“Oh my God this is so much worse than I thought it was going to be”, exclaims one of our young protagonists, Trevor, when he enters his recently deceased grandfather’s abandoned house in the first act of this latest Ghostbusters instalment.
Open-minded though I was, trepidation was the predominant emotion when entering the press screening for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. And how could one not be cautious after Paul Feig’s insultingly naff 2016 reboot? I mentally bookmarked the line, expecting to cringely hijack the quote to express my sentiments should the worst come to pass. Little did I know how much I was going to enjoy every minute of this 2021 vintage. Indeed, against all conceivable odds, co-writer/director Jason Reitman (son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan) has only gone and made the best Ghostbusters film yet.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife focuses on Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). They move into her estranged father’s dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. The introverted and dryly witty Phoebe has a hard time fitting in, but does end up befriending another outcast who calls himself Podcast (Logan Kim) as well as her teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who firmly believes that science is punk rock, “the safety pins in the nipples of academia”. Phoebe also quickly discovers that her grandfather was Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis), the brains behind the original Ghostbusting operation and the only member of the team who knew that the past wasn’t dead…
As opposed to a blandly referential exercise designed to milk an IP dry, Ghostbusters: Afterlife achieves that rarest of things for a “legacy / next-gen sequel”: it captures the spirit of the originals and injects enough modernity and fun to make the film stand on its own two spirit-chasing legs. Moreover, the film manages to recreate the magical feel and heart of a crowd-pleasing 80s Spielberg production. This is in large part due to the cast and the script they were given. Written by Reitman and Gil Kenan (of Monster House fame), the dialogue is sharp and cheekily funny, and some of the visual gags aren’t afraid of showing their darker facets. A highlight here is the inclusion of a hilarious sentient marshmallow suicide montage that is perfectly sadistic.
As for the uniformly excellent cast, there’s no doubt that this is Mckenna Grace’s show. She’s the beating heart of the film, and the now 15-year-old carries the whole film on her already steady shoulders. The ease with which she captivates and sells every beat of her character’s arc is a joy to watch, and hopefully studios are paying attention, because this is one performer who deserves all the A-list projects she’s got coming to her.
As the trailers have already spoiled, there’s some obligatory fan service along the way, and the nostalgia-fuelled finale does threaten to undo some of what’s come before by embracing the OG lore a bit too tightly. However, Reitman reins things in enough to ensure that the familiarity of the third act is all in service of Afterlife’s plot; and where it could have toppled into a self-satisfied easter-egg rollcall, the director manages to wring out some emotional beats, which had even a casual Ghostbusters viewer like myself shedding a tear.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is just about everything you could want from a Ghostbusters film: heartfelt, thoroughly charming and fun. It could have done with one or two proper scares, but make no mistake: this is franchise reanimation done right.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife / D: Jason Reitman (US, 2021), with Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd. Starts: November 18.