A third Ghostbusters film in the original franchise never seemed like it would happen. Fits and starts over the years amounted to nothing, and when the reboot Ghostbusters was made (which I, for the record, quite like), it only seemed further off in the distance. While the first entry is a classic, rightly so, the sequel, Ghostbusters II is an effort that many involved, even if I think is really fun, don’t have a ton of affection for. So, the series always seemed in a perpetual state of pause. That is, until filmmaker Jason Reitman decided to follow in his father Ivan Reitman‘s footsteps. If the Oscar nominee initially seemed overqualified and perhaps opting for a safe project, trust me when I say that couldn’t be further from the truth. Born out of a simple idea (a teenage girl carrying a proton pack) and a determination to honor what’s come before (as well as Harold Ramis‘ untimely passing), Ghostbusters: Afterlife emerges as a wildly successful next installment. With some of the best use of nostalgia, as well as a splendid sense of what’s fun with this material, it’s an utter joy to take in.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is filled with heart, humor, and even scares. Reitman knows what makes this property special and leans into it all. The fan service hits all the right notes, the new characters, especially one in particular, fit right in, and the returning heroes (who I’ll leave for you to discover) are perfectly placed. This so easily could have been a lazy cash grab. The Reitman clan wouldn’t allow it, and the end result is something special.
After a surprising prologue, we meet single mom Callie (Carrie Coon), as well as her two kids, Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). Money problems, as well as the death of Callie’s estranged father, lead them to pick up roots and head to a small Oklahoma town. There, Callie’s father has left her nothing but a dilapidated farmhouse and debt. Callie and Trevor are none too happy to be stuck here, but Phoebe, with her scientific mind, has always been different, so she’s intrigued. Plus, it quickly becomes clear to her that her grandfather was a man of science. What she doesn’t know is that he, back in the 80s, was a Ghostbuster.
While Trevor works at a burger joint and awkwardly tries to vie for the affection of townie Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), Phoebe develops a friendship with the similarly offbeat Podcast (Logan Kim), while also getting noticed by her science-loving teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd). As she continues to discover Ghostbuster artifacts in the house, Trevor finds a beat up old ambulance. The pieces of their past are coming together, and it will prove essential when it becomes clear that the daily earthquakes in the small town are from a decidedly spectral source. To say more would ruin surprise after surprise, but just know…this gets the story you want down pat, while doing it in a very new way.
McKenna Grace is the standout here, easily becoming a character I want to see busting ghosts in future installments. Her mannerisms and thought process echo a classic character, but so many moments are unique and special. Grace is just aces here. Carrie Coon is funny, though somewhat under-used, with the same going for Paul Rudd. Coon and Rudd lend a needed adult presence, but they just don’t get the love that Grace’s Phoebe is afforded by the script. Trevor is a solid partner for his sister, but not quite as three-dimensional. Logan Kim is mostly there for comic relief, while Celeste O’Connor doesn’t leave a big impression. Supporting players include, but are certainly not limited to, Bokeem Woodbine. This is Grace’s show, and she really makes it a main event.
Jason Reitman was literally born to make this movie. The filmmaker imbues Ghostbusters: Afterlife with all the love and affection of a fan, but with the moviemaking chops that have nearly won him an Academy Award. The screenplay he penned with co-writer Gil Kenan is classic Ghostbusters, just out in the midwest, as opposed to New York City. This allows Reitman the director to have a completely different visual style and color palette from the previous films. Cinematographer Eric Steelberg goes to town on that, though they always know when to linger on a proton pack, trap or, shot of ECTO-1. The look may be different, but the feel is just right. Certain moments, which I wouldn’t dare spoil, literally filled my heart to the brim. The adventure is there, the comedy is there, and the horror elements are there. But, it’s the emotion of it all that works best, making a good flick great.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is spectacularly entertaining, whether you’re a new fan just discovering Ghostbusters or an old hand hoping for one more moment of glory. Nothing will ever replace what Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, and the late Harold Ramis once did, and this sequel doesn’t try to. Instead, it honors that in fulfilling and surprising ways. I’ll leave that to be discovered, but know this…I loved this film.