If someone were to probe into my history with the Ghostbusters franchise, they wouldn’t have to dig very far. I enjoyed the first film, like many of us have, (there is a reason it is iconic), but the second is purely forgettable, the cartoons never held any relevance to me, and the 2016 reboot was a disaster in its goal of turning the series into a straight comedy with horror bits rather than the other way around.
In all its lineage however, the one constant I have seen throughout the years is that the original 1984 film is largely agreed to be special. The reasons why are agreed upon, but no one can summarize or define it. It’s considered lightning in a bottle, which is perhaps what it should have remained, a blockbuster relic of the 80s. And yet, Ghostbusters: Afterlife arrives, apt title and all, in time to remind us that what made the original so beloved was not the specifics of the horror and comedic genre mixings, nor the gadgets and weaponry, or even the plot itself. It was the authenticity it allowed its characters to portray, the chemistry they built and developed together, and the warmth and inspiration felt from witnessing the unlikeliest team come together in the face of great evil.
Jason Reitman—son of the original film’s director, Ivan Reitman (forgive me if you’ve read about that before)—proves that in at least some ways, that there’s something to be said about lineage. And it is by no means a coincidence that the film holds the idea of lineage as its central theme when Callie (Carrie Coon), a struggling single mom of Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), uproots their family to Summerville, Oklahoma to inherit the abandoned farm her estranged father, original Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler, has left to them after his death.
Soon after they arrive, Phoebe starts to notice strange equipment lying around and unusual occurrences haunting the house and around town, particularly after she meets her new friend Podcast (Logan Kim) who tags along in an ever-grinding effort for new content to boost his actual Podcast, (respect, little man). Trevor, trying to be independent, gets a job at a local diner to be closer to a waitress named Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), whom he immediately develops a crush for. And Paul Rudd is his Paul Ruddiest as the summer school teacher and ’previously on Ghostbusters’ exposition giver, but it works because, as we already know, Paul Rudd is effortlessly charming and loveable in almost every role he takes on.
While this is certainly an ensemble film, McKenna Grace claims the film as her own by turning in an honest, relatable, and authentic performance as the socially awkward, nerdy genius of her family and a true successor to her grandfather. The film rests on her young shoulders, and she carries the role like she was born to it. Because of her, the film (and potentially the franchise) are in the greatest hands. What makes her journey so watchable is that we witness every stage of her growth, from the awkward silent kid to the smart, confident, and assertive ghostbuster who learns what it means to be a Spengler.
Celebrating Harold Ramis
Speaking of Spengler, this whole film is drenched in deserved love and reverence for Harold Ramis, who of course played Egon and wrote the screenplay for the original film. He also sadly passed away back in 2014. As I mentioned earlier about this film holding the theme of lineage at its heart, his tribute here is an ode to Ramis’s lineage as an actor, writer, and human being. I commend the team for holding him up in this way and giving us one last moment to remember him.
With this being another attempt at a soft reboot, and one I am saying is largely a success, there are many nods and easter eggs to the legacy of the franchise. Some of these worked for me and some of them didn’t. Some of them are subtle and others are quite deliberate, including a third act that is somewhat of a jumbled mess of subtlety and slaps in the face. In spite of that, Jason Reitman comes out batting .500, and what I appreciate about all of the attempts at call backs is that there is a genuineness and earnestness in the approach. Enough to get me ready to believe in another sequel.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is now playing in theaters.