Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’: This One’s for the Kids, and the Kids Are Alright

BY Mark Jackson TIMEFebruary 3, 2022 PRINT

PG-13 | 2h 4m | Comedy, Drama, Adventure | November 19, 2021

“Ghostbusters: Next Generation” would have been a better title, since “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” features the grandkids of the original Ghostbusters inheriting the legacy. The kids master the decrepit but still functional ghost-gear and save the world that is, yet again, beset by demons and ghosts. Call it a love letter to the original movie, directed by the kid of the original director (Jason Reitman, son of Ivan). Ivan Reitman directed and produced the two 1980s “Ghostbusters” movies.

Nostalgia

Completely ignoring the 2016 all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot, the latest installment hammers on the nostalgia key and, having much in common with “The Goonies” (1985) and “Stand by Me” (1986), does a decent job of that.

A drive-in diner in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
A drive-in diner in Summerville, Okla., in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

How do you automatically ramp up nostalgia in an American pop-culture movie? Start with Smalltown, USA, add a cornfield, a ’70s muscle car (or otherwise cool barn-find vehicle under a dusty tarp), a drive-in restaurant with neon signs glowing in the dusk, a greasy-spoon diner, a gas station, and a high school romance featuring a skinny, doesn’t-have-a-snowball’s-chance boy yearning for the local alpha-cutie girl who all the boys dream about. Oh, and a Ferris wheel. All that’s missing here is the Ferris wheel.

four kids in a diner in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
(L–R) Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), Podcast (Logan Kim), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) have a ghost-busting powwow, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

The requisite small town is Summerville, Oklahoma, where the technology is far from current. For instance, job-shirking science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) likes to use VHS movies to babysit his classes. Podcast (Logan Kim), the science-nerd version of chubby, motor-mouthed Vern in “Stand By Me”), uses a Kodak instant camera for photo-documentation. You get the idea.

Oklahoma!

But first things first: Why are we in Summerville? There’s a financially down-on-their-luck, evicted family looking for a fresh start. Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace)—naturally, being teens—don’t want to be there. As luck would have it, they’ve inherited a big old wreck of a farm, following the death of Callie’s estranged dad (locally known as “the Dirt Farmer”). It ain’t pretty, but beggars can’t be choosers and so they settle in.

boy and girl with science gear in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
Podcast (Logan Kim) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) go after some ghosts to try out their new, old ghost-busting gear, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

Mckenna Grace as Phoebe does a great job as a young science devotee so emotionally detached that her science-devotion, for all intents and purposes, functions as a form of faith. When she sees things that would normally scare the dickens out of any other teen, she feels only science-lab curiosity. She also continually cracks corny jokes while in deadpan science mode, trying to improve her understanding of humor, which is of course endearing but only because Grace has the precocious comedic chops to pull it off.

Her many curiosity-killed-the-cat discoveries set up much of the narrative; for example, discovering a giant, dusty science lab in the basement with electrical cables leading everywhere, and a yellow-and-black hazard-demarcated trap-looking thingie with a heavy cable attached to it. She doesn’t know what it’s for. But you do.

man with ghost trap in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
Lazy middle-school teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) tries to figure out a strange contraption, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

Meanwhile, brother Trevor finds a dusty white Cadillac hearse in the barn with a curious logo on it, featuring what looks to be one of Casper the Friendly Ghost’s companions! Trevor also plays the role of the yearning skinny kid who falls hard and embarrassingly for the local cutie-pie (Celeste O’Connor).

Cadillac hearse in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
The decrepit barn-find Caddy-hearse, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

Eventually, Trevor and Phoebe figure out via Google that their granddaddy was one of the original Ghostbusters when the spirit world tried to take over Manhattan in the ’80s. They also figure out how to use all the rusty ghost-busting gear (including the laterally ejecting door-gunner seat on the old “Ecto-1” Caddy-hearse) and then do their predecessors proud when the ghosts show up. Remember ghosts? This is a movie about ghosts.

And it turns out that Summerville, Oklahoma, is ground zero for a new ghost outbreak. It’s got a transworld portal that needs monitoring. Which is why—say it with me now—granddaddy moved there in the first place.

a cadillac hearse with a door-gunner seat in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) utilizes the door-gunner ejection-seat to better hose down an apparition that’s snacking on Summerville’s fire hydrants, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

Any Good?

It’s obviously got a kid-friendly focus this time around and leans more toward dramedy than spookiness. Released in the United States in November, it did $120 million at the box office, which is not bad considering the impact of COVID-19. This was, and still is, a beloved franchise; its roots in the American pop-culture universe are strong—on par with the “Back to the Future” franchise—and Reitman the Younger brings back the original Ray Parker Jr. “Ghostbusters” theme song. “Afterlife” is partially a throwback designed for existing fans but also a chance for younger generations to make the “Ghostbusters” world their own.

boy and girl shoot electricity gun in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
Podcast (Logan Kim) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) hose some ghosts with an old-school, DIY lightning bolt, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

Like the “Harry Potter” clubs and Quidditch teams that span the globe, there are still “Ghostbusters” fan clubs and diehards who will likely enjoy this new episode and the Easter egg hunt of finding old stuff in new places. There are many fun one-liners, and while the film is sometimes clichéd and relies too much on fan memory, it’s also heartfelt, sincere, and entertaining. In addition to Mckenna Grace, young Logan Kim as Podcast is exceptional with rapid-fire comedic line deliveries.

three men with ghost-buster uniforms in GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
(L–R) Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson from the original movie show up in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

Although Reitman directs with an obvious reverence for dad’s franchise, “Afterlife” is unfortunately a tad clumsy, and yet it’s difficult not to find it rather sweet and endearing; it’s got a bunch of fun cameos and equally fun performances from the young cast. That said, sequels suffer from sequelitis because the world-building newness of the original can only happen once, and the rest is by definition rehash. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a perfectly acceptable rehash.

movie poster for GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
A movie poster for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” (Columbia Pictures)

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: Nov. 19, 2021
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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