Five years after the polarizing and underperforming Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016), director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) helms this direct sequel to the wildly popular and hugely successful original movie from 1984 and its lesser sequel from 1989. Reitman is the son of director Ivan Reitman, who serves as producer on this latest effort to create an ongoing franchise from the Ghostbusters mythology.
Unlike Answer the Call, which only borrowed the title and basic plot threads, Afterlife embraces the source material with open arms. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek and Tron: Legacy, Afterlife introduces a new set of characters who will grab the baton from the original cast of characters and carry the franchise forward. The movie opens on a farm in Oklahoma, where Egon Spengler dies while trying to entrap an off-screen entity. (You may remember that Harold Ramis, the actor who played Egon in the Eighties, died in 2014.) Callie (Carrie Coon), his estranged daughter, is facing eviction from her apartment. With nowhere else to go, she and her children Phoebe (an unbelievably cute Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (a tolerable Finn Wolfhard) head for grandpa’s farm. (The locals affectionately refer to Egon as the “dirt farmer”.)
Not long after arriving, the ghost of Grandpa Egon begins connecting with his granddaughter, hence the “afterlife” subtitle. Phoebe is a fellow science nerd like her grandfather, so they naturally (supernaturally?) have a bond. Her one friend amongst the living is a fellow schoolmate who calls himself “Podcast” (Logan Kim). While Grandpa helps Phoebe repair a proton pack, Trevor brings the Ectomobile back to life. Before long, Phoebe, Trevor and Podcast are cruising through town, blasting away at a ghost they’ve named “muncher”. (I guess “slimer” had a scheduling conflict.) The sequence of the three wreaking havoc on the town are the most fun of the movie, by far.
While the kids get their ghostbusting on, Callie starts dating Gary Grooberson (Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd, in bearded hunk mode), Phoebe’s summer school teacher and seismologist. (I wonder which profession pays less?) Eventually, the younger generation learn that the town where they live has a dark past that ties directly back to the trouble the original Ghostbusters experienced in New York in the Eighties. It’s up to the intrepid youngsters to meet the supernatural forces of evil head on, with a little help from you know who. Yes, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson are on hand. C’mon, did you really think they wouldn’t show up?
Afterlife is two movies: one is a rom-com, where a single mother with two precocious kids meets cute with a decent, handsome single guy and together they become a family. The other is the second sequel to the Ghostbusters movies, with nostalgic ties woven throughout the first movie. Of the two, I liked the rom-com one the most. Reitman handles the character-driven material well. The cast is immensely likeable, led by Carrie Coon’s performance as Callie. I liked how the movie let her retain her sense of humor and pragmatism in a very depressing situation. Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe makes for an adorable child scientist, with her curly bob of hair and round-rimmed glasses. Her scenes with Podcast are charming, built on their mutual nerdiness. Reitman deserves an award for getting a performance from Wolfhard that seems miles beyond his recent grating turns (see: The Turning, It, The Goldfinch). Rudd is Rudd, and the movie could have used more of his charming obliviousness. Coon and Rudd have a lot of easy chemistry, and if I squint hard enough, I can almost see the movie they could have been in together.
I enjoyed most of the Ghostbusters callbacks. Seeing the proton packs and the Ectomobile in action was a bit exciting, and hearing Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score from the original definitely brought on waves of nostalgia. Rebootquels like Afterlife partly exist to provide doses of “fan service”. I don’t have a problem with this approach, so long as it’s done tastefully and fits within the underlying story. (The inclusion of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men is fairly conspicuous, and the one time the movie’s tagline is uttered, it falls completely flat.)
I almost suspect that Reitman had a half-finished script for a rom-com movie on the shelf someplace, and dusted it off and added the Ghostbusters elements to it. The two movies kinda come together, but the experience is like, I dunno, chicken and waffles? Surf and Turf? Ultimately, I found myself charmed by the cast enough that I forgave the bolted together feeling of the story. The third act of the movie gave me overwhelming feelings of déjà vu, and is the weakest part of the movie. The ending does feature a sendoff for Egon that I appreciated, even though it felt strange watching it. I’m hoping that now that the next generation of Ghostbusters has been adequately trained and field-tested, they can move onto something new. Which is really the point of this movie: setting up the next installment.
Afterlife is suitable for the entire family. There’s no gore, even though a minor character winds up getting ripped in half. I think “shit” is exclaimed a couple of times. There’s no nudity on display, the sexiest element being when one character does show up wearing a slinky party dress at one point. (Hint: it’s not Rudd, although it would have been hilarious if that happened.) The movie is a fairly tame one, the rare blockbuster (outside of cartoons) that’s suitable for audience members from five to eighty-five.