It feels like every week I’m seeing the exact same movie over and over again and also catching up on all of the movie delays caused by the events of the last couple of years, and I am more than tired of it, thinking every new title I get to view is going to be dumbed down and explained to the masses while we wait for the post-credit scene. By some sort of miracle, GHOSTBUSTERS AFTERLIFE blows every single sequel, IP, franchise, Marvel, DC, Paw Patrol…pretty much everything out of the water and gives me hope that awesome movies based on past ones can still be an enjoyable experience. By this standard it’s the best example of this kind of movie not only in 2021 but in the last couple of years. This is how you do it.
With a gorgeous opening sequence that features a mysterious character in a house in the middle of the countryside passing away, it then cuts to the arrival of Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) along with their mom Callie moving into the Smalltown, Oklahoma home that they inherited from their dad, who turns out to be Spengler from the original movie. I had a few fleeting thoughts of Spielberg in the first half hour as we slowly-but-surely reveal what is really going on in this house and less is certainly more in this case. We get a glimpse of a few key elements in the first half hour but since everything is so interesting in this small town, from the cool 50’s diner to the school that Phoebe and Trevor attend, including a great character named Podcast (Logan Kim) and Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), among others. The way that this all connects to the original movie I will leave for you to discover, but it’s all a great experience.
A wise choice to direct is Jason Reitman, the son of legendary Ivan Reitman who directed the first movie. Much has been said about Ivan being a producer here and having his involvement in the project, but this is Jason’s movie first and foremost. It complements the 1984 movie in many ways but also stands on its own two feet. AFTERLIFE is also incredibly well lensed by his usual cinematographer Eric Steelberg who lovingly pairs a stunning level of visual effects along with practical effects and set design. (Boring Tech Note: I only wish he shot on film and anamorphic lenses like the first movie instead of digitally, but we can’t have it all.) He has been known more for the likes of JUNO, YOUNG ADULT and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and this is his most mainstream picture yet.
Of course, a particular controversial movie from 2016 must be brought up as this movie completely kicks it to the curb. As much as I love filmmaker Paul Feig (worked heavily on the FREAKS & GEEKS series and directed BRIDESMAIDS, a movie that still gives me a case of the giggles), the bizarre and slapped together ANSWER THE CALL from 2016 was a bewildering mess of a movie that was not funny, creative or had any of the charm of the original movie despite my love for all of the leads. There was so much potential to create something new and exciting, yet it all was a miserable failure that I remember put me to sleep on my theatrical viewing.
Moreso, there is also that bizarre 1989 movie GHOSTBUSTERS II where a more recent viewing made me really notice that the creative team were trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice and failing miserably, even all the way up to a cringe-worthy finale involving the Statue of Liberty. But hey, Jason Reitman had a cameo in it, so there’s that connection.
In everything they did wrong in those previous movies, it’s pretty wonderful to see a fresh take on the story that entirely kicks all of the idiot-girl-power of the 2016 movie with a star-making performance by young McKenna Grace as our intelligent, confident Phoebe. A few years ago I was amazed at her wise beyond her years performance in GIFTED where she commanded her young genius character with a lot of reality. Here, she commands every single frame as Phoebe in a fully confident leading role, so much so that I was annoyed that she was third-billed in the credits and is kicked off to the side in most of the marketing material. This is Grace’s movie in every sense of the word, and she is supported by a terrific cast including Carrie Coon (THE NEST) as her quick-witted mom and Finn Wolfhard has some great comic timing and I liked his relationship with Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). Surprisingly, Paul Rudd isn’t in this as much as I would have thought, but he’s a great comedic relief and his trademark sass is used here to great effect.
Naturally, I have skirmished around many nitty-gritty details in this new picture, but this is an incredibly difficult balance in honouring the original 1984 film with its many references and “Easter eggs” as the marketing pushes, but also existing on its own in a truly wonderful bit of storytelling from Jason Reitman in one of his very best works as a filmmaker. It’s also just so entertaining for the whole family and a real escape in this time. Forget what you think you know or what you think GHOSTBUSTERS AFTERLIFE will be and go in and enjoy. This is the movie you have been waiting for.
GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is now playing in theatres.