The newest addition to the Ghostbusters film franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife reboots the classic kid-centric formula that gained the franchise its cult following in 1984. The new film is directed by Jason Reitman, the son of Ivan Reitman who directed the first two Ghostbusters movies in the 80s, which is a somewhat sweet piece of additional information to note in consideration of the films’ family-centric storylines. However, in an age where rebooting old franchises often comes at the price of extremely harsh criticism from die-hard fans who insist on “not fixing what isn’t broken”, Ghostbusters: Afterlife treads the thin line between offering old fans a trip down nostalgia lane while giving the younger generation an introduction to a fascinating universe. There’s a risk of desecrating the sacred memories that ’80s kids hold dear, and potentially failing to attract younger eyes with this adventurous teenage rendition of a classic comedy-action premise.
The sheer number of references is borderline terrifying
While hilarious and light-hearted for some, the jokes and endless references to the first two movies come off at times as pandering to fan service. Little Easter eggs nodding to Ivan Reitman’s canonised universe are scattered generously throughout the movie, which is a real treat for some fans and total overkill for others: you either love it or you don’t. The endless imagery evocative of the ’80s films honestly feels mostly there to milk the hordes of fans who live for ‘spot the hidden Mickey’-like treasure hunts for Easter eggs, though the ones in this movie are blatantly in-your-face. Despite the homage to the past films in the form of a reinvigorated Ecto-1, mischievous mini Stay-Pufts, and shamelessly inserted catchphrases, the movie seems to be obsessed with filling every single possible opportunity with slick visual allusions using the most recognisable artefacts from the earlier movies, rather than concerning itself with what real purpose these objects serve to the Afterlife plotline—and thus, reducing many of these items to little more than an attempt to please old fans.
The climax of the film wasn’t the main conflict itself—it was a reunion of old men
Afterlife’s true saving grace definitely comes in the form of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson’s reunification on screen as their original ghostbuster characters Peter Venkman, Ray Stanz, and Winston Zeddemore. This is particularly gratifying for longtime followers of the franchise as Murray, Aykroyd, and Hudson’s cameos in the 2016 reboot, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, denied fans their wish to see the well-loved ghostbusting pioneers slip back into their roles by having the actors play entirely different characters. While this makes sense in the light that Answer the Call—which stars Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Melissa McCarthy—played out in a completely new universe, it was disappointing for many to get so close yet so far to a reunion. Hence, it was an experience of its own to hear the theatre fill up with applause and excited cheers when the trio appeared on screen. Hollywood produces few cinematic icons that are able to truly stand the test of time, and it seems that the first Ghostbusters still have relevant roots in present-day pop culture, which is worthy of some commendation.
The other characters are ghostly in comparison to the OG Ghostbusters
With that said, the very brief emergence of the original Ghostbusters has minimal effect on the film’s overall character impact. The meat of Afterlife’s plot revolves around the movie’s female leads: single mother Callie (Carrie Coon), and her genius social outcast daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). The film also stars Finn Wolfhard as Callie’s awkward, lovestruck gearhead son Trevor. The family of three travels across the country to a small Oklahoma town and move into the rundown farmhouse Callie’s father left for her after his sudden death. The kids soon make friends with two local youngsters, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (Logan Kim)—the latter of which of course owns, produces, and stars in his own podcast and must be named after his most defining trait so no one can possibly forget what he does. Paul Rudd makes an appearance in the film as Phoebe’s summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson, albeit he’s not in the movie much, which is unfortunate.
Callie and Phoebe are definitely the more three-dimensional and complex characters of the bunch, with decent performances from Coon and Grace. The other main faces in the movie have less depth, with Podcast and Grooberson doomed to the confines of comedic relief characters who, strangely enough, aren’t all that funny. Regrettably, none of the major characters in this film are particularly likeable despite the fact that there’s nothing really wrong with any of them. Perhaps this is a result of the film feeling extremely plot-driven, making the characters accessories to the storyline. Any applaudable character in a franchise reboot should be able to stand on their own without support from their predecessors.
It’s not too bad—but it’s not too good either
All in all, the movie is full of adorable (and less adorable) little spooky spectres and no shortage of blasts to the past, but it falls a little flat in terms of characters and the overall plot which relies heavily (and dare I say lazily) on elements from the ’80s Ghostbuster films rather than delivering a fully engaging story that has the ability to not only fit into the entire franchise but also isn’t eclipsed by the shadow of its blockbuster ancestors, which is a bit of a shame given the movie’s great cast. There are strong themes of family imbued within the plot, particularly towards the end of the film, so perhaps this would be a wonderful choice for parents who grew up loving the original Ghostbusters movies to watch with their kids. There are moments where Afterlife seems reminiscent of a zombie: slow and uninviting, but if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise and love some deadpan comedy and admittedly decent visuals, then don’t be too quick to ghost this one before you’ve seen it.
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