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Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Released 2021. Director: Jason Reitman

THE ATTEMPT TO REVIVE GHOSTBUSTERS IN 2016 was a crushing disappointment. So why, only five years later, would someone give it another go? Haven’t they learned? Yes, I believe they did learn from the mistakes and found that you can’t simply repackage a successful idea without making a meaningful connection.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife harks back to the original, respectful of its roots and is as concerned about catching ghosts as restoring the franchise’s tarnished legacy.

Taking place 37 years after the events of the first movie, Afterlife introduces us to the next two generations. Financially struggling single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two teenage kids Trevor and Phoebe move to a small town where Callie’s long estranged dad has died and left them an old neglected farmhouse with a poltergeist or two. Trevor (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) rummage in grandpa’s musty possessions and we soon learn he’s Egon Spengler, the character played by the late Harold Ramis in the original Ghostbusters.

Afterlife is not so much a comedy as a family drama with comedic moments and supernatural elements. The reluctant kids, awkward and curious, make friends with some locals and embark on an adventure with help from a grandpa they never knew.

Callie and high-school teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), striking up a romantic interest in each other, get swept along on the ride as active participants. Grooberson, whose passion is seismology, lends his expertise to exploring the mysterious tremors that, unbeknownst to him, signal the impending chaos about to be unleashed from the nether world.

The kids – Phoebe, Trevor and their friends – dive headlong into the unknown. They are the intrepid fighters at the wheel in this wild ride, not the adults. By making it sort of a Ghostbusters Junior, the movie is a cousin in spirit to The Goonies and Stranger Things, besides its obvious ancestor.

Some of the notable elements from the first movie are brought back, from the goofy Muncher to the campy Gozer to the silly Key Master and Gatekeeper, supernatural roles played for chuckle not fright, presented with much improved CGI. Out of grandpa’s storage comes one of the original gadget-laded Ectomobiles and its accompanying ghost-zapping proton packs, antique gizmos that still fire up!

In the eagerness to revive old motifs, not everything works. A glaring misstep is the army of marshmellow man coming to life and attacking Grooberson at a Walmart which is strangely empty of customers or workers. Even in the context of a haunting this scene doesn’t work and feels patched on just to bring back an association with the marshmallow men with a twist that instead of the one giant in Ghostbusters, it’s now only tiny, but many.

With a new (and younger) cast and a different location, Afterlife appears to be targeting a new audience. But I suspect it really speaks directly to those who remember seeing the first Ghostbusters back in 1984.

When Dan Aykroyd’s character makes an appearance (Phoebe rings up grandpa’s old friend for some answers), it’s a mild surprise. Nice touch, I think to myself. And then Bill Murray walks into the scene at the end, in full Ghostbusters gear to help the young ones defeat the evil forces their grandfather once fought against.

Spengler’s apparition appears, looking like a benign guardian angel rather than a ghost. In other movies of this vein this would be downright corny and yet in Afterlife it is a sweet and affectionate tribute to Harold Ramis (who died in 2014). Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd have returned to say goodbye and salute their friend. It’s an incredibly generous and kind gesture to put the late actor at the centre of this sequel.

Another prominent name from Ghostbusters, Sigourney Weaver, makes an appearance during the end credits in a playfully amusing part that fits perfectly with the original. And if you haven’t noticed, the director is Jason Reitman, whose father Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters.

Compared with other movies of the genre featuring the supernatural, Afterlife is a very mild and straightforward story, just like the original, which is part of its charm. Ghostbusters never tried to complicate anything. The characters are direct but never bland and the comedy is never imbecile. Afterlife doesn’t take itself too seriously, like its predecessor, or feel the need to conform to certain expectations (which is one of the several reasons that doomed the 2016 all-female reboot).

Afterlife refreshes the old mould and fills it with nostalgia, telling a new story whilst accounting for the whereabouts of the original characters. Ernie Hudson’s character Winston, always forgotten as part of the original Ghostbusters team, gets his own paragraph in the story. The central theme is about family – reconnecting and going back into your past to find your future.

There are times when Afterlife veers towards being sentimental but there’s a purpose to this sequel. In retrospect, Harold Ramis is everywhere – even in Phoebe’s hairdo, and the glasses she wears. I don’t want to be cynical in this instance when I say that unlike other sequels and remakes, Ghostbusters: Afterlife comes from a place of respect. In the end we’re heading in the direction of schmaltz but thankfully we never quite reach it. Jason Reitman knows where to draw the line. Afterlife is a tribute and memorial wrapped in shiny Hollywood tinsel. Rest in peace, Mr Ramis.


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