Ghostbusters Afterlife Review: Busting Makes Me Feel Good

The original Ghostbusters has a magic to it that can never be replicated or reproduced ever again. Not even Ghostbusters 2 could capture what made the original what it was. Ghostbusters Afterlife makes the smart choice to not try to copy that magic. It doesn’t want to be the original Ghostbusters and it’s all the better for it. Instead, it tries to be its own thing while still being decidedly Ghostbusters and it succeeds.

No movie exists in a bubble and while I like to judge a film based on its own merits, it’s hard to ignore the specter hanging over Ghostbusters Afterlife. The specter of film so beloved that no follow-up could ever hope to match and the specter of one previously failed attempt to revitalize the franchise for the modern day. I think Ghostbusters Afterlife deftly dodges both of those specters because it isn’t trying to do what the original Ghostbusters did. The 2016 Ghostbusters movie, is nowhere near as bad as its reputation claims it is, but it’s still not very good, and its major failure was trying to do what the original did without understanding what made the original work. The magic of the original Ghostbusters comes from the performers understanding and playing their characters to perfection so no matter how loose it might seem and no matter how much was improvised, every single character is distinct. The 2016 reboot failed because it attempted to replicate the looseness and the improv without the character work. Everyone in that film quips and riffs no matter how out of character those quips and riffs might be. Afterlife avoids this because unlike the 2016 film, it knows better than to try and copy that formula.

Yes, Ghostbusters Afterlife is funny but it’s funny in a different way. This is not a film where comedy geniuses at the top of their game play off each other and their character dynamics and it’s all the better for it. No movie can ever capture what makes the original so incredible so Afterlife doesn’t even try, it tries to be something that stands on its own while also being very distinctly Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters played to the strength of both its cast as well as its director Ivan Reitman and Afterlife plays to the strength of its cast and its director Jason Reitman. Jason has always been great at making relatable, intimate indie comedy-dramas and those skills are put to great work here. This is all the horror comedy of Ghostbusters mixed with heart and soul of an Amblin film. It’s Ghostbusters by way of the Goonies.

I always base my critique of a film on what it actually is and not what I wish it to be but I will say that if you go in to Ghostbusters Afterlife expecting a full blown comedy on par with the original then you’ll probably leave disappointed. If you go in expecting a different take on the franchise that doesn’t lose its Ghostbuster-ness then you’ll enjoy yourself.

Ghostbusters Afterlife focuses on family. It’s about accepting who you are and where you come from. The family in question is made up of Phoebe played by Mckenna Grace, Trevor played by Finn Wolfhard and their mom Callie played by Carrie Coon. They’re all great but the standout is Grace as Phoebe. She is the protagonist as well as the heart and soul of the film. Phoebe is 12 but she’s a brilliant scientist and smarter than basically everyone around her. She can’t make friends and the only way she knows to initiate conversations is with terrible jokes. Upon discovering that her grandfather was a Ghostbuster, she finally discovers purpose. She plays the role incredibly well providing equal laughs and touching character moments. Finn plays Trevor exactly the way he was hired to do, as Finn Wolfhard, he isn’t that distinct of a character but he’s a charismatic presence and plays off the other young actors in the cast well.

Other standouts include Logan Kim as a kid Phoebe befriends named Podcast. He calls himself that because he hosts a podcast on supernatural mysteries and he’s by far the funniest character in the film which is no small feat considering he shares the screen with 2021 Sexiest Man Alive and everyone’s best friend Paul Rudd. Speaking of Rudd, he’s as reliable in this as he is in everything, able to get a laugh just as easily from a facial expression as he is from a well delivered line. This movie is just more evidence that he is the most likeable and charming person on the planet.

Now it wouldn’t be a Ghostbusters film without any Ghostbusting and while not that many ghosts end up in ghost traps in Afterlife, the actual busting sequences are incredible. The act of firing up a proton pack and wrangling a class 5 apparition into a ghost trap is handled with the reverence that we had when we imagined we were Ghostbusters. It’s thrilling. The characters know it and the film knows it. The effects in particular are brilliant. They have the lifelike sheen of modern CGI but there’s a life to them that calls back to the practical effects of the original.

Speaking of call backs to the original, this film is full of them. There are references and easter eggs littered through Afterlife waiting to me spotted by eagle eyed fans. Some are more overt than others but most are subtle. Filling a movie with fan service is a tricky thing to do properly because it risks taking over the film completely or turning the whole thing into a hollow exercise in wringing nostalgia. Afterlife succeeds. You can take every single reference, every wink, every nod, you can take them all out of the film and it would still function as a film. The story would not change, the characters would not change, the film would not change. They are there to honor what came before and get a pop out of the fans but this is its own film first and foremost. You could watch this without ever having seen the original and it still works.

The best thing Afterlife takes from the original film is much of the score. Yes the Ghostbusters theme is classic but the original two films don’t get enough credit for their original score which is filled with wonderful tracks that beautiful capture both the comedic, whimsical tone as well as the horror aspect. Many of those tracks have been updated and reworked for Afterlife and hearing them is an absolute treat and enhances both the inquisitive nature of the characters and their unfolding of their Ghostbusting legacy.

This is a film that knows what it is and it knows what it’s not. It is not an attempt to replicate the original Ghostbusters. It is an attempt to honor that original while still being its own independent story. It’s a story about family, about legacy, about trusting in who you are and about busting some ghosts. There was heart to original Ghostbusters. It focused on a group of downtrodden guys who nobody believed in but they followed who they were. Afterlife has that same heart. It manifests it in a different way but it’s there all the same. You believe in these characters and this story because they follow who they are no matter how many people might not believe in them.

It’s not a perfect a film. I do have some problems with the third act. Much of the climax is completely derivative of the original. It’s a shame because the first two acts work so well and strike the perfect balance of being new while honoring what came before. After that, it’s hard to overlook the ending being mostly a Force Awakens style retread but much like that movie it’s also easy to forgive because everything before that is so strong and at the end of the day it does still work on its own as part of the story the film is telling. It would have been nice for them to get a little more creative and original with it but in the context of a story all about legacy, it mostly still works.

I also felt the ending was too abrupt. In an era where most movies don’t know when to end, I appreciate a film knowing that its story is over and not to go on anymore but I do think Afterlife could have benefited from one more scene or two just to offer some sort of denouement. The ending as is does work, and features a touching tribute to Harold Ramis but the story itself could have used a proper epilogue that wasn’t relegated to the post-credits. Yes there are two post-credit scenes, one in the middle and one at the very end. The one at the very end would have been better served at the very end of the movie as it wraps things up nicely and sets-up the future of the franchise should there be one.

Despite those third act problems, Afterlife is a triumph. The original Ghostbusters had a magic to it, a magic that Afterlife is smart in not trying to chase down. Instead, it does something different and in doing so finds its own magic. Anchored by Mckenna Grace’s incredible performance, Ghostbusters Afterlife is a funny and sometimes even touching film about being who who are and doing what you believe in, no matter how many people doubt you. It’s a film about legacy that also honors the legacy of the original film while being distinctly its own film. It wisely chooses not to try replicating the original and in doing so, it matches that film’s heart.

Rating: Paddington is About to Get Slimed

This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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