Ghostbusters: Afterlife – movie review

The term “fan service” is getting a lot of play right now. The idea is that filmmakers and movie studios owe it to “core” fans to give them what they want. In politics, they call it “playing to the base”. Of course, in this age of social media, just who are the “core” fans often boils down to who’s yelling the loudest on Twitter (not a great metric). We’ve see it with Marvel films, but nowhere is fan fury more evident than in Ghostbusters. You might recall that a few years ago, a cabal of whiny man-babies set out to destroy the perfectly serviceable all-female Ghostbusters (2016)* sight-unseen. Well, now those whingers can feel vindicated because Ghostbusters: Afterlife gives them the fan service they’ve been craving. Coincidentally, it’s also pretty good.

Jason Reitman (Tully) takes the directorial reins here. I’m sure it’s no accident he’s the son of the original Ghostbusters (1984) director Ivan Reitman, who serves as a producer. I’m also sure it’s no coincidence that Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis also get screenwriting credits here. To use an idiom, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree here. Reitman (Jr) has crafted an agreeable sci-fi comedy that in many ways, mirrors the original. So while it feels comfortable, there’s little new or innovative about this re-boot.

Callie (Carrie Coon) is a single mum to sullen teen Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and precocious Phoebe (McKenna Grace). Money troubles mean the family are facing eviction from their city apartment. But then Callie learns her father Egon Spengler – yep, that Egon Spengler from the 1984 movie – has passed away. Callie packs up the kids and quits the city for Spengler’s “dirt farm” in rural Oklahoma. They find a dilapidated house crammed with all sorts of strange electronics and paraphernalia. Callie enrolls the kids in summer school in the nearby town of Summerville, and meets the goofy but charming summer school teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). Phoebe makes a friend in the equally goofy Podcast (Logan Kim), while Trevor tries to use his questionable charm on Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), one of the town’s “cool kids”.

But strange things are afoot. First off, the town is experiencing regular earthquakes, even though it’s nowhere near any fault lines. Phoebe discovers one of Spengler’s devices (a PEK tracker for those playing at home) and finds it’s detecting some strange activity. And what’s with the spooky mountain just outside town?

Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan (A Boy Called Christmas) do a good job of building up both the characters and the suspense in the first two-thirds of the film. They deliver a ton of “fan service” in the way of callbacks to the 1984 film. But bizarrely, despite every Ghostbusters property over the years being acknowledged on the official website, the movie itself seems to forget everything that happened between 1984 and now (so no callbacks to any other film in the franchise). Is this mere pandering to that noisy segment of fans?

Reitman and Kenan unfortunately lose control of the narrative in the final third. The CGI-heavy climax is as garish as it is predictable. And to make matters worse, the film doesn’t even obey its own rules.

The real coup of Ghostbusters: Afterlife was casting the fabulous McKenna Grace (I, Tonya) as Phoebe. She imbues the character with a winning mix of pluck and goofiness that feels completely in keeping with the film’s vibe. Finn Wolfhard (The Goldfinch) tries hard but seemed a little insipid as Trevor. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp) goes for his now-patented Paul-Rudd-charm as Grooberson and it mostly works. And the wildly underrated Carrie Coon (The Nest) is excellent as Callie.

While Ghostbusters: Afterlife certainly romps along, it could never hope to match the cultural cachet of the original. I’m not sure this really adds anything to the Ghostbusters canon, but it’s entertaining in the moment.

*Now apparently re-named as Ghostbusters: Answer the Call

David Edwards

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