Thomas Wolfe famously said, You can never go home again, but director Jason Reitman has shown that you can come close by honouring and treasuring the past, while embracing the future. And for this Ghostbusters revival, who else were they going to call?
In an industry filled with cash grabs, mindless sequels and cookie-cutter cut-outs of hit franchises, Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989) remain cult classics, even though the sequel was not as universally loved and embraced by fans, but after the abysmal 2016 reboot of the same name, it was quickly forgiven.
Directed by Ivan Reitman, creator of classics including Kindergarten Cop (1990), Dave (1993) and Junior (1994), and starring young comedians and actors Dan Aykroyd (Ray Stantz), Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler), Bill Murray (Peter Venkman), Ernie Hudson (Winston Zeddemore), Sigourney Weaver (Dana Barrett) and Annie Potts (Janine Melnitz), in a script by Ackroyd and Ramis, Ghostbusters was a box-office and cultural hit, inspiring cartoons, video games, comics and toys.
While there were plans to do a third movie, the reluctance of Murray to appear in sequels, and death of Ramis in 2014, put a hard pause on subsequent attempts, until noted indie filmmaker Jason Retiman, of Juno (2007), Up in the Air (2009), and Young Adult (2011) fame, and son of Ivan, pitched an idea to his father that got the ball rolling.
As a seven-year-old on the production set of the first film almost 40 years ago, it’s telling that only Jason, with his love for the franchise, loyalty to his father, and almost familial ties with the original cast who saw him growing up, could have made Ghostbusters: Afterlife an emotional, heartwarming and action-comedy that retains the spirit of the original, while steering it for a new generation of fans.
Set 37 years after the Manhattan Crossrip of ’84 in the first film, the story follows a young mother, Callie (Carrie Coon) and two children, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who inherit an old farm in Summerville, Oklahoma. The film clearly sets up Trevor and Phoebe to be scions of a ghostbusting family, and the first half has them detest small town American life, even as it slowly reveals how smart Phoebe is when she meets relief teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and scene-stealing classmate Podcast (Logan Kim).
Trevor does his best to manage life in the Midwest, especially after meeting Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Connor), whose small town Sheriff father (Bokeem Woodbine) delivers one of the best lines in the movie, to great applause.
And after they discover the significance of Summerville and its link to Manhattan and the Ghostbusters, the film goes full throttle in its links to original two films, with callbacks, references and dialogue. If you’re a fan who knows to cross the streams, identify as a God and can handle a Ghost Trap, this movie is for you. The trailer actually sets up a lot of the movie, from the discovery of Ecto-1, a Ghost Trap that is opened by Grooberson, and the appearance of new ghosts that haunt the town and inhabitants of Summerville, but to see how it all plays out is a nice ride, like taking a one-time swim in a river of slime.
Are the callbacks excessive, such that it becomes too much of fan service? Do you not watch martial arts movies for elaborate fight scenes, and Star Wars films for lightsaber duels, and James Bond films for spy stuff? This is Ghostbusters and it draws links to the original because the last thing fans want are subtle references that don’t do the original any justice. From the opening sequence where we see a bespectacled man confront a ghost and electricity is in the air, you know that the younger Reitman is referencing Ramis and Spengler in a bittersweet supercharge blaze of glory. There is no need to reinvent Ghost Traps or PKE Meters, or even Proton Packs because these gadgets were ahead of their time then as they are now, and to see them in action again just puts a nice warm feeling in your heart.
While Wolfhard does his best as the scrawny teen trying to fit into his new life, it is Grace who shines as Phoebe, the smart darling who, like the original Ghostbusters, went against stereotype, to define their own future. Her plucky Phoebe, against the comedic Podcast and against the anger of new ghoul Muncher is earnest and courageous, and the sense of discovery she goes through is the same as the audience, namely, What happened to the Ghostbusters, and where are they now?
Reitman does his best to answer both questions, and since audiences know what happened to Ramis/Spengler, he shows Potts on screen, before committing to mentions of the other characters. Should there have been more? If there was, this would not be a legacy film and if there wasn’t, fans would complain so it’s a Catch 22 that the director manages well, especially in the final act against the return of the big bad, Gozer the Gozerian.
And if you know the story, then you realise what roles Callie and Gary play in the grand scheme of this, and while it’s fairly obvious, it does present very little for People’s Sexiest Man of the Year with very little to do because his role in the film is to open the gates.
Without giving away too many spoilers, let’s just say that the film about spirits finds a great way to honour Ramis and his beloved character, who served as the brains of the ghostbusting foursome. It’s a nice way to recognise what the Ghostbusters team have done for movie fans, and there’s one shot that will make you smile, as it’s something audiences never expected to see on screen since 2014.
Once the credits roll, you walk away knowing Reitman has told a very personal story, from seeing the series unfold as a child, through the eyes of Phoebe, seeing event play out as adults, and finally being able to finish a tale his father and friends started, before going into a new direction.
There are several cameos in the movie that audiences should look out for, and this is not even a subtle reference to any of the cast making a return here. We finally get to see Ivo Shandor, the architect of the apartment building that was the center of the Manhattan Crossrip of ’84, as well as an old fire station with what looks like a red containment unit about to…
But that would be telling. Do stay for two post credits scenes that elaborates more, as it hints to a sequel and if the studio does make another, they know who to call.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
After numerous revivals that have disappointed, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters: Afterlife understands what it means to be a legacy film that honours and respects the past, while forging ahead to a new future.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 9/10
Characterisation - 8.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 10/10