Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a fine legacy sequel that may lean a bit too much into blatant fan service and somewhat unoriginally copying and pasting climatic beats from the original film, but that isn’t enough to sink it. The film sort of doesn’t have enough faith in its original characters and instead mostly hangs the emotional apex upon the returning vets in the finale. At least one or two of the new characters turn out to be interesting with the rest just window dressing. But, overall, there’s great FX, amazing one-liners, good spectacle, and some freaky stuff which results in a solid Ghostbusters movie, even if at times it feels a bit reheated.
Callie (Carrie Coon) inherits a dirt farm in Oklahoma from her absentee father, dragging along her kids Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) where they find a broken car and old gear. Phoebe’s teacher, Gary (Paul Rudd) says they have found a Ghost trap, a relic from the real Ghostbusters who saved the world in the 1980s. Soon ghosts start appearing all over the formerly sleepy town so Phoebe, Trevor, along with their new friends Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) pack up the gear and start busting ghosts as Phoebe calls up one of the original Ghostbusters, Ray (Dan Aykroyd) for help. Which they may desperately need because a returning evil ghost may doom all of humanity.
A significant amount of the plot hinges upon the people dismssing the events of the original Ghostbusters, which involved a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attacking New York City. It manages to work as Phoebe and her friend mention it happened 20 years before they were born, and Ray says Ghost events petered out. Also, to pull from Ghostbusters II, after only five years the Ghostbusters were thought of as frauds and has-beens. It seems in the Ghostbusters world nobody wants to remember it happened. A couple of the revelations the movie treats as big shockers aren’t going to shock fans of the series. The reveal that Phoebe’s grandpa was Egon Spengler, an original Ghostbuster, isn’t a “whoa” moment more like “No duh”.
The third act of Afterlife treads closely to being a remake of the original 1984 Ghostbusters with a lot of the same moments repeated. The main baddie in Afterlife is the original big baddie, Gozer. Now there’s only so many ways that Gozer is gonna unleash themselves upon the world and for that to happen there must be certain ritualistic steps along the way. So, it kinda makes sense that iconic bits are going to repeat; there’s going to be terror dogs, a Keymaster, a Gatekeeper and so on. One moment where Coon repeats what Sigourney Weaver did as the Gatekeeper is cool, and she has the crazy panting and “Only Zuul” bit down well. Also, seeing Gozer again in their weird white outfit crawling around is badass. Oddly, the movie doesn’t have Gozer saying “Choose and Perish” and ripping a vision out of someone’s head to destroy them all. There isn’t a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man here either but there are rambunctious tiny versions of Stay Puft. Shandor, a cultist who wants to summon Gozer and was mentioned in the first film, finally arrives in Afterlife and is hilariously, promptly and dismissively disposed of by Gozer.
Two of the most interesting new characters are Phoebe and Gary. Grace plays an incredibly awkward kid and the reveal that she’s Egon’s granddaughter makes sense inasmuch that she looks almost exactly like him. She has a lot of great moments, the best being when she tries to overcome awkward situations by making bad jokes. Gary is interesting if only because he’s played by Paul Rudd and he gets lots of comedic zingers. Coon as the mom is a generic downtrodden mother but she has a good bit with Rudd when they are possessed, and she manages to make the final shot work emotionally. Wolfhard playing the son is a forgettable sullen teen the movie often just cuts back to remind the audience he exists and his even more forgettable is O’Connor as the somewhat love interest. Kim gives an amusing performance as Podcast, a character who isn’t even given a proper name and exists to supply quips. The sheer star power wattage of seeing the original Ghostbusters actors return, even if it is in very limited screentime, blows out any development given to the new folks. Since the finale hinges so much on Gozer’s return, them showing up again feels natural and the lines they throw at Gozer are great, decades later zingers. The film does digital trickery to bring Egon back and the effect is somewhat jarring but works, mostly because he’s entirely silent.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife has some great visual moments, the first time the kids strap on a proton pack and start blasting is great and the film rightfully turns up the horror elements to make the stakes feel real. It’s a love letter to the original that is afraid to stray too far outside of what is required. Still, the end result is a ghost blasting good time with unexpected emotional payoffs.
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd