If the ghosts and ghouls aren’t enough to get you invested in this long-awaited sequel, Ghostbusters: Afterlife ’s unwavering sense of heart and charm certainly will be.
When the news initially broke that we would be getting another Ghostbusters sequel, the response was understandably mixed – these recent ‘legacy sequels’ have become so popular in our current cinematic climate, and it’s clear that they’re not always as meaningful or impactful as they should be, often using such iconic characters and franchises merely as cheap cash grabs. Long-time fans of the franchise questioned whether another entry was really necessary, hoping beyond hope that whatever was to come would not ruin the reputation of such a beloved cult classic. Well, those very same fans can rest easy in the knowledge that Jason Reitman (son of the original’s director Ivan Reitman) has crafted a film that acts not only as a fitting continuation of the Ghostbusters’ narrative, but also as a touching love letter to the original cast and story. The film itself is nothing revolutionary, and doesn’t really offer much outside of its connections to the franchise, but it’s sense of commitment to characters both old and new is enough to at least warrant its existence.
There are plenty of routes that Reitman could have taken with this film, but he thankfully manages to find a story that plays with the history and legacy of these characters, rather than opting for just another mindless reboot. We follow a struggling family led by matriarch Callie (Carrie Coon) as they travel to a small off-the-map town where her recently deceased father had lived, with the hopes of collecting his possessions and promptly returning home. However, what was supposed to be a short trip turns into a whole summer of adventure and mystery as her children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) begin to discover supernatural secrets about their family history with the help of their new teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd). The film relies almost entirely on nostalgia and sentimentality to tell its story, throwing references and callbacks to the original film at almost every opportunity – which makes for a fulfilling and emotional experience for those who grew up with this world, but the film’s impact on those less interested in the history of ghostbusting is undoubtedly going to be much weaker.
Whilst these endless references and self-allusions can often distract from the main narrative of the film, it’s hard to imagine that audiences would connect so strongly without them. It might initially come across as overwhelming, but if Reitman didn’t include this clear connection to the film’s history, it definitely wouldn’t have the same level of emotional impact or sentimental value as it ends up having. It’s a true sequel that is very clearly related to its predecessors, and it values the backstory of its characters both old and new above anything else – and whilst the original Ghostbusters are those that we’re all there to see, the film does a great job of introducing and developing these new characters that we very soon come to love and care about. Mckenna Grace is hilariously relatable as the young Phoebe, and Paul Rudd also proves a valuable addition to the team with his comedic performance as the children’s friend and mentor. Despite the film’s focus on the past, its development and evolution of the characters in the present is just as important.
To put all this refreshing fan service aside, there is one glaring problem that keeps from allowing Ghostbusters: Afterlife to ever reach the heights of those that came before it. The tone of the film is extremely inconsistent, and never really feels as though it’s able to truly find its voice or decide exactly what kind of film it wants to be. There are moments of hilarious comedy – a scene where Rudd’s character is swarmed by an army of living marshmallows comes to mind – but there are also moments of extreme emotion and drama, and the film never really feels as though it blends these tones together confidently enough to form a cohesive structure. A large part of the film focuses on the Ghostbusters’ legacy, deconstructing exactly what it means to move away from the innocence and triviality of youth, and how we come to terms with this. Whilst this is undoubtedly a touching and important message (made even more relevant by director Reitman’s connections to the franchise), it admittedly distracts from the light and goofy frivolousness that made the original film so much fun. Not every iconic film needs to have a deeper ‘legacy’ – sometimes just a lighthearted sequel is more than enough.
All that being said, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is still one of the better things that could have happened to this franchise. Having Reitman in the director’s chair was a perfect choice, as his respect for this world and these characters is evident in every frame, every piece of dialogue, and every moment of nostalgia that runs throughout the film. It might take itself a little too seriously to really match the fun and games of the original, and it may be formally and structurally messy, but it does what it intends to do with confidence and assurance, and that’s more than can be said for a lot of similar franchises today.