2021, PG-13, 124 min. Directed by Jason Reitman. Starring Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 19, 2021
It’s been 37 years since a quartet of New Yorkers saved the Big Apple (and the rest of the world) from Gozer the Gozerian, the Sumerian eater of souls. In the intervening years, the inevitable happened: They disappeared. The Ghostbusters, that is. And so it makes all the sense in the world that the second sequel movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, looks elsewhere than at whatever happened to Stantz, Venkman, Zeddmore, and Spengler.
Not that they’ve disappeared all together. They’ve left debris, in this case Egon’s abandoned daughter, Callie (Coon); and her kids, nerdy Phoebe (Grace) and gangly Trevor (Wolfhard). This is the Spengler family story, but that’s news to Phoebe, who knew nothing of her grandfather even though it’s pretty clear that the science genes skipped a generation. So of course she’s the one who’s going to unearth the family business, even if it’s buried in the wrecked farm in Summerville, Okla., that Egon left her mom, where the local summer school teacher (Paul Rudd, having a blast) is doubling as a seismologist. Because you don’t get earthquakes in Oklahoma. Especially not the kind that whatever dear late Grandpa was investigating, the kind that leads to supernatural action-comedy fun.
At some levels, Jason Reitman is exactly the kind of director who shouldn’t tackle a Ghostbusters movie. His films have dealt with delayed adolescence (Young Adult), being forced to grow up too fast (Juno), the generational divide (Men, Women & Children), and contending with career regret (Up in the Air). Then again, maybe those all make him just the right choice for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, since he’s always approached those topics with a comedic earnestness – a trait he arguably inherited from his father, Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. Bringing in co-writer Gil Kenan to smooth away some of his more satirical edges worked, not least because Kenan has a lot of experience with kid-level weird adventures on Monster House and the underseen but endlessly imaginative City of Ember.
But it’s the family side that means most, because Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a son’s loving and spot-on tribute to his father’s biggest film. It comes from being immersed in the lore, of thinking about the nature of ghosts in this world, of thinking about where mad magician Ivo Shandor got all that selenium for the girders for 550 Central Park West, aka Spook Central. It comes from getting that the original wasn’t afraid to be funny, and heartfelt, and scary, and romantic, and nerdy, all at the same time. It comes from centering on Grace’s Phoebe, who’s not just a teen imitation of the late Harold Ramis’ beloved braniac ’buster, but a dead cert look-alike for his daughter, Violet Ramis Stiel, when she was 12. There’s history here, not Easter eggs.
Is Ghostbusters: Afterlife wish fulfillment? Absolutely. It’s the dream of every kid who grew up making a proton pack out of paper towel rolls and plastic bowls. It’s Reitman writing himself into the legacy that he grew up with, telling his part of the story his father started. And it’s one last chance to say thank you and goodbye to the original team, and most especially to Ramis. There will be some people who think what it’s doing is mawkish or even exploitative, but they should probably level those accusations at the grave-robbing antics of the deeply cynical 2016 remake. What Ghostbusters: Afterlife has, and that lacked, is heart, as well as a deep appreciation for how utterly weird and eclectic the original film was. 1984 was the year of Indiana Jones watching as a man got his heart pulled out before being dropped, screaming and alive, into a lava pit. It was the year that gremlins threw an old lady out of a window. But even by those standards, Ghostbusters was a bizarre film, originally written as a hard-edged horror/sci-fi/comedy but which transformed into a family-friendly smash, and transformed Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis from edgy oddballs into your quirky uncles. Ghostbusters: Afterlife may not change cinema in the way the original did, but it’s a worthy next generation.