After Ghostbusters II, the film franchise has been beleaguered by false starts and a myriad of setbacks that prevented Ghostbusters III from being made, complicated by its studio’s hasty decision to reboot the franchise in 2016 with complete disregard for quality control in terms of that film’s narrative, look, and comedy. So, there was much reason to be cautiously optimistic about Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”, which is a direct continuation of the first two movies, but functions more like a soft reboot in the vein of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” than a true Ghostbusters III.
Taking place over 30 years after Ghostbusters II, the film focuses on the family of Egon Spengler, who has been living alone in the town of Summerville, Okla., for many years, secluded from his fellow Ghostbusters and said family. Egon’s actor, Harold Ramis, passed away in 2014, and the film is dedicated to him, and it feels fitting that his family would take center stage in light of his notable absence from the franchise. As such, Egon meets his end very early in the film fighting a ghost, which kicks off the plot of the film, as his estranged and cash-strapped family inherit his estate.
We learn very early on that Egon has a tenuous relationship with his daughter, Callie (Carrie Coon), and he barely knows his grandchildren, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), who are the real stars of the film. They are 12 and 15 respectively, and a lot of the film us dedicated to then discovering the mythos of the Ghostbusters and the gadgets he left behind, such as a ghost trap, proton pack, and even the Ecto-1, which apparently has been collecting dust in a barn for years.
Phoebe befriends a local kid named Podcast (Logan Kim) and her summer school teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), while Trevor befriends a local girl named Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Connor), who is the daughter of the town’s sheriff, and the four uncover what their grandfather had been up to: Trying to save the world from a familiar threat.
Despite garnering a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than the 2016 reboot — which sits at a ridiculous 74 percent “fresh” score — “Afterlife” far surpasses it. Phoebe and Trevor work well as our leads, and everything leading up to the film’s finale is great, as the two stumble into ghostbusting haphazardly. This is a film about legacy and picking up the literal mantle of the franchise, while also trying to make it your own, and I think Jason Reitman is mostly successful, as his film has a distinct tone from the three previous Ghostbusters films, while still paying homage to what came before it.
There is some fan service in this film that some — particularly hardcore Ghostbuster 1 fans will roll their eyes at. But given that it’s been 32 years since we’ve had a proper Ghostbusters film, it’s well-earned, and I just found it refreshing to see one of these belated sequel/soft reboot films of a classic franchise not belittle its source material or original characters in service of elevating its new ones. What I like the most about this film is that, while it does not try to replicate what the original did (until the third act, that is), and it’s certainly not the dry, cynical comedy Ghostbuster 1 was, it has a profound respect for the first two films.
The film does fall flat a little flat in its third act, as they recycle Gozer (Olivia Wilde) from the first film as the main villain, but I will excuse it because the film makes a good attempt to justify it, and it does tie in thematically with the kids inheriting both the gadgets and the baggage of the original Ghostbusters. But it does hold the film back from being great, and *spoilers*, I could have done with a little less of CGI ghost Harold Ramis.
As a whole, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” breathes fresh life into the Ghostbusters franchise, and while it’s far from a perfect film, it’s still a mostly competent, engaging story that I think deserves a sequel that’s allowed to be a little more weird and original. I can’t help but draw parallels to “The Force Awakens,” and all the potential that film brought to its franchise at the time. It does a great job at introducing Ghostbusters to a new audience, and it has inklings of really great elements and ideas that I think could be fully realized in a follow-up film.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” gets an 8/10