When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind. (from IMDB)
It's still kind of hard to believe, even after being delayed for almost a year-and-a-half due to the global pandemic, that a third Ghostbusters film, continuing the story launched in the 1984 original, is finally here. While the story is largely about the legacy of the now-defunct Ghostbuster foursome, the story keeps it in the family--on and off screen, even being co-written and directed by the original director's son, Jason Reitman. Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn't the Ghostbusters III that fans have been waiting 32 years for (seriously... it's been since Ghostbusters II released in 1989 that a third film has been talked about), but it neatly puts a bow on the tale of the original Ghostbusters while paving the way for a new team to possibly take up the mantle. And with that in mind, Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes a page right out of the book of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by revisiting the past in order to forge ahead into the future.
If you've been trying to stay in the dark about the plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, you'll want to skip this paragraph. I won't go too much deeper than the basic plot, but if you don't even want to know that, just jump ahead. Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes place in the present, 30 years after we last saw the guys. In the time that has past, the original four 'Busters -- Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston -- have all moved on to other things. Egon Spengler, however, has been keeping an eye on a remote town in Oklahoma that seems to have a history with the Big Bad from the 1984 film, Gozer, and his obsession with this has apparently caused tensions within his own family and the original GB team. We quickly learn that Egon has an estranged daughter named Callie who has two children of her own -- Phoebe and Trevor, both of whom do not know their grandfather or what his famed profession once was. When Callie finds herself broke and her father having suddenly passed on, she inherits his creepy old farmhouse in Summerville and Callie and the kids are forced to move there. It isn't long before some strange rumblings in the town lead to bigger things, and Callie's Egon-like awkward daughter Phoebe starts to follow in her grandfather's footsteps.
Reitman has gone to great lengths to try to replicate the feel of the first movie -- something absent from its previous sequel, Ghostbusters II -- while trying to create something new. He turned to composer Rob Simonsen to make a score that spawns from the 1984 Elmer Bernstein score, much in the way that John Williams would adapt each of his Star Wars episode scores to utilize similar themes over and over while creating new ones. This is the first time in 37 years that we've gotten a Ghostbusters movie score that really draws from its original roots. As an avid fan of the 1984 fan myself (it's still my favorite movie of all time), it's a big adjustment for me to hear themes always previously associated with Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston now being reused for brand new characters. It's almost shocking. But what's a Star Wars movie without those iconic themes? So I do appreciate Reitman trying to create a cinematic consistency where these themes represent the heart of Ghostbusters. (I still would love to see Ghostbusters II with a soundtrack like the 1984 film and Afterlife; I think it'd really change the feel of that movie.)
Where The Force Awakens revisited some beats from A New Hope in almost a remake fashion, Afterlife has this because of it revisiting the Gozer lore. I love the idea of why Egon ended up in Summerville, and I do like the idea of bringing back the iconic villain from the first film. While it might feel a little lazy or cheap to tread familiar ground like that, the writing team makes it make sense and feel natural to this universe -- and of course, it makes for some fantastic moments. It also allows the movie to have some iconic reunions, too, and I think it's a thoughtful way of giving fans some closure to the origins of Ghostbusters without starting from scratch (I still refuse to see that dreadful 2016 reboot which made that mistake), but sets up a future for the franchise. As long as future films might continue to chase the "feel" of what makes Ghostbusters undeniably Ghostbusters, then continuing the story from here would make sense and feel right.
To move this franchise forward, Reitman has centered this new story on a new cast of characters. Leading the way is Phoebe, played by Mckenna Grace (who's also a real-life Christian), who is the 12-year-old Spengler granddaughter. Her mom, Callie, is played by Carrie Coon, who has a little bit of a Dana Barrett/Sigourney Weaver vibe. Callie's son, Trevor, is played by Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard, who coincidentally dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween in the second season of the show. Celeste O'Connor is Summerville resident, and love interest to Trevor, Lucky, who was my least favorite addition to the cast (she's just way too cocky and smug for my taste). Logan Kim then rounds out the cast as a kid who just goes by the name of "Podcast" and sort of fills the role of the new Ray Stantz of the group. He's nerdy and a little goofy, but he seems like he's got a good heart. But, admittedly, my favorite addition to the cast is comedic actor Paul Rudd who brings a whole lot of heart and humor to the proceedings. If you liked him in Ant-Man, you'll love him as the kids' summer school teacher, Gary Grooberson. He pretty much fills the role of both Bill Murray's Peter Venkman and Rick Moranis' Louis Tully and he does a great job doing so. I loved seeing him in this (and I'd love to see him return in future movies if possible). I do miss the camaraderie that the original four guys had and brought to the screen, but this is a different kind of origin story, and that void is kind of filled in pieces as Phoebe and Podcast begin hanging out together, and Trevor and Lucky strike up their friendship. The movie has a tough job of honoring the legacy of the original films and characters, while tickling that nostalgia bone and making way for a new generation. But I'm not quite sure they could have done it better.
My gripes, after the first viewing (keep in mind, I've seen the 1984 original MANY times over the past 37 years) are few, but I did have some. I was definitely expecting there to be less language in the movie, not "about the same" as the original films. The use of profanity is infrequent, but there are a 5 uses of the "S" word and even "*ssh*le" used once (most of it is spoken by Wolfhard or Carrie Coon), and several uses of "h*ll" and one of "d*mmit." The only blasphemy are a couple uses of "Oh my G-d" as exclamations. There's also a really fleeting but shockingly violent moment where a ghost tears a person in half vertically. It's done very unexpectedly, quickly, and not too gruesomely, but it felt really out of place for a movie like this. Other little plot elements also didn't seem to add up, or leave you pondering later and wondering how that could be, but they're still largely forgivable. And like The Force Awakens, it's tough to pick up a familiar story 30+ years later and not leave the audience wondering what all took place in the years since we last saw them. I loved seeing some of my favorite characters once again, but it was bittersweet not having more screen time with them. (But be sure to stay till the VERY END of the credits! There's a mid-credits scene and a longer post-credits scene that is worth staying for!) Lastly, if you felt like Ghostbusters 1984 had some inappropriate sexual humor, you'll also find that Afterlife repeats this problem, too. Lucky teases the 15-year-old Trevor about being a virgin, which obviously isn't anything to be ashamed about, and Podcast teases Phoebe that Rudd's character wants to "bone" her mom. Sure, it's the kind of off-color remarks immature kids make (and wouldn't be out of place in 1985's The Goonies), but there just isn't any need to go there in this film. Lucky, upon hearing a ghost is not specifically a male or a female, comments that that is "pretty woke" for being several thousand years ago. Please. We could do without that tired reference in any pop culture craze movies.
So the content for Ghostbusters: Afterlife is definitely PG-13. It's got some of the creepy/spooky moments like the original movie had, with some new takes on them, but it's hardly a horror movie (especially by today's standards). In addition to the above-mentioned sexual or suggestive references, it's heavily implied that two possessed characters (a man and a woman) have slept with each other off screen. It's handled pretty delicately, though. There isn't really much by way of blood in the movie - just some scratches and such - but the aforementioned unexpected moment where a man is torn in half by a ghost is pretty surprising and sudden. Otherwise, the only other content to be wary of is the spooky scenes involving unseen ghosts or creatures, with some iffy spiritual content involving talk about one evil ghost being a "god" or "deity." However, in the end, even that ghost's foremost worshipper is horrifically dismissed by this evil deity, which only cements this "small 'g'" god as a force of evil to be stopped -- which is just what the Ghostbusters are for.
While fans will never ever see the Ghostbusters III they have hoped for since the early 90's, Jason Reitman's Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an enjoyable revitalization of a franchise beloved by many. It's hardly a perfect sequel, but it rights the wrongs made by the gimmicky 2016 reboot and goes out of its way to honor the source material while making room for new stories to be told. If you loved the first two movies from the 80's, chances are Ghostbusters: Afterlife is just what you've been waiting for. I caught my second viewing while working on this review and I found myself really enjoying my second run more than the first... and I look forward to seeing where Reitman & Co. might take this franchise in the future. --- Don't forget! If you do choose to see this movie, DO NOT miss the mid-credits and post-credits scenes!
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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