Ghostbusters Afterlife Synopsis: When a single mom (Carrie Coon) and her two kids (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.
Few throwback titles exude the effortless cool of Ghostbusters. Director Ivan Reitman and his quadrant of talented stars, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Harold Ramis, crafted an effortless melding of playful genre sensibilities. From the spooky allure of lurking spectrums to Murray’s satirical reflections on brand cynicism, Ghostbusters still serves as a fitting reminder of what goes right when creative talent is allowed to play in the sandbox.
Where fans of the original see an anomalous blend of sci-fi, horror, and comedy, Hollywood studios view the franchise’s passionate fanbase as another source of blockbuster income. After the unfairly maligned 2016 Ghostbusters reboot (fans never gave the charming comedic rift much of a chance), Sony has tapped Ivan Reitman’s acclaimed son Jason to spearhead the latest reboot, Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
The Juno director approaches the property with sincere respect for its roots. After a fittingly spooky opening, Afterlife starts with scientific wunderkind Phoebe and smart-ass Trevor, two kids moving to their grandfather’s abandoned house. They soon discover that their hermit grandfather was Egon Spangler (the recently deceased Harold Ramis), a member of the iconic Ghostbusters team that saved New York City from a larger-than-life Stay Puft marshmallow.
Reitman’s film finds its spark when allowing the new protagonists to spread their wings. Star Mckenna Grace imbues charisma and star-making presence as Phoebe, spotting the nerdy look and precise intelligence of her elder. It would have been easy for her role to exist as a dollar store version of Ramis’ aloof charm, but the actress exhibits skill beyond her years in creating a character that feels distinctly her own.
Wolfhard makes for a fitting comedic foil as her angsty older brother, while Logan Kim’s affable sincerity makes Phoebe’s best friend Podcast a beloved scene-stealer. Afterlife’s older cast also elevates the proceedings. Few can convey down-on-their-luck goofballs with Paul Rudd’s skilled comedic touch, with the comedic stalwart sharing a breezy rapport with Carrie Coon’s sarcastic presence as Phoebe and Trevor’s mom.
I jived with the patient plotting and breezy simplicity behind screenwriters Reitman and Gil Kenan’s first half. The duo effectively establishes a new face for the ghostbusting brand, using a medley of time-honored coming-of-age tropes to represent a welcomed youthful edge. Unfortunately, the playful, albeit slightly formulaic, universe eventually reduces to the cheap appeals of nostalgia pandering.
Reitman has always been an unappreciated voice in my eyes (The Front Runner and Men, Women, and Children never received proper recognition), but the director’s inexperience in blockbuster cinema shows as the narrative starts to unravel. His skills in methodical character-building assist the first half tremendously. However, it’s a shame Reitman never possesses a strong grip on the chaotic action frames. The director’s competent yet stylistically stagnant visual touches only work to cheaply pay homage to its predecessor, with the director lacking the imaginative eye to build upon the brand’s beloved foundation. Added with a poorly paced finale that rushes to the finish line without proper resonance, Reitman never truly feels in control of the narrative that he’s steering.
Unlike 2016’s Ghostbusters, which spiritedly trod new ground despite some mixed results, Afterlife desperately wants to carry the torch of the 1984 original. Well-earned nostalgic tributes can often warm the hearts of fans and franchise newcomers alike, but Reitman and Kenan struggle to create a meaningful sendoff. Afterlife’s numerous attempts at brand synergy represent unwarranted distractions, with the film’s narrative coming to a screeching halt when introducing needless lore and unsurprising cameos. Without well-earned sentimentality, the nods feel like another tacky reminder of Hollywood’s desperate desire to commercialize the beloved brand.
Afterlife is never joyless and holds some of its own distinct charms. It’s just a shame that Hollywood reboots fail to represent what made their source material so significant in the first place.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is now playing in theaters.
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