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Ghostbusters: Afterlife Review – Moving Forward, Looking Back

What a long, strange trip it’s been to get a sequel to the iconic Ghostbusters franchise. After Ghostbusters 2 hit theaters in 1989 and was met with a less than favorable critical response, the franchise fell dormant. Every now and then talk of a third movie would pop up, but nothing would materialize. In 2009, we got the very good Ghostbusters video game and in 2016 the franchise was rebooted with a female team of busters. Yet, still there was no proper sequel to the franchise. Those days are over. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is finally coming to theaters and while it may not be the Ghostbusters movie you’ve been waiting for, it’s most definitely the one that’s needed.

The whole purpose of Afterlife, co-written and directed by Jason Reitman, son of original series director Ivan Reitman, is seemingly to hand the very concept of Ghostbusters over to the next generation, for them to make with it what they will. It introduces a group of kids in the tiny town of Summerville, Oklahoma, a place that just so happens to have a connection to Egon Spengler, one of the original Ghostbusters. Two of those kids–Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard)–have just arrived in the town and also happen to be the estranged grandchildren of Spengler, although they know nothing about his past.

Over the course of the movie, they learn about their grandfather, the Ghostbusters, and how iconic they were in the 1980s. To some watching, this might seem downright impossible. If ghosts exist and there was a team hunting them in the early-’80s that was met with great acclaim for doing so, how could teenagers in 2021 not know about it? Honestly, though, given that we are decades removed from such events, it doesn’t seem too ridiculous. After all, shortly after the events of the first Ghostbusters film, Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) were failing birthday entertainers, trying to cash in on their so-called fame. Is it really hard to believe that they’ve all but been forgotten over 30 years later?

What that clean slate does, though, is allow the audience to watch these kids discover the world of ghostbusting, from interactions with spirits to getting their hands on some iconic equipment fans of the series will love–PKE meters, proton packs, traps, the Ecto-1, the little touches fans love are all present and accounted for in Afterlife. In that way, this movie reintroduces all of the concepts of Ghostbusters for a generation that didn’t grow up idolizing the original films.

That’s what makes this movie so special. It’s not hard to imagine kids watching this movie and being amazed seeing people their own age becoming ghostbusters, saving the world from spirits that look to overtake it. And thankfully, the young cast does well in their roles. In addition to the aforementioned Grace and Wolfhard, Celeste O’Connor stars as local girl Lucky, while Logan Kim appears as Podcast, a classmate of Phoebe’s who–you guessed it–hosts a podcast. Kim, in particular, stands out as a comedic foil to the straight-laced Phoebe.

Something else the film does well is strike a balance between action, family-friendly levels of horror, and a comedic tone that doesn’t overpower the story. There are some decent scares in the movie, but nothing that should be too overwhelming for younger audiences. And while the other Ghostbusters films are undoubtedly in the comedy/horror genre, Afterlife is a sort of adventure movie more akin to The Goonies than anything else. It’s about the journey these kids go on as they figure out how to be Ghostbusters in order to save their town, and the world. And that’s when Afterlife is at its strongest.

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The weak points, strangely enough, come from the movie’s unending devotion to the original films. Whether it’s a The Force Awakens level of homaging to the first Ghostbusters film, or the sometimes ham-fisted way this new movie tries to shoehorn in cast members from the franchise, there are parts of the film that feel forced in simply to appease a generation that grew up obsessively watching Ghostbusters movies. It’s because of this tie to the past that Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd are essentially lost in the film, even though it is easy to see Afterlife could have stood on its own legs without all of the references, Easter eggs, and nods to the past.

While it’s hard to argue how exciting it is to see the characters we love pop up, it never feels like an organic piece of the story. The one nod to the past that does work in the film, however, is all of the musical references to the original film’s score by Elmer Bernstein. That music still strikes the right tone between spooky and exciting that you want in a Ghostbusters movie.

Hopefully, any future films will focus on new stories, this group of young Ghostbusters, and a new army of ghosts–along with plenty more screen time for the glowing blue, eternally hungry spirit Muncher, this movie’s version of Slimer. If Ghostbusters is to continue on, it’s time for the new generation to take over and start weaving their own path.

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