Movie Review: 'Ghostbusters Afterlife' Does Nostalgia Right
I am no fan of reboot culture in Hollywood, but, Ghostbusters Afterlife hits the nostalgia sweet spot.
I have, in the past, been the first to call out Hollywood studios for churning out nostalgia like so much microwaved, reheated, dinners, the kinds you forgot in the back of the fridge until its stench was impossible to deny. Coming 2 America is a great example of a bankrupt, desperate cash grab that plays like 3 day old leftovers. Now, I am no less susceptible to nostalgia than you are dear reader, but given that I am subjected to far more of Hollywood’s laziest rehashing than the average movie-goer, I’m in a position to be more judgmental than most.
That’s a long way of saying that, by some miracle, Ghostbusters Afterlife is far more than mere nostalgia. Director Jason Reitman has brought back the feel of Ghostbusters with the kind of fan service that feels like giddy appreciation rather than some long in the tooth, over the hill creatives chasing past glory and that sweet, sweet nostalgia dollar. With delightful new characters and a deep respect for the legend, Ghostbusters Afterlife is a funny and deeply affecting tribute to everything audiences loved about the movie in the 1980s.
Ghostbusters Afterlife centers on the descendants of one Egon Spengler. Egon was once a famous Ghostbuster but after it appeared that the team had run all of the ghosts out of the New York City area, Egon began to act strange. He began warning his friends that what started in New York in 1984 was not over yet and that they needed to be ready. For Egon this meant abandoning New York City, his friends, his business and his family to move to the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma, and wait for the apocalypse to start.
Left in Egon’s wake was his daughter Callie (Carrie Coon), who grew up rather bitter about not having her dad around. Now a grown up herself, Callie is raising two kids on her own when she finds out that her dad has passed away. In his will, Egon left Callie the Oklahoma dirt farm that he’d moved to. Callie, it just so happens, is about to be kicked out of her apartment so she packs up the kids, teenager Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and 12 year old Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and moves to Oklahoma.
Once on the farm, Phoebe is the first to start investigating. What Phoebe finds is that her grandfather had not given up the Ghostbusting business. With his help, as an invisible specter, Phoebe finds Egon’s underground lab, his PKE meter, and a proton pack that Egon helps Phoebe repair. The ghost Egon is a lovely touch, a plot point that feels right at home in Ghostbusters Afterlife which acts as a lovely tribute to the late Harold Ramis. It’s a tricky balancing act between tribute and exploitation but I feel strongly that Reitman nailed it squarely in the tribute camp.
The small Oklahoma town that the Spengler family has moved to has a strange reputation. Despite not being located on a fault line or near any known volcano, the town has been suffering from Earthquakes. This caught the attention of Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), a seismologist who accepted a teaching gig just so he could get close enough to study the seismic activity. Naturally, Gary becomes Phoebe’s summer school teacher and is in just the right place to become Callie’s love interest.
Yes, Ghostbusters Afterlife is filled with perfunctory plot contrivances that do tend to be a little clumsy. Celeste O'Connor plays a character named Lucky whose name I did not know until I read it in researching this review. She's just not well introduced and she functions pretty much as just a pretty girl used to motivate Wolfhard's Trevor to get involved with the plot. Their relationship is the weakest part of Ghostbusters Afterlife but there is plenty more good to outweigh the bad.
What we know and the characters don’t, yet, is that these ‘Earthquakes’ are ghosts and an ancient evil that is about to be unleashed. While that’s gearing up, Phoebe starts becoming a Ghostbuster. With the help of her new friend, Podcast (Logan Kim), Phoebe tries out the proton pack and with the help of Mr Grooberson, they manage to open a ghost trap which, unfortunately escapes and begins to kick off the main plot, the return of some classic Ghostbusters villains, led by Emma Portner as none other than Gozer The Gozerian.
The main reason I enjoyed Ghostbusters Afterlife is the performance of young McKenna Grace. Grace, whose resume boasts a significant number of credits, including playing both a young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya and a young Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel, is a star in the making. Grace delivers a completely charming performance as an awkward yet brilliant pre-teen whose curiosity is only exceeded by her massive intelligence. Grace is so sweet but also proves herself brave and capable in the big moments of the movie. I love that she is in essence living any kids dream, getting to be both a child and a real Ghostbuster.
Ghostbusters Afterlife is an absolute blast that brings the classic story to a whole new generation. While curmudgeons and fanboys will whine about how this is #NotmyGhostbusters, I found director Jason Reitman’s take on the material to be modern and inviting for those not already obsessed with Ghostbusters. Reitman mixes new and old, nostalgia and newness, in wonderfully family friendly fashion. Ghostbusters Afterlife feels like the classic Ghostbusters and when Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and Ernie Hudson show up late in the movie, it feels just right. Murray especially feels right at home while Akroyd and Hudson do well to capture the emotions at play, especially when one more ghostly cameo pops up.
Having seen some truly bizarre vitriol aimed at Ghostbusters Afterlife I had expected the worst. Turns out that most of the complaints appear to be coming from boys who don’t enjoy sharing their toys. In that way, I was strangely reminded of the lovely ending of Toy Story 3 where Andy took his box of toys to a new little kid, passing on the past to the future to continue to be enjoyed. Ghostbusters is a great toy and Ghostbusters Afterlife is a wonderful way to share that toy with a whole new generation.
There are plenty of flaws I could nitpick about the script, editing and so on but there is really no need. I had so much fun with the spectacle and good nature of Ghostbusters Afterlife that the flaws don't stand out enough for me to spend much time on them. I was too busy laughing and being charmed by Ghostbusters Afterlife to be too bothered by plot contrivances and shortcuts. In a less fun movie, like Coming 2 America, for example, I would gripe, but Ghostbusters Afterlife is way too fun for griping.
Ghostbusters Afterlife debuted in theaters nationwide on November 19th, 2021.