Review: 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' (2021) Dir. Jason Reitman
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
Bypassing the luke-warm 'Ghostbusters' of 2016, this sequel / reboot takes place 30 years after 'Ghostbusters II' for a new generation of spooks and spectres to be busted by our new heroes...
30 years after the ghostly events in Manhattan, the Ghostbusters have disbanded with lack of paranormal activity. Egon Spengler's daughter, Callie (Coon) and her children Phoebe (Grace) and Trevor (Wolfhard) now reside in his rundown estate in the Oklahoma countryside.
It appears that Egon had based the remainder of his life researching and preparing for the return of Gozer (Olivia Wilde) who is prophesised to return to Earth once again via a demonic portal, in an attempt to rule the world as her own personal hell.
When Phoebe and Trevor, with the help of friends Podcast (Kim) and Lucky (O'Conner), unearth hidden treasures belonging to the Ghostbusters, they take it upon themselves to investigate the growing threat and vow to prevent Gozer from returning to Earth...
In development for nearly 30 years, a true sequel to Ghostbusters II never came to light after numerous directors, writers and stars had been attached at one point or another. With original actor Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler) sadly passing away in 2014, the project was pretty much written off. Instead, we had a "reboot" of the franchise with an all-female lead in 2016s Ghostbusters which did little to revamp the series. It was only when Jason Reitman, son of Ivan who directed the first two films, signed on to direct and co-write a much anticipated true sequel. Ready to go in 2020 but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only now does the world get to see a sequel that heaps on nostalgia, wrapped up in a sweet drama and boosted by passionate performances for a new lease of ghost busting life.
Fast-forward 30 years since the last spooky spectre of Vigo the Carpathian was banished from New York, our Ghostbusters are just names lost to history and the art of busting spooks and spectres has never been called upon since. But dark powers have been working away across the decades and we join a new generation of Spenglers - namely Carrie Coon's single mum Callie, Mckenna Grace as 12 year old Phoebe and Fin Wolfhard's 15 year old Trevor. These Spenglers offer up a lot more drama and heart to the franchise than ever before. First and foremost, this fourth outing in the franchise can be classed as drama first and comedy second (horror third?).
Reitman makes this story a lot more about family, injecting the "origin" theme for these new characters, exploring their quirks and journey's into teenage years. He deals with broken families and grief in a tender, often amusing way but not at the expense of the heart. The film is wrapped around the loving memory of Ramis and his character, Egon, as the crux of the story. Egon is used brilliantly from the opening sequence to the closing frames to show that his spirit is ever present during the story and is of great importance, making this a love-letter to what Harold Ramis helped give us back in 1984.
Egon is the thread that joins both generations of Ghostbusters together, and links both films. I say both, as events of GBII are never mentioned, so this could also be an overlooked entry just as 2016s reboot is.
Joined by fellow youngsters Logan Kim as oddball Podcast (keeping it millennial) and Celeste O'Connor as love-interest Lucky, Grace and Wolfhard walk the line somewhere between The Goonies and Stranger Things in a family friendly, spooky tale of growing up and being the young heroes in an adult world. Thankfully, while the appeal of children leading a film with as much weight as Ghostbusters may concern many, the young stars never buffoon around too much and manage to keep their performances grounded and work will together, and with the script. They are a likeable bunch, and help bring some new energy to a familiar tale.
With support from Paul Rudd who dials down the comedy to play it more casual as seismologist / teacher Gary Grooberson and Coon as a single mother trying to do the best for her family, this is a strong core family team to get behind.
The more tongue-in-cheek take on ghost and demons is gone, for a more realistic - if you can say that - approach to the evil arriving on Earth. We are only treated to a handful of ghosts during the film, one nicknamed Muncher who wants to be this new generations Slimer, but fails, and very memorable beasts including The Keymaster, The Gatekeeper and "flatop" herself, Gozer, played with relish by Emma Portner. A mix of what looks like practical effects and CGI bring these creatures to life brilliantly, and the fantasy is never overcooked and overplayed, so each reveal or jump scare (there are a couple!) work as intended.
Of course, you can't have a Ghostbuster film totally original, and this can be seen as a retreat of the 1984 original. While the story works in some of narrative that explains why familiar faces and names are returning to Earth, you can't help feel maybe some more originality would have been braver. The opening tinkling of the piano score by Rob Simonsen and familiar riffs throughout do nothing but take you back to he original Elmer Bernstein score. The original ghostbusting equipment is dusted off and brought back to life with wonderful sounds and lights. Ecto-1 has that inimitable siren leaping into action once more with a couple of new modifications. It's a feast for the fans of everything that gave Ghostbusters such fame and iconography, and you will find it impossible not to smile when three familiar faces return to kick some ghost-butt.
Kudos to the team for using everything from practical sets, colours, smoke machines and costumes to evoke plenty of creepy moments that channel the root of this gentle fantasy-horror. Reitman backs up his use of the 1984 material by digging a little deeper and fleshing out why it all makes sense in the grand scheme of things and not just a flat-out remake.
This is not a rehash of the original, but it still retains that charm, that innocence, that fantasy and gentle humour of what helped make the brand name work for decades. It may not pave the way for a new franchise, with elements in this acting as a solid closure to a 30 year old story in the making, but it certainly doesn't hurt to strap on the proton pack once more and enjoy the ride.
Busting feels good again. A family-friendly dose of humour and heart from Jason Reitman who honours the franchise with the right balance of new themes, old favourites and dozens of Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men just for the fun of it.
'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' is a co-production between Columbia Pictures, Bron Creative, Ghost Corps, The Montecito Picture Company and Right of Way Films