Jason Reitman has delivered a fun, heart-warming, funny and emotional film that on the surface ticks all the boxes for having a good time at the movie theatre. But there is more than meets the eye with Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It manages to resurrect a beloved franchise, leaning heavily into the iconography and fondness of what came before, while opening up a burgeoning new future for the world of Ghostbusting. Should the franchise continue on, then I predict that in years to come this will be looked at as a linchpin instalment.
This is a movie that brings back so much of the magic of the 1984 original while carving out its own distinct story. The dialogue is sharp and funny. Take tissues as you will cry. And why not? The story is easy to invest in and therefore has an emotional depth to enjoy. This isn’t the going into business story of the first film, too much time has passed to repeat that formula. This is a story about discovery and about family.
Finn Wolfhard, Celeste O’Connor, Logan Kim and McKenna Grace are pitch perfect. Wolfhard’s Trevor never feels like his Stranger Things character, and proves that any fears of typecasting were misplaced. Trevor is likeable, mature beyond his age and cares about his mother and sister. There is a heart to the Spengler family, they form a wonderful trio who are believable as the central family of the story.
Celeste O’Connor is going to be a star, they are beautiful, charming and funny as Trevor’s crush, but also O’Connor continues the franchise tradition of capable and strong female character. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett was an accomplished and strong women, not the typical damsel in distress, while Annie Pott’s Janine Melnitz didn’t take any crap. O’Connor’s Lucky follows in those footsteps, which is great to see. It would be remis not to point out that O’Connor is also one of the most stylish people on the planet.
Logan Kim as Podcast is one for the awkward outsiders. The first film was about awkward outsiders. Venkman, Stantz and Egon were on the outer reaches of academia, Podcast is them in a new generation. Kim has great timing and chemistry with all his co-stars. Podcast is so strangely confident and charming and his relationship with Phoebe is sweet. Many will identify Podcast as filling the Ray Stantz role for the new generation, but that would be to downplay Podcast’s own distinct personality. No one here is a direct copy of the original four.
Where do we start with Mckenna Grace, and where do we end with the praise she deserves? Her performance is outstanding. Those of us who have seen Grace in other films will not be surprised with the quality of her performance despite her tender age. But, this performance as Phoebe Spengler stands tall in her canon. If she is to lead the new future for Ghostbusters, alongside her co-stars, then we can rest easy that the franchise will have secured one of the brightest talents in Hollywood. It is impossible to see Grace not becoming one of our biggest film stars as her career progresses.
Carrie Coons is effortlessly wonderful, and delivers some of the most emotional moments of the film as her character learns about her estranged father. Paul Rudd plays the conduit for the audience with his signature aplomb, and his chemistry with Coons teases possibilities for further stories to tell in this universe involving both.
Of course, the return of the original Ghostbusters forms an important reason for many to want to see Afterlife, and while those of us who love the characters will always want more, there was room for a bit more Venkman. The lack of screen time for Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett is a disappointment also.
The score by Rob Simonsen (adapted from Elmer Bernstein’s 84 score) is as perfect as it gets for a new instalment. The scoring of the scenes with Podcast and Phoebe are delightful. It cannot be easy to adapt a score so rigidly, while creating new movements within it, but Simonson deserves great credit for the masterful job he has done.
One of the great charms about the film is the direction. Jason Reitman proves himself capable of the kind of direction that gave his father’s films such success and admiration. At no point does the world feel fake or the directing choices unnecessary, and that is credit to Reitman and his crew. One of the great achievements of the original was taking the audience on a journey of suspension of disbelief. Ivan Reitman succeeded in leading audiences from what seemed like a very real world, to the world of the incredible in a way that made the appearance of a 100ft Marshmallow Man seem entirely plausible within that universe. That takes a really delicate touch and an understanding of storytelling through direction, and it seems to run in the family. Jason Reitman’s direction keeps you invested in the characters while exploring the world around them and enjoying the great visual wonders on show. The car chases are exhilarating, and give the audience something the original and 1989 sequel, never did.
It wouldn’t be a complete review without discussing Harold Ramis. There is real sadness that this film was not made before his passing. However, Reitman achieves a lovely tribute to a great character and a great comedian, actor, writer, director and man. A lot of emotion from hardcore fans about Harold Ramis transfers onto Egon’s presence in Afterlife, but never in a way that seems like taking advantage. It is fortunate that those who were close to Ramis, like Ivan Reitman, were making this film and could handle it appropriately.
Some critics seem to forget that we are now in 2021 and not 1991. The film is its own story and, considering the weight of the original that looms large, it does not disappoint. Had it been a rehash of the original and the 1989 sequel then it would have likely been pilloried by the same critics who say it isn’t enough like the original. The lack of call backs to the grossly underrated 1989 sequel will take a little away for hardcore fans of the franchise. But, if this to be the launching point for more Ghostbusters films, then these things can be addressed in future instalments.
I have waited over 30 years for a direct sequel to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. I don’t have memories that predate Ghostbusters. It was an important part of my childhood and who I am. I love those films, and I love Afterlife. Not because I have to, or that I have so much emotionally invested in the franchise that I must. But because it is wonderful. I choked up as the screen turned black and the film was about to begin rolling, but that wasn’t the last time I felt real emotion. I laughed, I cried, I had goose bumps as the film unfolded before me. This was what the power of cinema can do. Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t just a celebration of the past, it was a celebration of the power of cinema. And for that we have to thank Jason Reitman. and everyone involved in the making of this film.