The original Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite movies. Ghostbusters II? Not so much. But I enjoyed the 2016 all-female film (especially the extended cut, which let the cast cut loose a bit more), and I am not one of those overly nostalgic sorts who fetishize the films of my youth. So I was truly rooting for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The trailers were promising, the casting was spot-on, and I loved the kid-centric premise of a new generation picking up the ghostbusting mantle of Bill Murray and the original gang.
There’s much to like about this sequel from Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two films): great performances, nimble direction, and some humorous callbacks to the original beloved film. Unfortunately, all of that sinks under the weight of a clunky script and a tired, predictable plot that takes the fan service to downright treacly levels.
(Major spoilers below the gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)
The official synopsis is short and sweet: “A single mother and her two children move to Summerville, Oklahoma, after inheriting property from a previously unknown relative. They discover their family’s legacy to the original Ghostbusters, who have become something of a myth, as many have long since forgotten the events of the ‘Manhattan Crossrip of 1984′”—i.e., the events of the original film.
Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) plays mom Callie, who has some serious abandonment issues where her dad, Egon Spengler, is concerned. Mckenna Grace (The Haunting of Hill House) plays her science-loving daughter Phoebe, who struggles to make friends or even tell a decent joke. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) plays Callie’s mechanically inclined son, Trevor. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) plays summer school teacher (and mom’s love interest) Gary Grooberson, a seismologist and a science nerd who is also a big, goofy Ghostbusters fanboy.
The main cast also includes Logan Kim as Podcast, who befriends the socially awkward Phoebe and actually appreciates her odd jokes. Celeste O’Connor plays Lucky, a pretty local teen who catches Trevor’s eye. And of course, we get cameos from members of the original cast: Bill Murray (as Peter Venkman), Sigourney Weaver (as Dana Barrett in a mid-credits scene), Dan Aykroyd (as Ray Stantz), Ernie Hudson (as Winston Zeddemore), and Annie Potts (as Janine Melnitz). Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler, died in 2014 but briefly appears in archival clips and a bit of CGI magic.
The first act drags in places as we see the Spengler clan struggle to acclimate to their new home. But once Phoebe and Trevor discover the Ectomobile, a ghost trap, a PKE meter, and their grandfather’s laboratory, the stage is set for some entertaining ghostly encounters. These include welcome cameos by some of the classic ghosts, most notably the decaying cabbie and the little green monster, Slimer—in this case, reimagined as a ghost from the same specter class that Reitman has dubbed “Muncher.” The appearance of a bunch of mischievous Stay-Puft mini-marshmallow men wreaking havoc as Gary shopping in the local Walmart is a particular highlight.
(Major spoilers beyond this point. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the film.)
But then it all goes horribly wrong. The opening sequence seemed to hint at a new menace threatening humanity. So imagine my disappointment to discover that rather than facing something new, the Spengler kids are battling none other than Gozer the Gozerian, who is trying to make a comeback after being soundly defeated by the original Ghostbusters. It turns out that Ivo Shandor (J.K. Simmons), who designed Dana Barrett’s haunted Manhattan high-rise, also built a temple for Gozer’s resurrection at the bottom of his Summerville mine. Egon had been trying to set a trap and lost his life in that failed attempt.
Even that might have worked if there had been some genuinely innovative twists. Alas, everything plays out in almost exactly the same way. Gary ends up being possessed by Vinz Clortho, aka the Keymaster, while mom Callie ends up channeling Zuul the Gatekeeper, followed by the inevitable coitus. This sets the stage for the re-emergence of Gozer (Olivia Wilde) and her lightning fingers. The kids must figure out how to send the ancient Sumerian god back to whatever hell dimension she came from—with a little last-minute help from the original gang, including a ghostly apparition of Egon Spengler.
Reitman has said his film is ultimately about family, and I think he sincerely wanted to make an entertaining, moving tribute to his father’s original comic masterpiece, particularly given the loss of Harold Ramis. (This film is dedicated to Ramis.) At times, he succeeds. Those scenes where Phoebe figures out that the ghost of her grandfather is trying to communicate with her, particularly where he guides her in repairing an old proton pack, are poignantly satisfying.
However, the same sequence proves much less effective later in the film, when her mother, Callie, makes a similar connection and belatedly realizes how much her father really loved her. And when Egon’s ghost joins his former comrades in the final showdown, the film sinks completely into cheap mawkish sentiment, rather than genuine emotion. There should have been wild cheers in the theater when Murray & Company appeared; instead, the moment landed with a thud. Ultimately, while it has some entertaining moments, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the palest echo of its brilliant predecessor.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is currently playing in theaters. We strongly recommend only going to see movies in theaters if you are fully vaccinated and wear a mask throughout the screening.