Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens this Friday. We reviewed the film when it had a surprise screening at New York Comic Con last month.
When director Paul Feig attempted to reboot the classic Ghostbusters franchise in 2016, one of the more legitimate criticisms leveled at the film was that it didn’t feel like the first two Ghostbusters movies from the 1980s. Fair enough, but I don’t think that Feig was looking to replicate that experience so much as create a different sort of comedic vibe for his film with his cast. But if that wasn’t to your taste, you may be interested to learn that the new Ghostbusters: Afterlife hews much closer to the spirit of the original, no doubt due to the fact that Jason Reitman, son of the original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, is behind the camera calling the shots this time.
It’s been nearly forty years since the Ghostbusters saved Manhattan from the return of the the god-like Gozer the Gozerian. But people’s memories are short, and when the number of hauntings feel off dramatically after a while, the Ghostbusters split up and headed their separate ways. Egon disappeared out to somewhere in the midwest, abandoning his friends and his new family. No one really heard from again until word comes back to New York City that he has died, leaving his estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) a dilapidated farmhouse. She heads out to Oklahoma with her two children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who begin to witness some strange things that may be related to the mystery of what happened to their grandfather.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is definitely the “passing the torch” movie that Dan Aykroyd has been talking about wanting to make for over a decade. (At one point early on Jack Black was being rumored to play Oscar, the infant son of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett from Ghostbusters II). It effectively restarts the franchise, connecting the old with the new while pointing the way towards a possible future. But it is also more than that. It is a story about family and regret and carries a certain emotional resonance not really seen in a Ghostbusters film before. Rest assured, it does have the requisite jokes, comedic action sequences and a few genuine scares that one expects.
More than anything, though, the film is a love letter to the Ghostbusters franchise itself, and to star Harold Ramis in particular. In his absence, the film manages to fill out the character of Egon Spengler more fully, while also addressing the inevitable elephant in the room as to his absence in any franchise continuation given the actor’s passing in 2014.
And special note should be given to the film’s composer Rob Simonsen, whose score not only used cues from Elmer Bernstein’s classic work on the original film, but expanded on it.
Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan’s script does contain some echoes of the original film in terms of plot and construction, but how could it not? Once you commit to certain, pre-established in-universe concepts, certain things will need to unfold in certain ways. Reitman still manages a few twists on these expectations and illicit different reactions from those involved.
Reitman also manages to keep a visual consistency with his father’s work from the original films. Shot compositions and there are a few focus pulls that feel/look familiar. All of this goes towards making the new film definitely feel of a piece with the first two. The echo is also apparent in the rough makeup of the four new Ghostbusters – Phoebe is very much her grandfather’s granddaughter, her new friend Podcast carries the same impulsive enthusiasm we see in Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz, Trevor possess a different style of bemused detachment than Bill Murray’s Venkman and his coworker at the local drive-in restaurant Lucky grounds everything in the way that Ernie Hudson’s Winston did.
Now it should come as no surprise given the nature of the story, that the three surviving Ghostbusters will be making an appearance at a point in the film’s third act. Their arrival into the story could have easily pulled focus from the young heroes who have been at the forefront of the movie to that point. But Reitman threads that needle, letting both teams have their moment, before coming together in a way that also brings the film’s thematic lines to closure.
Does the film have issues? A few minor ones, yes. The kids seem to learn how to operate the ghostbusting tech a bit too fast, and they make some assumptions about things with knowledge the audience has but not that they necessarily would. The under use of J K Simmons suggests that there may be some material concerning his character that has hit the cutting room floor and that is almost always a crime when it happens to the actor. And if you are looking for some expansion of the larger Ghostbusters lore outside of the Spangler family, you will probably come away disappointed on that count.