Movie Review – Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman
Directed by Jason Reitman

Can the Ghostbusters join the ranks of Star Wars and the MCU as a cinematic franchise to be mined into the ground until everyone hates it? This is the question Sony executives will be asking this weekend as they open the second Ghostbusters reboot/sequel in the last 5 years. Having recently rewatched the first two Ghostbusters movies, I was curious to see how hard they hit the nostalgia button with this one, very likely as the studio wanted to wash the stink of the 2016 film away from theaters. I suspected and was proven right that the script would lean heavy into nostalgia bait territory.

Phoebe (McKenna Grace) lives with her mom, Callie (Carrie Coon), and older brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and they just got evicted from their home. The only place left to live is a decaying farmhouse in Summerville, Oklahoma, where their grandfather recently passed away. Callie has ill feelings towards her dad and wants to sell off as much as possible before moving on. While Callie works on the house, Trevor gets a job at the drive-in diner where his crush works while Phoebe is enrolled in a summer school program. The young girl meets Podcast, a fellow awkward outcast, and they get along chummily with their teacher Gary (Paul Rudd). Unfortunately, Summerville is plagued by earthquakes which makes no sense due to the geology of the region.

As everyone who saw the trailers for this movie already figured out, these are Egon’s daughter and grandchildren. Phoebe is guided by the invisible spirit of her grandad to discover his equipment and research, awakening her to the evil that lies beneath Summerville. The town was built around the Shandor Mining Company’s operations, run by the same Ivo Shandor responsible for all that trouble back in 1984. And wouldn’t you know it, Phoebe ends up assembling her own group of Ghostbusters while two adults become the acolytes that will usher Gozer back into the land of the living. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife panders so pathetically that I was absolutely shocked during the film’s third act. It didn’t start out that way. The movie’s first half isn’t terrible, with the young leads being very charming and McKenna Grace doing a pretty good job as Phoebe. However, once the ghostbusting came in full swing, I felt my brain checking out. Afterlife so closely follows the plot beats of the original film that it makes The Force Awakens feel wholly authentic. Around the same mark that the 1984 saw the Ghostbusters encountering Slimer, we see Phoebe & Podcast going after Muncher. There are numerous visual references to the first film to the point that it bogs down its ability to forge its own identity. And then, when we get to the big third act finale, it all comes pouring out, and I was completely disengaged from everything.

Afterlife is a great kids movie, and that’s sort of what Ghostbusters has become despite its beginnings, a more clever adult comedy. I have a feeling most kids will enjoy the fun parts of this movie. It lacks the humor that underpinned everything in the original, and I’ll give it to the 2016 movie; it was trying to be a comedy (though it failed at that). This is purely aping the Star Wars formula of using awe-inspiring music for the adult children who can proudly say they understand an obscure reference to the 1984 picture. Afterlife says nothing about anything; it’s just an extended family playing out the exact events of that original movie. I think they had a perfect opportunity to talk about aging if they included the original cast members or at least how quickly people forget amazing things. They keep mentioning everything that happened in 1984, and almost everybody doesn’t really remember it. There’s a theme: we let the world take all the wonder & magic out of it and live mundane lives. The film seems to be touching on very unexplored daddy issues in its story, and I walked away not really understanding why I was supposed to care based on what was presented.

Ghostbusters is a dead franchise; in fact, they should have stopped with the first movie. There’s apparently nothing left for it to say, and so all it can do is endlessly retread the same shit. If they make a sequel to this, I fully expect the painting of Viggo to show up along with a cameo from Peter MacNichol. Annie Potts has a cameo at the start of this movie, and it serves no purpose other than to be an exposition dump. Then she’s gone from the picture, and it feels weird that she was there for no other reason than to nostalgia bait the adult children. I thought it was very cool when I was a kid to play pretend with my homemade proton pack (backpack with a paper towel tube) and ghost trap (shoebox). That shit was always fun. But as an adult, if I’m going to revisit this world, I’d like something with more meat on its bones, for a picture to finally break this boring trend of just hammering on an intellectual property until we want it to go away forever.

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