Monday, May 30, 2022

Back from the Dead

Film: Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Any time someone messes with a classic, there’s going to be some worry. Look at what happened with the Ghostbusters reboot, for instance. While I thought it was about as good as it could be, all things considered, it never found its own voice and relied far too much on trying to ape the original film. There were worries about Ghostbusters: Afterlife for the same reason, at least for me. How do you add on to one of the greatest genre films in history nearly 30 years afterwards?

That’s not to say that this hasn’t been done before, and done successfully. The 2018 direct sequel of Halloween is a case in point. With Ghostbusters: Afterlife, we are very much looking at the same sort of thing—an iconic film with a reboot that may or may not tarnish the reputation of that original film. There’s no way it could honestly measure up to the first film, but we can hope for it to at least be good, right?

Fortunately, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is smart enough to want to give fans of the original (read: almost literally everyone who has seen it) a lot of touchstones with the classic while still moving the story and the world forward in a significant way. What this means is that we’re going to get a lot of plot points from the original Ghostbusters, cameo appearances from most of the original main cast, but some new mythology to get us there.

We start with Callie (Carrie Coon), a down-on-her-luck mom and her kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). Callie is getting evicted from her place and has also just found out that her father has died, leaving her a broken-down farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. Since the opening scene involves what we presume is one of the original Ghostbusters, it’s not a surprise when elements of the original film show up. And, as it happens, Callie’s father was Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis), who broke away from the original Ghostbusters for reasons unknown.

And so, we get a new generation of Ghostbusters over the course of the film, because, as it turns out, Egon was tracking something that would make the original Ghostbusters problems look like a walk in the park. As Phoebe starts investigating the things around her house, she makes a new friend in psychic phenomena fan Podcast (Logan Kim) while her brother unsuccessfully pursues Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) romantically. A lot of the kids’ initial direction in what is happening around them comes from Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), a local summer school teacher and Callie’s romantic interest.

Things build slowly. The kinds find the Ecto-1, ghost traps, proton packs and more. They slowly uncover the fact that something big and ghostly is brewing under their small town, which, as it turns out, was almost entirely built by Ivo Shandor (J.K. Simmons), the man who built the skyscraper from the first movie. Yes, this means we’re going to be once again fighting Gozer, and there will be appearances from the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster. As I said above, a lot of this is based on giving its audience as much nostalgia as it can.

And yet, it works really well. This really feels like a Ghostbusters movie. It feels like a genuine sequel in the sense that a lot of what is happening feels very familiar (Gozer even shows up in mostly the same form, albeit played by an uncredited Olivia Wilde and voiced by Shohreh Agdashloo). There’s enough connection to the original film that we buy into it pretty easily, but it’s also a clear progression of the story. More importantly, we get a new generation of Ghostbusters—Phoebe, Trevor, Lucky, and Podcast—to fill in the shoes of the original. And it’s a much more representative mix, which works well. Even a lot of the music comes from the first film, as do some of the effects. Clearly, there is a desire to evoke the original as much as possible while still doing something more.

Of course, almost all of the main original cast shows up. Harold Ramis appears after a fashion as essentially a CGI effect (and a deleted scene from the original), but we’ll have a couple of scenes with Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Earnie Hudson, and Annie Potts as well as one at the end with Sigourney Weaver. I would have loved appearances from Rick Moranis and William Atherton just to round out the full cast, though.

I enjoyed this. It’s not nearly as funny as the original Ghostbusters, but it also doesn’t try to be. There’s comedy here, but this is much more serious and a little darker than the original film. It was a smart move to take this in a new direction like this.

Is it as good as the original? No, of course not. How could it be? But it really tries to be its own thing, and it does that pretty well.

Why to watch Ghostbusters: Afterlife: It’s a nice throwback to the original.
Why not to watch: You couldn’t get Rick Moranis just for one scene?


  1. I saw most of it (I plan on doing a full review of it maybe next month) as I enjoyed the hell out of it. Notably as it felt like it was a tribute to the original but also its own thing. Mainly because of the young cast as I thought McKenna Grace really shined in that film. I would've love to have Rick Moranis to at least make a cameo. I know he's been out of the game for a long time but it would've made it special.

    1. Mckenna Grace is really good in this--she's channeling Harold Ramis intentionally in a lot of this, and it works really well. Finn Wolfhard is actually the weakest link of the kids, but a lot of that is his character, who is in many ways the least developed.

      This is very much an homage to the original film, and that's why it works. It's a fun film in its own right, but it really feels like there's a lot of connective tissue here.