A single mother and her two children forced by financial difficulties to move into a small town discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters in Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
The Ghostbusters franchise is a really strange beast. Outside of cartoon spin-offs and video games it consists of two films and an unfairly attacked reboot. The original film has cultivated a cult status where it is seen as an untouchable classic that can’t possibly be equalled. There is definitely truth to that as the original film has an undeniable charm fuelled by the talents of the actors involved but on a conceptual level it’s very simple. Ghostbusters is a comedy about exorcism as pest control with the characters going into business as paranormal exterminators. It works because the supernatural elements are contrasted with blue collar mundanity running up against politics. Part of the appeal is that the work they were doing was treated as wholly unremarkable.
Fast forward to the present day and it enjoys this cult status where the events of that film are revered as if it were an epic about the growth of heroes. That is ultimately what makes Ghostbusters: Afterlife fall down in some ways as the reverence to the original misses the point of what it was getting at.
This film centres on Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two children; Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). They are a down on their luck family forced to move to the middle of nowhere as they are out of money and options. Callie’s father recently died and left them everything he owned which includes a run down farmhouse in dire need of some TLC. The early part of the film shows how this is a less than ideal situation for them while also being their only chance at having some sort of life. Notably the town is very much stuck in the past with very little life to it, an old fashioned diner functioning as the closest thing to a social hub, a school that still uses VHS as learning aids and various other indications that it’s a place that has been largely untouched by the passage of time. It also contains a collection of terminally bored teenagers with absolutely nothing to do.
The town is more remarkable than its outward appearance would suggest with apocalyptic potential existing beneath the surface. As the plot progresses, Phoebe learns that her now deceased grandfather was one of the original Ghostbusters and works to get his tech working to combat this emerging threat. McKenna Grace really stands out as Phoebe. Comparisons can be drawn between her and Egon from the original as she’s intelligent to the point of brilliance, socially and emotionally distant as well as having a particular sense of humour. The latter is largely shown by her telling intentionally terrible jokes. Phoebe is very much the lead and carries the film well with the audience growing to understand the plot as she learns about it.
Other young character fare less well. Podcast (Logan Kim) is fairly one note though his friendship with Phoebe is charming enough and Trevor is very generic to the point that there is almost nothing that stands out about him. It isn’t his story but he is very much pushed to the side until the plot needs him. As a group inheriting the mantle of Ghostbusters they work well enough thanks to Phoebe taking the lead but on an individual basis there’s little to hold the attention.
They are supported by Callie who doesn’t have a massive role to play but works well when she’s on screen. Carrie Coon successfully creates a sympathetic character trying to make a go of an awful situation. Callie’s connection to her children comes across clearly and her inability to relate to Phoebe due to her unconventional personality makes for some strong scenes between them. Paul Rudd’s Gary Grooberson doesn’t stretch his acting ability in any way but he’s a strong presence in the way that Paul Rudd always is.
The plot itself takes a long time to get going which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the pacing really suffers with a very slow second act leading to a badly rushed third. Too much of the film is taken up by paying tribute to the original whether that be through visual winks and nods or dialogue that equates those events with a myth of epic proportions. It’s distracting because it gets in the way of establishing the new characters on their own terms and making this story truly theirs. Instead of blazing a new unique trail they’re picking up where their predecessors left off. It’s unfortunate because when the film focuses on what makes this setup fresh and unique it does so very well but it gets constantly dragged down by referring back.
This significantly impacts on characterisation. The majority of Gary Grooberson’s contribution is him explaining to the kids what a Ghostbuster is and why that’s great. This positions him as the surrogate to fans of the original but there’s very little opportunity for the character to be any more than that with only some attempt to flesh him out beyond that. Callie’s estranged relationship with her deceased father also fades into the background in favour of telling the audience how great Ghostbusters was and why it’s important to honour that legacy. Generally this film makes me wonder if Ghostbusters actually has a future as a cinematic franchise as there is so much focus on the past that there is very little suggestion of what it could become. It’s a very limiting approach that stops this from truly coming into its own.
Added to the problems is the lack of comedy. Ghostbusters is famously a very funny film with plenty of quotable lines but this entry takes itself far too seriously. The heavily stylised ghost visuals and over the top outlandish plot massively contrast with the self serious storytelling. It isn’t bereft of comedy with a few amusing lines and moments but there’s very little of it. This stands out because the entire setup almost demands that there be a more jovial tone to the narrative. There is at least an edginess to the young characters when humour is attempted that makes them feel more real.
In terms of spectacle Ghostbusters: Afterlife has a lot going for it. The visuals are in step with the original film while being impressively updated to modern standards, a Ghostbusting sequence riffs on a famous one from the original while still being uniquely exciting and the third act visual effects extravaganza is very watchable. The set pieces feel deliberate and never overpower the film which makes them stand out even more. If the film had leaned more into how things can move forward to showcase the versatility of the concept then the end result might have been more positive.
A disappointing revival that is far too stuck in the past and takes itself far too seriously preventing it from forging a path to the future. One of the promising things the film had going for it was the new characters. When not being told how great Ghostbusters is and why it’s important to honour the legacy there are nuggets of potential in the characterisation. Phoebe carries the film well with a lot of compelling traits that give her a great deal of personality. The other young characters function well enough in a group setting without ever really coming into their own. Paul Rudd doesn’t stretch himself as an actor but his character is watchable though his function is largely to represent fans of the original and explain the concept of Ghostbusters to the inheritors of the mantle. It limits him as a character and the focus on reverence to the original diminishes Callie’s role significantly. Too much time is spent referring back to the original with limited focus on a viable future for the concept. The lack of comedy also stands out when put alongside the stylised visuals and over the top plot. The film does deliver on spectacle with set pieces being rare meaning they stand out more and being creative when they appear. If the film had leaned more into how things can move forward to showcase the versatility of the concept then the end result might have been more positive.
- Phoebe as an engaging leading character
- hints of potential throughout
- creative and impactful set pieces
- inconsistent pacing
- too much reverence to the original film with very little showcase of how the concept can move forward
- characterisation that suffers due to them being functions of the plot
- a jarring lack of comedy contrasting with stylised visuals and an over the top plot
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.