Friday, November 19, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

It's impossible to make a Ghostbusters film funny as the original; even the original cast and crew could only muster up Ghostbusters II. Realizing this, Ghosbusters: Afterlife takes an unexpected approach of not offering a comedy but rather instead a family drama wrapped in the trappings of the Ghostbusters franchise. The choice is likely to surprise and anger some fans. Sure, there's humor (much of it from Paul Rudd as the wacky summer school teacher), but the driving momentum behind the story isn't for big laughs but for the family, and their new friends, coming together to save the town, and the world, from ghosts.

Beginning with the death of Egon Spengler (a CGI version of Harold Ramis kept perpetually in shadow or just off-camera), killed by ghosts, the film's protagonists are the scientist's estranged grandchildren (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) who never got to know the reclusive scientist before his death. Broke and evicted from their apartment with only the abandoned farm left to her by her father, Callie (Carrie Coon) and her kids relocate to Summerville, Oklahoma, where the kids stumble on their grandfather's old things.

The nostalgic tone of the film and the choice to cast kids as the main characters has led some to compare it to Netflix's Stranger Things. The comparison is really only surface deep as the Netflix show falls far more into the horror genre than what we given here by co-writer and director Jason Reitman (the son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman). While less wacky than the original film, the various ghosts and creatures are almost always presented with a humorous slant. There are plenty of callbacks and cameos to the original film which I won't spoil here other than to say it's easy to see the film taking place within the same universe.

Personally, I preferred Mckenna Grace's nerdy granddaughter to Finn Wolfhard's more average, but still awkward, teenage brother. However, both fit the roles needed to connect the story to the past and move it in a new (if fairly familiar) direction. We also get a pair of new friends (Logan Kim and Celeste O'Connor) helping to round out the new crew. Rudd is by far the most outwardly goofy character. It's hard not to see at least a little of Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) in Rudd's performance. The other locals are fairly forgettable.

Given his father's connection to the original movie, there's obviously a strong emotional tie for Reitman in making Ghostbusters: Afterlife. That reverence may hurt the new film at times with a bit too much fan service and a few too many callbacks, but also allows for a different lens to be used to view this world. It's far from a perfect film, but it's certainly less groanworthy than the failed 2016 reboot and does manage to entertain if you can keep your expectations in check.

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