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Awesome: 14.29%
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Ghostbusters: Afterlife
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by Jay Seaver

"Honestly not even that great as nostalgia."
2 stars

There's a line, somewhere around 1978 or so, where folks on one side experienced the original "Ghostbusters" as a great, kind of crude big-budget comedy with a disappointing sequel in the same vein (maybe the first adult-skewing comedy their parents let them watch); on the other side, people who watched "The Real Ghostbusters" on Saturday mornings, had toys, games, comics, all sorts of stuff that goes with a light adventure franchise, even though most would circle back around to the original movie. "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is a movie very much for the latter audience, and that's fine - they buy more movie tickets, after all - but once the filmmakers went that route, they could have made a much better movie.

This movie opens with a man encountering some sort of spirit in the American heartland, chased from a mine to his farmhouse, apparently passing from the encounter. From there the scene moves to New York, where single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) is telling her landlord that she'll be able to pay her back rent when she settles the estate, but it's apparently too late for that. So it's into the car and off to Oklahoma with son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), only to find it's a dirt farm. As they settle in, with Trevor crushing on Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), a waitress at the local diner, and probably-somewhere-on-the-spectrum Phoebe making friends with fellow nerd "Podcast" (Logan Kim) and science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) at summer school, the town is being shaken by earthquakes and both kids are finding odd junk around the farm. Gary recognizes Ghostbusters tech from when that was a thing back in the 1980s, but who ya gonna call given that the Ghostbusters haven't been a thing since before the kids were born?

It's not necessarily a bad hook for restarting Ghostbusters as a going concern after the recent remake wound up being a dead end for reasons that had relatively little to do with its actual quality, although in using it, filmmaker Jason Reitman (son of original writer/director Ivan) and co-writer Gil Kenan necessarily play things rather more straight than the original movies did. They're not looking to spoof the convention of how the initial film has been all but forgotten despite it being a juicy target that this film is uniquely positioned to skewer, possibly because doing so would undermine the franchise potential by calling attention to the wrong bits of absurdity in the premise. There are jokes, but it's the comedy of a Marvel movie, where the gags smooth the way to the next bit of plot, rather than vice versa. The bits with Phoebe thrown by the fact that Podcast is the weird one and Trevor being a tongue-tied goober around Lucky are cute, and there's some enjoyable CGI mayhem from a bunch of marshmallow-sized Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, but the gags are secondary to the coming-of-age and coping-with-loss storylines Reitman and Kenan are going for.

The trouble with that is, real life has kind of boxed the filmmakers in - even if they avoid saying things like "the Spengler farm" for much of the runtime, Harold Ramis is the death they have to write around, and doing so means extrapolating a whole arc for his character that doesn't quite seem to fit the existing timeline (was he a divorced father before the first movie?) and requires a lot of backfill by way of not-entirely-convincing exposition because flashbacks are out of the question. One could hand-wave that away, but the movie leans harder and more precipitously on callbacks to the original movie as it goes on, crowding out the new ensemble - Kenan & Reitman really have no idea what to do with Lucky despite Celeste O'Connor having the charisma that makes it obvious why Trevor falls for her immediately - and completely missing the chance to build something new. The villains in Ghostbusters weren't entirely unimportant, but none of their details were nearly as important as them being the sort of weird fantasy Dan Aykroyd was into. There could have been something here - ancient gods attempting to return contrasted with kids chafing at a dying town frozen in time - but the filmmakers are just doing "let's see them again".

What's kind of surprising - but maybe not - is that despite making something that is more primarily an adventure story, Jason Reitman doesn't use those characters and images nearly as well as his father did. Ivan Reitman had to work around miniatures and stop-motion, but there was grandeur and horror mixed with absurdity in the way he staged his film's climax that having some of the same things in a medium shot just doesn't deliver, even with some new digital enhancements. Maybe it's a natural result of the son shooting with the knowledge that 99% of the audience will be seeing this on a small screen after a three-week theatrical run and building for that while the father was aiming at months in theaters with home viewing a compromised side hustle; maybe it's in how even "run-down" Summerville, OK is presented as an idealized setting compared to scrappy 1980s New York. Either way, Afterlife doesn't have the juice as a supernatural adventure, even if director of photography Eric Steelberg does get to shoot some beautiful Alberta scenery and Reitman's team does stage a few neat action bits, most notably the kids' first joyride in the Ecto-1.

Those kids are a likable enough group that it would be fun to see what they can do with filmmakers more interested in building around them. Mckenna Grace does pretty well with making Phoebe expressive and understood despite her being described as not being obviously so, and she's a fun pair with Logan Kim, though what either of these two is doing in summer school is left as an exercise for the viewer. Finn Wolfhard and Celeste O'Connor make their half-sketched characters more fun to watch than they might; hopefully they'll have more to do in a potential sequel. Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd are cute together and when playing off Grace.

Like I said at the top, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is going to hit differently depending on what someone associates the very idea of "Ghostbusters" with. Fair enough. Still, if you're going to make it more adventure than comedy, and introduce a group of young characters with potential exploits of their own, that would seem to call for a lot more creativity and forward-looking than this movie manages.

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originally posted: 11/26/21 10:24:21
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User Comments

11/22/21 KingNeutron Phoebe and Egon are arguably the best parts of this movie, legit tears were shed 5 stars
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  19-Nov-2021 (PG-13)



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