⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Run time: 2 hours 4 minutes
Stars: Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson
Writers: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman, Dan Aykroyd
Director: Jason Reitman
If you’re really lucky, when you make a film sequel you get The Godfather, Part II. If you’re not so lucky, you get something like Speed 2: Cruise Control. If you land somewhere in between, you end up with a perfectly enjoyable, occasionally thrilling crowd pleaser like Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
It’s a film with something for everybody: an appealing young cast that evokes echoes of TV’s Stranger Things, cutting-edge special effects, and lots of reverential nods to the original Ghostbusters — most of whom pop up to gratifying effect.
The second true sequel to director Ivan Reitman’s 1984 classic — the all-female 2016 version was pretty much a remake of the original — takes place 37 years after and a thousand or so miles away from the Tribeca firehouse where those old Ghostbusters first set up shop. Opening to the same haunting Elmer Bernstein strains that introduced the first installment, the film finds a shadowy figure racing across the late-night Oklahoma landscape in a pickup truck — chased by a violent otherworldly creature.
With his bushy hair and glasses, experienced Ghostbusters fans immediately recognize the silhouetted man as Egon Spengler, one of the four original ghost busting heroes. They also know it is not Harold Ramis, who played Egon, as he passed away in 2014. Sadly, Egon does not survive his ghostly encounter, still he plays a pivotal role in the movie through his grown daughter (Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon) and her two adolescent kids Phoebe (Handmaid’s Tale’s Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, who conveniently costars on the aforementioned Stranger Things).
Trevor is your standard gawky teen, but Phoebe, with a serious demeanor and large glasses that evoke her ghost busting grandfather, is a budding physicist — so whip-smart she draws ring theories around her high school science teacher, Mr. Grooberson (a clearly happy-to-be-here Paul Rudd).
Mr. Grooberson, as it happens, has been investigating a series of mysterious earthquakes in the region. At the same time, Phoebe has been having curious supernatural experiences at her grandfather’s old farmhouse.
The cause, of course, is ghosts. Lots and lots of ghosts. A literal mountain full of ghosts, all living inside a monolithic mesa just outside of town. And although the locals always thought Phoebe’s grandfather was a first-class nutcase, he did, in fact, spend his last few decades desperately trying to protect them — and the world — from a ghost outbreak magnitudes worse than the one he helped tamp down back in New York City.
Of course, no one believes the kids, and it falls to them to finish Spengler’s work. It’s fun to see little Phoebe strapping Grandpa’s unlicensed nuclear reactor onto her back and her pals wrapping themselves in the old guys’ yellowed jumpsuits. Even the old Ecto-1 Ghostbustermobile gets hauled out of mothballs.
Because this is the Ghostbusters Universe, as in the first film the Age of Ghostly Overlords must be ushered in through the conjoining of the Key Master and the Gate Keeper — spirits that, before they can mate, must inhabit a male and female human pair. Back in the day that would have been Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver — this time around it’s Phoebe’s mom and science teacher. It’s not the fault of Coon and Rudd that they’re not particularly effective as the possessed human hosts — they are asked here to simply offer mild imitations of Moranis and Weaver, who will always be the Key Master and Gate Keeper of choice.
For most of its two hours, Afterlife creates a more-than-satisfying update of the Ghostbusters story. Among other things, we learn what became of the other guys, and the geological connection between that Oklahoma mesa and the Central Park West apartment building that we all know as Spook Central.
Ironically, it is in the passages where Afterlife pays its most respectful homage to the first film that it becomes least interesting. Perhaps inevitably, the final showdown between mortals and ghosts — from the accidental release of a ghostly army to the proton shootout with Zuul in the ghost god’s stone temple — looks and sounds an awful lot like what we’ve seen before. As the son of Ghostbusters’ original director, Jason Reitman, seems, at times, a bit stifled by deference to his dad.
It would have been nice to keep it a secret that the surviving Ghostbusters — Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson — show up for the big finish, but that would probably have been impossible. Their presence not only enlivens the film, it stamps their imprimatur on this and the ensuing series we all know is coming (Although the main characters are supposed to be in their mid-teens, most of the young actors here are already 20-somethings, so look for the Harry Potter-like romantic complications to arise as early as the next installment).
It’s fitting that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is dedicated to the late Harold Ramis, who also co-wrote the original. I doubt Ramis, who was something of a creative iconoclast, would have penned an ending as sentimental as the one presented here — a cross between Wilfred Brimley’s Cocoon farewell and Patrick Swayze’s sendoff in Ghost.
Still, while setting the direction for a new generation of Ghostbusters, Afterlife sustains admirably the spirit of its celebrated source.
Featured image: Columbia/Sony Pictures
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