Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)


Despite what a number of critics might think - with quite a number of them feeling the need to virtue signal after the abject failure of the 2016 version of Ghostbusters - there is really no way of doing a proper Ghostbusters sequel at this point without triggering nostalgia.  There may be also be some deep-seated idea, still, that if that nostalgia does not apply to Boomers or '90s kids that it is somehow invalid.  While there is a lot from pop culture of the 1980s - and the 1990s, for that fact - that hasn't aged well, it seems that attacks specifically on Gen X touchstones are the norm.  But, while everyone else tends to wring their hands, truth is Gen X is a tough bunch and we really never expect other generations to like what we like.  

The 2016 version of Ghostbusters was not a disappointment because women were playing the precious roles that we imagined men should be playing.  The problem was it had everything that was bad about modern film making.  There was an over-emphasis, outside the film, on a political agenda that seemed barely to exist in the movie itself, which was too reliant on bodily function humor and terrible CGI.  It could have been made with the surviving original cast and it still would have been a failure.  There is a reason whenever Ghostbusters is brought up in conversation the actual memories are for the first movie and the cartoons that followed.  The 2016 Ghostbusters didn't ruin anything except, possibly, a few careers.  Ghostbusters II, however, largely put the kibosh on any future sequels due to it being just as much an example of bad '80s film making as the 2016 version was of the worst aspects of the 2010s. And, keep in mind, this was with the the original cast returning just five years later. 

Scripts came and went, and Bill Murray wisely passed them by.  Harold Ramis passed away in 2014, and there went a heavy hitter in the cast as well as the writing of any future Ghostbuster films.  Ivan Reitman, who co-wrote and directed, was pretty much retired.  In my own personal opinion I thought it was a good thing at this point, since an overblown, and not-so-funny sequel with a failed reboot on top basically meant that maybe people would finally realize that something happened that made the first movie special and, most likely, it would never happen again.  Then, out of pretty much nowhere, came Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Almost as quickly as we heard about it any hope of seeing it for awhile was gone.  The pandemic set in and Ghostbusters: Afterlife was among the films that were held back for when theaters reopened rather than going to streaming.  Happily it was already finished before everything hit.  I'm sure one of the problems Stranger Things is going to face is that Finn Wolfhard, who plays one of Egon Spengler's grandchildren in the movie, is a year away from being old enough to drink.  At least Jason Reitman and crew got him while he can still pull off playing a 15-year-old.  Despite him getting top billing, however, it's McKenna Grace, playing his younger sister Phoebe, that gets most of the attention.  As one can guess, getting the old wisecracking group back together for a new adventure just wasn't going to cut it, so Reitman and cowriter Gil Kenan did the smart thing and went an entirely new direction.

Callie (Carrie Coon) and her children Trevor (Wolfhard) and Phoebe are facing multiple hardships when news comes that her father has died and left everything he had to her.  The everything, though, it is practically nothing.  However, seeing as her family has just been evicted, even an old rundown farmhouse is Summerville, Oklahoma is preferable to living on the streets.  With seemingly nothing to do, Trevor soon gets a job where he can pursue local girl Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), while Phoebe settles into summer school.  

Phoebe soon finds out, however, that her teacher, Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), is a seismologist that has been studying anomalous activity in the region.  She also begins to experience supernatural phenomena which leads her to her grandfather's laboratory, while Trevor finds the Ecto 1 and begins to repair it.  With the help of a friend named nicknamed Podcast (Logan King) and Mr. Grooberson Phoebe makes a number of discoveries that lead to learning who their grandfather was and why he left New York for Summerville.  It seems that Gozer (Olivia Wilde) wasn't finished with its attempts to break through into our realm and, thanks to the Ivo Shandor (J. K. Simmons), might have found another passage.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been accused of overusing nostalgia and, again, I have to say there is no way this can be done without calling back to the original film.  Surprisingly, this doesn't use the goldfish-memory handwaving a lot of movies do; in this universe, the ghost invasion of New York happened, and most people seem to know about it.  Ray, Winston and Peter have all gone on to live their lives as the ghost threat faded, while Egon seemingly went crazy and moved to the middle of nowhere.  It is nice to see much of the original cast - including Annie Potts - back again, but Reitman didn't go the J. J. Abrams route of making them central or just remaking the original with new characters.  Instead, the focus is on the kids and it often feels like a throwback to movies like The Goonies or Stand by Me rather than Ghostbusters.

The ghosts and ghost physics from the original largely remain the same, as does the use of quite a lot of practical effects.  The designs for Zuul and Vinz Klortho remain the same, although modern technology allows them to blend into their surroundings better.  There is an integration with digital effects, largely in some important scenes toward the end, but they aren't the distracting, rubbery type of effects that were used in the 2016 version.  

While there is definitely a good deal of humor in the movie it also wisely decides to take its subject matter much more seriously.  In doing so it also allows for there to be much more depth to the film.  The reason the original worked so well is that there were three comedians that worked well off of each other and a good portion of the movie was improvised.  Once Ernie Hudson, as Winston, joined the team was complete.  Add top-notch special effects for the time and everything just seemed to click into place.  It's part of the reason the second film didn't work as well; the spontaneity wasn't there, and there was too much emphasis on trying to top the first movie.  While the need to stop Gozer permanently is top priority a large part of the movie deals with healing old wounds, be it from family or friends.

As usual there are some flaws.  Ivo Shandor is dealt with rather quickly and, though I found it quite funny, the effect was one of the poorer ones in the film.  Bokeem Woodbine, as Summerville's Sheriff, is also underused.  There is a bit of a ghost invasion of the town, and I understand that there was more of an attempt to focus on the human characters, but a little more mayhem would have been welcome at that point. 

Happily, though, this manages to skate a lot of the problems that reboots and sequels have had in recent years and just give the audience a new movie, with a new feel and new perspective, while being respectful to the old characters.  It's something I wouldn't mind seeing more often.  That doesn't mean I necessarily want to see another Ghostbusters sequel rushed out any time soon.  There is a scene at the end that leaves it open for a sequel, but in all honesty this is the only Ghostbusters sequel or reboot that has worked outside of animation.  Hopefully Jason Reitman will think long and hard before just making this another "universe" franchise. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Time: 124 minutes
Starring: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Celeste O'Connor
Director: Jason Reitman 

 

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