As a moderate fan of Ghostbusters, I have always been open to the idea of seeing the original cast reunite for a third entry. But after many years of the classic “will they or won’t they” routine plus the passing of Harold Ramis, I had accepted the fact that it would never happen and I was okay with that. Then the announcement for this Ghostbusters: Afterlife came along, boasting the return of the original team directed by the son of the original director. I was skeptical but was willing to wait and see.
When the teaser trailer dropped, I was intrigued by the premise they were presenting. After the full trailer, I was intrigued even more. My excitement for the film grew the closer it got, so much so that I decided to forego other plans just to see it. I had heard all the praise and the negative reviews. When I walked out of the theater, I began to understand both sides. This film does a lot of things right, but dropped the ball when it came to something original.
There is a solid foundation that this film is built upon. A family inherits a house and its belongings from a recently deceased family member and soon discovers that said family member was a Ghostbuster. Seems air tight to me. When the plot follows THAT idea, it shines in my opinion. When the film chooses to deliver a heaping scoop of fan service, it doesn’t always land for me.
The story of Phoebe was the strongest element this film has. I’ve seen Mckenna Grace in several different projects and am always impressed with her. She has a long and bright future ahead of her. Here she plays Phoebe as an extremely intelligent outsider who’s trying to discover where she belongs in a family that’s nothing like her. Her journey should have been the main focal point of this film, and for the most part it is. However, the narrative begins to shift its focus as the movie goes along, especially at the end, and she doesn’t feel as important anymore.
Finn Wolfhard is a very capable actor and also has a promising career ahead of him, but his whole purpose in this film is to act in contrast to Phoebe. Sure, he DOES fix Ecto-1 and becomes the wheelman, but what else does he do? The character of Podcast is nothing more than comic relief and Lucky is nothing more than a love interest for Trevor. These are shallow characterizations at best. They add nothing to the story except numbers.
The same could almost be said for Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd. Fortunately, they do have a greater purpose. Rudd, who is always a delight, plays Mr. Grooberson and acts as the tether to the new kids and the events of the original films. He also charms his way into being a love interest for Callie which does feel earned. Callie is a woman who clearly has had her fair share of garbage men, but to see Grooberson take a shine to Phoebe makes an impact on her. Plus they have good chemistry together which is nice.
Now, I wanna talk about the film’s music because I feel it personifies some of the film’s problems for me. Rob Simonsen’s score is a nice blend of original music and cues from Elmer Bernstein’s original score. Using some familiar cues here and there to enhance a scene can make it or break it, depending on how it’s used. In my opinion, subtlety is best because you don’t initially realize how the music is affecting you. One of my favorite uses of such trickery (if you wanna call it that) is in Halloween: 20 Years Later. In one particular scene, John Ottman gently inserts a few bars from the Psycho theme when Janet Leigh is on-screen. It’s not necessarily obvious unless you know the theme quite well, and it’s a nice little nod.
Here the music bounces from an original score to hinging on Bernstein’s. And this wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was merely accenting more of the Gozer material. That’s something we’re familiar with and it has music cues already. Yet the need for nostalgic elements was so overpowering, that it dampened what could have been something even better. Hence, my issue with the movie.
When I heard critics say it was heavy on nostalgia, I was skeptical on how bad it was. But after seeing the film essentially remake half of the first film, I quickly understood. The Gozer plot could have been so much better had it not just rehashed the original plot. Everything leading up to Gozer’s return was intriguing, from Ivor Shandor being responsible for the town down to Egon’s trap to keep Gozer at bay. But once Gozer reappears, nothing is new. Same stakes with recycled jokes. Speaking of Ivor Shandor, he actually shows up physically, played by J.K. Simmons, but feels absolutely wasted. Why even bother putting him in the film to begin with? There had to be more to his role.
I will admit not everything felt shoe-horned in. Subtle nods and references were more welcome to me like the headgear put on Louis Tulley after being possessed by Vince Clortho, the toaster in the kitchen being the dancing toaster from GB2, the Crunch bar Peter gave to Egon, and even Egon’s collection of spores, mold and fungus. But then you have the book stacking in Egon’s home, the entire Keymaster/Gatekeeper storyline rehash, Podcast being covered in marshmallow creme, all the way down to recycled dialogue that doesn’t always fit. When the sheriff said, “who you gonna call?” it felt forced.
While it was nice seeing the original team back together again, their entrance could have been better. To hell with this back and forth with Gozer and having to rehash the “are you a god?” line, which doesn’t work well at all. Just have them come in, proton packs a blazing. We can get to all the chit-chat later. And when I said the original team, I did mean Egon as well. While I don’t believe it was necessary for him to have stuck around as long as he did in a visible ethereal form, the scene where he was assisting Phoebe was a nice touch.
I feel like I’ve done nothing but tear this movie down and I don’t want to sound like I hated it. I didn’t. I honestly wanted a second viewing before this pod to ensure my feelings were valid. There were several solid moments in this flick that worked for me. I just wish there had been more. The chase around Summerville was probably the biggest highlight for me, all because it was attempting something new with things we’ve already seen. Never once had we seen ghostbusting from Ecto-1, nor had we seen a trap on wheels.
This movie worked best for me when it was acting like a continuation and not a remake. Phoebe’s self-discovery was the lynchpin of the story. When she called Ray and he said, “Egon Spengler can rot in hell,” that was a huge shocker. When you learn the truth of what’s happened over the past 30 years, it adds to the mythos in the right way. I truly wish they hadn’t reused Gozer. You can’t tell me it wouldn’t have been much more interesting to have an unknown variable that no one would believe Egon about for a plethora of reasons, thinking he’d gone mad, only to learn it was due to the spirit itself and the torment it put him through? Sounds solid to me.
I would love to see all the new characters again in a sequel, especially Phoebe. I want to see her grow into her grandfather’s role and continue his work. But if this franchise wants to continue, it has to let go of the past and start embracing new ideas. That’s at least some credit I can give the 2016 remake over this one. At least it had an original villain.