Friday 18 February 2022

Film Review: Ghostbusters – Afterlife

Jason Reitman goes the sentimental legacy sequel route for Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

For years, fans of the original Ghostbusters films – directed by the late, great Ivan Reitman – have been clamouring for a third film that reunites the original team. Ghostbusters: Afterlife, directed by Ivan's son Jason, is as close as fans will likely ever get – both for better and for worse. 

The film opens with a single mother, played by Carrie Coon, relocating her two children – McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard – to a remote Oklahoma farmstead, which used to belong to her estranged father. 

After a couple of spooky encounters, Grace's character – an aspiring scientist – unearths the truth about her grandfather, who once upon a time battled ghosts in New York in the 1980s...

With Jason Reitman at the helm, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is about legacy in more ways than one. It's both a homecoming for the series, after Paul Feig's divisive 2016 reboot that split the fanbase asunder, and a sequel in the mould of The Force Awakens, in that it's about generational stories and young characters discovering the past glories of their family.

It's also a story of two halves; the first hour is charming and cute, with touching performances from its lead trio. Whilst the second is lumbered with the usual visual effects and splashy action that Hollywood feels compelled to include in everything nowadays. Coon is an unconventional onscreen mum, neither overly attentive or neglectful – just a bit shambolic and sassy, with some pretty firm ideas of how her neglectful father was as a person.

Grace is the star of the show; it's great to see a young female lead character who is just quietly clever and confident in her own intellect as well. Wolfhard draws the short straw somewhat; his arc sees him working a summer job, swooning over an older 'girl nextdoor' and generally being a moody teen.

It's here that the film works and also feels different from the series' DNA. For all its failings, of which are there a few, at least Feig's divisive film possessed some semblance of the edge, anarchy and freewheeling spirit that personified the original Ghostbusters. Its cast of Saturday Night Live alumni ensured there was a shagginess and silliness to the humour. 

In contrast, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, by virtue of its youthful cast of likeable teens, is safer. There's a sweet sentimentality coating everything; a deep-seated reverence and respect for the original and its iconography that is metatextual in nature – the characters and the audience alike are awestruck by the the lore, the motifs, the legacy of it all. Paul Rudd's character, for example, exists solely to coo and gush over the Ghostbusters gadgets, gizmos and paraphernalia. "No way! That's a ghost trap!" or "Awesome, take a look at the proton pack!" etcetera etcetera. 

In seeking to placate its feral fanbase, Ghostbusters has crafted the mildest possible soft reboot that is falling over itself to tip its hat to the original – particularly in its questionable third act. Sometimes legacy sequels can be triumphant (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), deeply weird (The Matrix Resurrections) or just fucking mental (Mad Max: Fury Road). Ghostbusters: Afterlife is cutesy and sweet at best; sort of sad and rote at worst. 

Maybe that's a bit mean or harsh; at the end of the day, it's not an awful film, in terms of craft. The actors are having fun and the visual effects are impressive. There's fun to be had, if you just want to sit back and let the film tick off the boxes of a Ghostbusters adventure. Ghost traps? Check. Proton packs? Check? Ecto One? Check. 

So while the film itself isn't offensive or shoddy, it is a little disappointing. I'm disappointed in what this film represents, the fact that it's the latest in a conveyor belt of bland legacy sequels that coast by on reheated ideas and recycled plots.

There's making something memorable and then there's making something meaningful. Unfortunately, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is often memorable and never meaningful. 

The Verdict: 6/10

Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be the okayest movie I've seen in a long while; neither atrocious or outstanding, it is engineered to placate rather than innovate. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is in cinemas and on premium VOD now.

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