Afterlife is everything it needs to be (but its sequels need to be more)
A well-balanced experience for new and old fans
Who you gonna call?
Annie Potts. Call Annie Potts and give her more of a role!
The franchise is headed in a decidedly kid-friendly direction (which is not entirely a bad thing)
It doesn't really make it clear if Ghostbusters II has been given the boot from continuity
To give just a rough idea of how long fans have been waiting for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, here’s a look at one of the earliest trailers to be released in December 2019. That’s right–2019!
Originally slated for a summer 2020 release, COVID has seen the film move back not once or twice, but a whopping four times! But, thankfully, it has been worth the wait… for the most part.
To preface the rest of this review, I’m gonna highlight that I like the 2016 Ghostbusters “reboot.” While my main issue with that was it being a reboot as opposed to a sequel, the movie itself was fine, even if very much a Paul Feig formula and, in at least one way, it may have actually been truer to the tone of the original than Afterlife. But more on that later.
From the get go, Ghostbusters: Afterlife sets itself as being heavily connected to the original film. Excepting the age of the primary cast, Afterlife’s set up is familiar–not necessarily similar, but there is no doubt that this is a sequel to a film from the ‘80s. Which, in itself, is arguably the greatest thing about the movie. At no point does Afterlife give in to the need to rush itself to better suit today’s audience, and paces itself amazingly well, a considerable achievement given its relatively short runtime of 125 minutes.
Of course, the familiarity of Afterlife may seem an easy out. But to its credit, it does a better job at the “revival sequel” function than the likes of Superman Returns or The Force Awakens. The formulaic aspect of Afterlife lies more in the ‘80s and ‘90s coming-of-age tropes than it does in the earlier Ghostbusters films. Which is really no surprise given the age of the leading actors.
Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard both lead the film well, with Grace channeling her Young Sheldon co-star Iain Armitage’s genius energy perfectly. Wolfhard’s continuing growth (as humans are wont to do) is jarring, but probably not as jarring as it will be in the upcoming fourth and final season of Stranger Things. Rounding off the younger cast are Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor, the former functioning as a contemporising factor, and the latter pulling her weight but still deserving more.
Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon share a significant amount of screentime here, making up for their absolute lack of interaction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but never actually steal the show. Rudd’s Mr Grooberson is probably the most familiar role when compared to the original Ghostbusters films, especially when played opposite Coon’s harried single-mother role.
And while the original cast’s cameos in 2016’s Answer The Call were a mixed bag of hits (Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver) and misses (Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray), Afterlife uses all of them to tasteful perfection… though we could’ve really used a lot more Annie Potts. (It’s a personal point of disappointment that along with Young Sheldon, this is the second time Potts and Mckenna Grace missed sharing any screen time together.)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is arguably a successful exercise in franchise moderation. It delivers the goods on nostalgia, even daring to put a somewhat conclusive end to something introduced in the original film, and dares to delve into the possibility of varying potential futures for the franchise. It would be nice, however, if there was a little more done to affirm the maintenance of Ghostbusters II in the overall continuity. While the first sequel received less than stellar critical reception, it did plenty for moving the original characters forward and even displaying the much referenced drifting between the team members. But, perhaps, that’ll be a plot point for another movie.
So where does Answer The Call (ATC) do better than Afterlife? By remembering that Ghostbusters was not meant to be a kid-friendly franchise. Following the release, and success, of The Real Ghostbusters animated series, the perception of the franchise shifted to it being meant for kids. The immediate impact of this was visible even in Ghostbusters II, which–despite being almost completely divorced from the animated series–reflected a more family-friendly tone.
This direction has mostly dominated the franchise for the better part of its longevity, with even more mature content such as Extreme Ghostbusters and the IDW comics still maintaining the idea that, at the very least, Ghostbusters was an all ages concept. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it should be highlighted that as juvenile as some of the ATC humour may have been, it was actually closer in tone to the original intent of the first Ghostbusters.
Afterlife, however, can very fairly be compared to the likes of more modern derivations like Stranger Things (and not just because they both star Finn Wolfhard). While some may take issue with this, the fact remains that the undying nature of the franchise can be largely attributed to the children of the ‘80s and ‘90s. So keeping it family-friendly does seem to be the most sensible thing to do.
Anyone who enjoys and loves Ghostbusters could probably find a way for their appreciation for both ATC and Afterlife to co-exist. That said, I’m glad that the franchise’s future is being built on the original film and, hopefully, there’ll be more said and done in terms of keeping Ghostbusters II in continuity as well.