Review: “Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Arts & Entertainment

Jakob Eiseman, Editor-in-Chief

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” hit theaters on Nov. 19,  2021, receiving generally positive reviews from critics, but very mixed reactions from fans of the franchise. I completely understand where they’re coming from, but have to disagree. Yes, the movie gratuitously tugs at nostalgia every chance it gets, and yes, some moments are cheesier than a Goldfish cracker. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it totally worked and I loved a majority of the film. “Afterlife” is not a masterclass in cinema, storytelling, drama or even action — and it doesn’t capture that lighting in a bottle that was the original “Ghostbusters,” but it’s extremely  entertaining, is full of heart and is definitely going to succeed at being this younger generation’s introduction to the Ghostbusters in an exceptional way. In short, if you’re a fan of the original, this is a must see just for nostalgia and entertainment’s sake. If you’ve never been a fan, I think this might sway you. If you’re brand new to the franchise, I can’t think of a better introduction than this film.

“Who you gonna call?”

While I did say that “Afterlife” does not capture the same special touch that made the original a cultural phenomenon, and I stand by that, it does do its best, and is tailor-made to honor the humor, lore and vibe of the original. This is largely in part because the director of “Afterlife,” Jason Reitman (“Juno,”) is the son of Ivan Reitman, the director of the original 1984 film and its 1989 sequel “Ghostbusters II.” “Afterlife” is both Ivan Reitman taking a crack at making a major motion picture in his own vision but also a way to live up to and honor his father’s legacy. He definitely respects the conventions of the older films with the same visual style and gags budding into both, with every set absolutely bursting with references to the original, whether that be obvious sights like the 1959 Cadillac Ecto-1 in the garage, or subtle ones that allude to fan-favorite moments from the original. He also captures the same charm as the original by presenting silly, humorous characters in a world filled with genuinely scary and unsettling ghosts.

“Afterlife” is not a glorified remake, though. Although the story follows several similar beats, Reitman made a great story about a family, memorable character moments and an interesting take on the young-adult blockbuster type movie trope, and just retrofitted it to work in the canon established by his father. The main cast of the film bring hard-hitting comedy chops and genuine heart and soul to these characters that could have easily been made surface level to squeeze into the movie’s two-hour runtime. 

Columbia Pictures

“We came, we saw, we kicked its *ss!”

The film follows Phoebe, played by McKenna Grace (“I, Tonya,” “Handmaid’s Tale”), a twelve-year-old science prodigy with a knack for tinkering; Trevor, played by Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things,” “It (2017),”) a high-schooler who’s fed up with the world; and their mother Callie, who is at the end of her rope in terms of cash, luck and ability to keep up with her hyperactive kids. When the three of them are evicted from their city apartment, they’re forced to move out to a creepy “murder house” that was owned by Callie’s father before he died mysteriously. This is a spoiler-free review, but if you’ve seen the original movie and have seen any promotional material for “Afterlife,” it is pretty clear that the family has moved into the home of one of the original Ghostbusters, bringing with it all of the trappings of the team’s antics, including ghost-hunting cars and equipment, occult books and lots and lots of ghosts. Now all that’s well and good, and I was sold just on the premise, and I didn’t even mention that the sexiest man alive Paul Rudd (“Ant-Man,” “Clueless,”) is a side character and makes the movie 10 times funnier.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 2021 blockbuster movie with a budget of $75 million has giant action set pieces and special effects galore, but “Afterlife” is able to use them tastefully, putting a lot of the focus on the characters and their interactions rather than high-octane ghostbusting and its spectral CGI villains. In fact, for a movie with “ghost” in the title, there really aren’t that many spirits in “Afterlife,” and I respect that decision. I was personally very invested in Phoebe and Trevor’s plot of discovering who their grandfather was and learning to use the Ghostbusters gear more so than anything that was being told to the audience about the villain and the town’s dark secrets. With all that said, though, I was relatively disappointed with the way the plot ramped up toward the end and how the conflict was resolved in a cliche manner that was highly telegraphed. While this didn’t make me hate the rest of the movie, and I still can’t wait to watch it again just to see Paul Rudd ham it up on screen again, it was disappointing, to say the least.

Columbia Pictures

“Don’t cross the streams.”

For all the positives I have to rave about in “Afterlife,” there were many elements that fell completely flat and really inhibited my enjoyment throughout. The references to the original film were charming at first, and were often tastefully implemented, but throughout the movie there were also not-so-subtle callbacks that without context would make absolutely no sense, some of them even having their own musical cues. Simply hearing someone say “Who you gonna call?” for no reason is not a funny reference, it’s ham-fisted and distracting. These in-your-face jokes are peppered throughout, and I know what Reitman was going for, but I would have removed these completely in favor of more Paul Rudd, unironically.

As much as I love the main characters of this film, notice how I only named four in the main cast of well over 10 characters? It’s because with the exception of these genuinely great main characters, a majority of the cast was forgettable and insignificant, only being there for comic relief or to add “weight” to the main characters’ motivations. I’m just comparing this setup to the original film, which had side characters that the audience cared about and that you wanted to see more of every time they were on screen.

“See you on the other side.”

Despite all my qualms with “Afterlife,” I still stand by that, as a fan of “Ghostbusters,” it is a must-see and a great time. I went in with low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised. Even though the film ended exactly how I thought it would, I still loved the story of Phoebe and Trevor and hope to see more of them in the future. I’m giving “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” a 7/10 because for as much as Reitman slipped up, he did create an excellent homage to one of my favorite movies, and told a great, original story within that. While I don’t think “Afterlife” is necessary theater viewing, I would recommend seeing it when you get a chance, especially if it comes to VOD or streaming over the holiday season.

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