previous two films is both the focus on the new characters and the change in setting. With the passing of Harold Ramis, we were never going to get a full fledged third film with all four original ghostbusters returning. In any event with all the remaining actors in their sixties, I’m not sure how that would have played out. Instead, writers Gil Keenan and Jason Reitman choose to focus Afterlife on Egon’s daughter and grandchildren while setting the film in a rural rather than an urban location.
Carrie Coon makes for an interesting Callie, a tough single Mom that resents Egon for abandoning her for no apparent reason. She’s bitter and rightly so. Unfortunately, her resentfulness almost completely defines her character, not allowing for much depth. Yet Coon’s acting ability makes up for what’s lacking on the page. Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor suffers the most as his character comes off as no more than a love-sick fifteen-year-old. Aside from the scenes where he revives the old Ecto-1 and goes joy riding in the field, I found myself slightly bored when he was on screen.
Thankfully, McKenna Grace gives a powerhouse performance as Phoebe that carries Ghostbusters: Afterlife throughout. With a personality more akin to her famous grandfather, McKenna is by turns witty, sardonic, brave, and endearing. I’m always fascinated by characters searching for their place in the world and subsequently finding it in the most unexpected of places. The sheer joy on Phoebe’s face when she uses a proton pack for the first time put a big, goofy grin on my face. McKenna’s comedic timing is brilliant, with her easily delivering the best Dad Joke in the history of cinema. She’s truly a star in the making with unlimited potential.
Just as impressive are some of the supporting cast in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Logan Kim charms as Phoebe’s friend Podcast, who finds recording the paranormal activities in Summerville and busting ghosts the best thing that’s ever happened to him. And of course, Paul Rudd makes everything better. A true fanboy of the original ghostbusters team, he’s hysterical throughout (his description of the St. Bernard from Beethoven had me rolling) and has strong chemistry with Grace and Coon.
While some fans may be disappointed with Gozer returning as the big bad from the first film, the explanation makes sense in the context of the story. In fact, I enjoyed how the film embraced the first film’s legacy, even going so far as to bring in Evo Shandor (J.K. Simmons) as a character. As a fan I couldn’t help being excited when Terror Dogs appeared onscreen along with mini–Stay Puft marshmallow men. Hell, even composer Rob Simonsen seemed to be channeling Elmer Bernstein’s original score.
The third act where the new ghostbusters and the old confront Gozer hit all the right nostalgia notes for me, even if the appearance of Peter (Bill Murray), Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) felt a little forced. I was also concerned about how Afterlife would incorporate Ramis’ Egon character, considering he died seven years ago. However, I needn’t have worried as Egon’s appearance is not only tastefully done but will make your heart swell with joy.
Despite its faults, Ghostbusters: Afterlife proves to be a very charming and likeable legacy sequel with a lot to appreciate. Moreover, with it overperforming at the box office, there’s a decent chance we get more films. (Speaking of, you want to make sure you stay the entire way through the credits for a delightful tease of things to come.) After almost four decades, Ghostbusters: Afterlife proves the franchise has plenty of charge left in the proton pack.
My rating system:
1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Ghostbusters: Afterlife: 7/10