I admit that I’ve made a few bad calls with regard to ratings over the years. Some of them have been down to nostalgia and others are just guilty pleasures. Others, I’m less sure about. One of those is the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. Although, actually I do know why I misjudged that: my love of Kate McKinnon. I didn’t exactly give it a ringing endorsement but I was pretty happy with it. Until I rewatched it. Then I realised how foolish I’d been. This is part of the reason why I was so hesitant to watch the latest in the Ghostbusters franchise.
However, I figured I’d have to watch it eventually or I’d always wonder. Plus, Paul Rudd could surely make anything bearable, right? And I couldn’t imagine that the cameos by the original cast could have been worse than they were in the Paul Feig film. What was the worst that could happen? An unoriginal screenplay that relied too heavily on nostalgia and callbacks? We’ve seen it work for me before. Why not now?
So is Ghostbusters: Afterlife an unoriginal story full of nostalgia? Yes. Although, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a total disaster. It’s certainly an improvement from the 2016 reboot. The story is very similar to the original film but with a few tweaks. This time we’re not in New York, we’re in a small rural town. It’s not a group of scientists but a few kids and their Summer School teacher. Instead of an old firehouse, the action takes place on an old farm. Other than that, it’s a pretty close match.
Conveniently, Callie and her two kids are evicted around the same time that her estranged father dies. He left his daughter his farm in Summerville, Oklahoma so she’s hoping to pay her rent by selling the property. Whilst she’s sorting it, her daughter Phoebe discovers that ghosts are starting to turn up in the town. As she investigates, she realises her family is more connected to the spirit world than she ever knew. Can she and her friends stop the apocalypse that her grandfather had predicted years before?
For some reason, the film tries to make the identity of Phoebe’s grandfather a secret for as long as possible. Although, it’s been obvious through the marketing and everything written about the film who he is. It also helps that Harold Ramis is the only original cast member who is no longer with us. I think the way that the film deals with Egon’s absence is sweet but I also have some questions. I find it hard to believe that Egon would have abandoned his family for his work. It doesn’t make sense that the character we knew would have ignored his paternal responsibilities for so long.
Still, you couldn’t have done this film without saying a proper goodbye to him. Harold Ramis was such a huge part of Ghostbusters that it feels like a fitting farewell. Even if it is incredibly sentimental and emotionally manipulative. It’s just another part of the attack of nostalgia that the film relies so heavily on. It’s to be expected but it can’t hide the fact that the plot is so thin and lacks the spark of the original. It lacks humour and heart.
In terms of new characters, there are some fun new additions. I could have done without Finn Wolfhard playing himself but McKenna Grace is fantastic. Phoebe and her pal Podcast are great introductions and perfect leads. Focusing on children was an inspired choice and gives the film a different perspective. It’s just not enough to make it work and it has the added bonus of turning the film into a slightly neutered kid’s film.
The new episode in the franchise lacks the humour and slight darkness of the original. One of the reasons that Ghostbusters did so well was because it was genuinely funny and didn’t pander to a younger audience. The new film seems too distracted to do either. It’s a poor show that a film about ghosts only has two real ghosts. There might be potential for further films but this certainly isn’t the way to do it.