You had to have been there. You have to have been at the Empire Stage during New York Comic Con to see hundreds of Ghostbusters fans geek out when Jason Reitman told them they were going to watch the movie before everyone else. The excitement in the room was palpable and it took nearly everyone by surprise. It had been decades since a Ghostbusters movie was made (apparently the 2016 version doesn’t exist anymore) and fans were starving.
I admit, if it wasn’t for this surprise screening, I probably wasn’t going to see the movie. I enjoy the first movie quite a bit and I have a soft spot for the 2009 video game, but when I think of iconic franchises from the 80s, Ghostbusters doesn’t come to mind. Unlike its contemporaries Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers, Ghostbusters wasn’t recycled every couple of years. The original movies were there and it felt like there shouldn’t be a new version of them unless someone had something interesting to do with the property.
I wouldn’t call what Jason Reitman did interesting. I will say that he felt the pressure of being in the shadow of his father. However, I will say that what he did hit every single beat it needed to in order to be a highly entertaining movie that definitely continues the spirit of the original film.
Director: Jason Reitman/Ivan Reitman
Release Date: November 19, 2021 (Theatrical)
Shortly after the death of Egon Spengler, his estranged family goes to his home in the middle of Oklahoma right between the middle of nowhere and a dirt farm. Things aren’t going so great for them, as Egon’s daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) was evicted from her home, and her two children Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) aren’t exactly thrilled about moving to a place that has more corn than people. Once they arrive though, Phoebe begins to discover several mysteries in town, like random earthquakes, why Ivo Shandor’s name is on every building in town, why her grandfather moved to Oklahoma in the first place, and most importantly, why there are ghosts in town.
It’s those mysteries that really drive the plot forward as Ghostbusters: Afterlife does a surprisingly good job at laying the groundwork for an exciting plot. Answers are doled out at an appropriate pace and new mysteries come up at just the right time. Plus when you begin to piece together what’s actually happening in this small-town, the stakes become real big real fast. This isn’t Knives Out territory mind you, but it’s entertaining enough where you feel like you’re on a journey with Phoebe as she learns more about the town and her grandfather.
And make no mistake, Phoebe is the main character of this film. Grace absolutely rocks it in the role and makes Phoebe into a dorky but very sympathetic girl. Grace’s star as an actress is quickly growing and she is able to deliver deadpan humor that feels exactly like the kind Harold Ramis would deliver. It’s uncanny at times just how well she captures some of his mannerisms. The rest of the cast is mostly okay but doesn’t leave much of an impression. Finn Wolfhard is barely utilized, Carrie Coon feels like an afterthought, the side characters don’t have anything to do, and even Paul Rudd only serves as a romantic love interest for Phoebe’s mom and be a geek about Ghostbusters lore.
And this movie loves to geek out over the original movie. At first, it’s in small doses, like there being a Slimer analog and using archival footage from earlier entries in the series. Moments like those are cute callbacks, especially when some famous lines are recontextualized in a new and cute way, but the movie goes way, way overboard with the fan service by the end. It ultimately becomes distracting how much the movie took what it established on its own and shunts all of that in favor of relying on the franchise’s greatest hits, logic be damned. It gets to a point where the climax seems almost designed to churn up memories from the earlier films, afraid that it would lose the hardcore Ghostbusters fans without them. If there’s too much fan service meant to remind the viewers of how good the original movie is, then why not just watch the original movie?
While I don’t offer this up as an excuse for it, Ghostbusters: Afterlife does at least utilize them in a different manner. Jason and Ivan Reitman put the focus less on a ragtag group of nobodies saving the world and more on a family trying to understand each other. It’s touching to see just how this estranged family who rarely have anything in common grow and bond with one another as the film goes on. Trevor and Callie may not have much to do individually, but their strongest moments are when they have to act opposite anyone with the name Spengler. It’s very fair to say that this version is less of a straight-up comedy but offers up better dramatic moments than any other film in the series.
Ghostbusters served as being an excellent blend of horror, comedy, and action when it came out, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife keeps that alive too for the most part. The horror is very toned down in favor of CG jumpscares, which is a shame, but the jokes thankfully help pick up the slack. Not all of them land, but Phoebe’s dark sense of humor combined with her deadpan delivery are always worth a laugh, and Paul Rudd is still Paul Rudd. The man simply understands comedy. The overall joke ratio isn’t quite as strong as the original, but it gets the job done.
The action is, for the most part, solid. There aren’t too many action scenes, but seeing the cast race around town chasing ghosts in Ecto-1 firing proton beams still gets the blood pumping. The final fight is fairly drawn out, but there are enough crowd-pleasing moments in the climax that it just made me smile. Everyone in the hall was thrilled by what they were watching, but that’s to be expected when you cram hundreds of fans into a room and engineer an environment where they will have a positive reaction. The crowd roared when they saw a proton pack. They went nuts when characters made cameos. And they nearly lost their minds when an iconic moment from the first movie was replicated and arguably was executed better here.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been delayed numerous times, but the wait is actually worth it. I’m not a huge fan of the series, but I couldn’t deny that I was enjoying what I saw. There’s an excellent base and main character for the film to work off of, even if the film stumbles at inserting callbacks the longer it goes on. This feels like a worthy addition to the Ghostbusters world and easily earns the title of being Ghostbusters 3. I’d even say it’s better than Ghostbusters 2, though that’s not exactly a high bar to jump depending on who you ask. Get some friends together, go to the theater, and have some fun.