Ghostbusters: Afterlife does have its fun moments, charismatic performances, and witty science jokes, but the second half of the film pigs out in nostalgia-inducing references that only hardcore fans are going to get; meanwhile, the rest of the audience is alienated.
I am not the biggest Ghostbusters fan. The first one is pretty entertaining (although it doesn’t age as well as one might imagine), the second one was fine, and its 2016 revival with the SNL quartet was a mess, but it isn’t as bad as a lot of people make it out to be. Nevertheless, the fans complained plenty enough to discard the reboot and start anew. Five years later, Jason Reitman is now in charge of directing the latest installment, and he is technically fit to do so since his dad, Ivan Reitman, directed the previous ones. He has also demonstrated a good eye for comedy in his early work Juno and Up in the Air.
After going broke and getting evicted from their house, Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), move to their grandpa’s broken-down house in Summersville. Earthquakes are happening left and right, as well as some suspicious activity. Soon they discover that their grandpa isn’t who they thought he was; he was one of the original Ghostbusters. So now, Phoebe, Trevor, and Podcast (Logan Kim) must use the Spengler legacy to save the world from an apocalyptic uprising of ghosts, ghouls, and demon dogs.
Reitman said he was giving the film back to the fans and that it was one of his movies inside a Ghostbusters film. He does indeed give the film back to the fans after most of them behave poorly regarding the 2016 revival, but it doesn’t feel like one of his films in the least of aspects. There is a thin line between paying homage to something and simply referencing it with a slight nod. This crosses that line by more than thousands of miles. Let’s start with the first act. It begins quite nicely, and I was hooked to it since it was building up to something that felt “new” for the franchise.
Mckenna Grace (one of the hardest working acting talents in today’s generation) is developing into a solid screen presence, and she fits her character flawlessly. There is also Carrie Coon, whom I love, and Paul Rudd is always likable whatever role he is playing. Of course, there are some cringe-worthy elements, like naming a character Podcast or some jokes that achingly don’t land, but some of the quips do make you laugh. The science jokes are hit or miss, but I do agree with the statement that science is indeed “punk rock.” Nevertheless, they are no Joey Ramone, Johnny Thunders, or H.R.; the scientific essence of the film that was interesting is lost after they start indulging in their nostalgia buffet.
The first half of the second act is still entertaining; Spielbergian adventure and Stranger Things-esque situations elevate some of the needed tension and fizzing fun. The most enjoyable scene in the film is a ghost-hunting car chase sequence that involves a proton pack side-shooter. Unfortunately, it loses its sense of self after that sequence because of the many references appearing in every scene. Suppose you are not a hardcore fan; this begins to get on your nerves. Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t like Avengers: Endgame, in which the more involved you are with the characters, the more you will get out of it. This alienates the audience by a significant margin. If you are not fully engaged yet, then the third act won’t do you any favors. It obliterates your cinematic experience because it just recreates scenes from the other films and adds a final stand that is ridiculous in spots.
There is a saying that the more fun you have making a film or, the more focus you give on delivering fan service, the worse the result will be. Well, this is the case. I admit that a general audience can be entertained with the film in most moments, but it is difficult to stand behind something like this. In many ways, it makes you appreciate what Paul Feig wanted to do with the franchise. Again, the 2016 version isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, and there was a lot of creativity in some of its sequences. Yet the fans were mad because of the all-female quartet and demanded a “change.” I hope that the fans are happy with this one, even though they don’t deserve much at all. Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t seem to have a life of its own, only one that “fans” would bite onto.