Ghostbusters: Afterlife Movie Review: A mediocre reboot that plays it too safe
The film features a horde of cameos from the original cast, and we get a mid and a post-credit scene too, but these are all simply lip-service being paid than odes to the classic
Imagine if you were to walk into your nearest supermarket and just as you were about to pick a pack of marshmallows, they develop hands, legs and a cute face… and begin attacking you! This scene from Ghostbusters: Afterlife best embodies the wackiness that defines this supernatural comedy sub-genre, executed best by the film’s original, almost four decades ago. The massive task of living up to this franchise’s name is a challenge that Ghostbusters II (1989), the gender-switched reboot of 2016, and now, this new reboot/sequel, have tried to replicate, but only to splatter like a blob of slime.
The 2016 fiasco seems disowned, and Afterlife focuses on the family of Dr Egon Spengler (played by the late Harold Ramis in the first two films). Post the incidents in New York, Spengler seems to have left his family to live a reclusive life in a small town called Summerville in Oklahoma. Years later, his daughter, a broke, single mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), hearing the news of her father's demise, comes to take over his property with her two children, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). As the Spenglers ease into living in the new town, they discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and this ends up becoming the problem of the film as well, this over-reliance on the original film.
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd
Directed by Jason Reitman, the son of Ivan Reitman who directed the first two films and is on board the latest one as its producer, Afterlife concentrates more on fan service rather than using the source material as a building block to come up with something novel. And yet, it’s strange that the makers opted to plant this story in a town backdrop given that the first two films are as synonymous with the Big Apple, as casino films are with Las Vegas. This not only lowers the stakes when it comes to CG-powered ghosts rampaging the town, but also brings down the overall scale of the film. The film, like the ghosts that come in it, seems to communicate that we shouldn't expect much, and this happens when you see a kid who does podcasts being named... Podcast.
What works in favour of this film, given the relatable, smaller cast, is how each of them gets fleshed out. We get to know that Phoebe, on whose delicate shoulders the film rests on, is the nerdy kid, akin to her grandfather, meanwhile her brother, Trevor is the awkward teen with a crush. Callie, meanwhile, is a single mother who would give anything in the world for some peace and a cup of wine, and finds solace in the company of Phoebe's teacher, Gary Grooberson (a criminally underutilised Paul Rudd). Unlike the 2016 film, which was a complete reboot because of Bill Murray's refusal to commit to the project and the death of fellow cast member Harold Ramis in 2014, Afterlife carefully picks out segments from the original film and interprets them in a modern world where a gang of paranormal investigation and elimination service providers get resurrected.
The first half of the film is careful in how it balances these aspects. We get to see the dilapidated but working Ectomobile, a ghost in the name of Muncher that is sure to remind fans of Slimer from the first film; the awkward romance between Trevor and Lucky Domingo (Celeste O'Connor); and a beautiful friendship that blooms between Phoebe and the fan-favourite, Podcast (played by Logan Kim). Only when the film steps into the fan-pleasing mode do we get subjected to nostalgic callbacks that add nothing to this predictable story. The film features a horde of cameos from the original cast members, and we get a mid and a post-credit scene too, but all of this is simply lip-service being paid, rather than an ode to the classic.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays it too safe with an unsurprising story, while establishing a new generation of Ghostbusters. This is an origins film, and the sequel has its work cut out if it is to protect this franchise from getting zapped by the Proton Pack and trapped inside the containment unit in which must go all reboots that bring nothing new to the table.