Ghostbusters Afterlife is what fans have been waiting for since rumors of a Ghostbusters 3 ping-ponged around media in the late 90’s. While a classic comedy like Ivan Reitman’s 1984 original is difficult or maybe even impossible to top, there’s an argument here for Afterlife being a better picture from a pure filmmaking standpoint. It’s also preoccupied, for better and for worse, with paying homage and honor to the late, great Harold Ramis.
Whereas Ivan was curiously a point-and-shoot comedic filmmaker, son Jason has been an artful indie and studio mainstay since his debut Thank You For Smoking in 2000. Afterlife exhibits the fingerprints of a director who’s putting more thought and feeling into every frame and funny moment, certainly more than Paul Feig did in 2016 when he rebooted the franchise to mixed results. The first two pictures released at a time when lore and world-building weren’t necessarily on every studio and filmmaker’s to-do list when tackling science fiction, horror, or fantasy. In 2021, it’s a necessity, and Reitman imbues Afterlife with the sort of atmosphere, patience, and sense of awe befitting a big movie about ghosts and the men, women, and children who believe in them and live to bust ’em. The movie is downright Spielbergian, from its rural setting, adventurous score, and camera dollies to its delightful story about young, bright children forming a veritable Scooby-Doo posse to learn the truth about things that go bump in the night, not to mention a certain mysterious, deceased grandfather who left heroine Phoebe (McKenna Grace), her brother (Finn Wolfhard), and her mother (Carrie Coon) a decrepit farm house in Oklahoma. “Everything old is new again,” and Afterlife is particularly adept at introducing classic elements and images for a new generation. The best moments buoy our collective imagination by reintroducing in a new light the Ecto-1, proton packs, and every gizmo and gadget fans know and love. Reitman doesn’t rest on history’s laurels, however, as he gives us a fresh-faced cast built for the future as well as twists on old tricks, such as a pudgy blue ghost that gobbles up metal, dubbed “Muncher” by our budding Ghostbusters.
Grace has been steadily amassing a pretty impressive resume for such a young actress, but this lead role might be her coming-out party as a legitimate talent beyond child stardom. Her Phoebe is a highly intelligent, precocious wunderkind and a relatable nerd all rolled into one tiny package, and watching her grow from a socially inept bookworm into a certified action heroine is a joy. When mother Coon witnesses her eject a gunner seat from the Ecto-1 vehicle, fire a proton stream at a giant demonic dog chasing them, then retract back inside like a badass, we’re joining her in amazement. Paul Rudd is typically wry and very funny as a school teacher who also happens to be a seismologist studying the phenomenon of local earthquakes emanating from a mountain in the desert. And as an aspiring podcaster and fan of conspiracies and the occult, young Logan Kim provides an amusing partner-in-crime for Phoebe as she gets up to no good around town. Tracy Letts, Bokeem Woodbine, and Celeste O’Connor round out the cast of small town personalities, with Annie Potts popping in early on to give us a taste of things to come. Reitman and writer Gil Kenan do succumb to nostalgia porn in the final stanza, with inevitable cameos appearing inorganically and CGI being utilized to revive old faces. The latter is tasteful if overused, but more intriguing is a surprise cameo as a familiar if unexpected villain. This character’s a step or two above previous iterations, combining makeup, prosthetics, and VFX to create a wonderfully textured, quite scary-looking costume of the Gods. Even if the ending doesn’t land by virtue of shoehorning, the picture has accumulated enough poignancy by that point that Afterlife can safely be called an emotional triumph. Trafficking in parent-child bonds and family legacies, it’ll be easy for most of us who recall the original films to tear up at the passage of time.
Jason Reitman continues his mostly sterling track record and delivers on what fans want: a nostalgic, lore-filled blockbuster that not only honors the past but prepares this franchise for the future. Between a splendid cast, Spielbergian pathos, and many surprises, Ghostbusters Afterlife elevates the series to differing heights and promises a new reputation going forward. This is no longer a franchise of cynical comedy and satire, but instead of science-fiction, adventure, and so-called “feels.”
P.S. stay for two post-credit scenes that are worth the wait.