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Thursday, 3 February 2022

Ghostbusters Film of The Week: Ghostbusters - Afterlife (2021)


Impoverished single mom Callie (The Gilded Age's Carrie Coon) relocates her two children - 12-year-old science prodigy Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and hormone-driven 15-year-old Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) - to a rundown farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, bequeathed her by her late father.

The family soon discover that Callie's father was known simply as "The Dirt Farmer" in the nearby town of Summerville, Oklahoma, and kept pretty much to himself.

However, exploring his rundown farm house - which is kitted out with strange electronic doohickeys and occult memorabilia - Phoebe learns, with the assistance of her summer school teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and new friend 'Podcast' (Logan Kim), that her grandfather was actually Egon Spengler, one of the legendary Ghostbusters.

Piecing together clues concerning the local mine, which was constructed by Ivo Shandor (J.K. Simmons), our protagonists realise that there's an apocalypse due any minute and they might be the only people able to stop it.

I love the fact that writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman (who also directed this sequel to his father's seminal masterpiece) went back to the Ivo Shandor well from the first Ghostbusters, as this true horror angle was - for me - one of the many things that the first Ghostbusters so special.

However, one of the other things that gave the original the legs it still enjoys today was its top notch humour and arsenal of deliciously quotable lines.

That, sadly, is severely lacking in this modern day resurrection of the franchise.

It's almost as though, right up until the "big reveal" in the third act (which I suspect most people who are worried about such things know about already), the movie forgot that comedy was as important to the winning Ghostbusters formula as horror.

Even with the presence of Paul Rudd, there's a paucity of laughs or memorable dialogue, except primarily where the Afterlife script recycles moments from the earlier movie, some of which work - such as the "who you gonna call?" - while others land with a dull thud - "there is only Zuul".

In fact I'd question when welcome fanservice crosses the line into simply recycling popular beats from the beloved old Ghostbusters movies.

Retreading so much old ground, even when telling a fresh continuation of the overarching story of the franchise, you begin to realise that certain characters are simply analogues of previous characters: for example Grooberson is Louis Tully and Callie is Dana Barrett.

The pacing of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is quite patchy, feeling slow to get going when the chances are anyone watching already knows the solution to the initial mystery of "who was Phoebe's grandfather?"

Given how heavily it relies on the nostalgia factor and a love for the original movie, for instance, the film spends too long reintroducing its audience - via its fresh young leads - to a treasure trove of technology they are already very cognisant of. 

Another problem I had with Ghostbusters: Afterlife was its brazen attempts to reinvent itself as a Stranger Things clone, even to the extent of casting Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard as one of the leads.

The truth is, barring the superb Phoebe (a pocket-sized Egon Spengler and the best-developed character in the whole movie), the younger cast members fail to light up the screen: 'Podcast' is the very definition of a supporting character whose role (coupled with his irritating 'narration' for his podcast) is to ask Phoebe questions so she can shine even more; Wolfhard's Trevor moans and pines after Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), a pointless cardboard cut-out of a character who earns her flight suit simply by being there.

Don't get me wrong, Ghostbusters: Afterlife certainly picks up as it heads towards it effects-heavy climax, and, yes, I may have teared up during the very emotional final scenes, but for a two-hour movie many of the central characters felt sadly underserved.

While it is amazing to see the return of truly beloved characters to the franchise, I think I would have preferred more scenes with those characters and Phoebe than more of Trevor, 'Podcast' (who never even earns a real name), and Lucky.

There are, of course, a couple of 'extra' scenes once the credits start rolling, with the last one suggesting the possibility of further Ghostbusters adventures - which I'd certainly welcome, as long as there was a larger percentage of adults in the central roles.

It's not that I dislike young leads in horror shows, but Ghostbusters was always about blue-collar workers tackling supernatural problems, whereas meddling kids doing the same is more in the wheelhouse of Scooby-Doo or Stranger Things.

A better-than-average, pulpy supernatural thriller, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is, disappointingly, a mediocre Ghostbusters movie.

  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife was released on Blu-Ray in the UK this week.

5 comments:

  1. As you may know, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and I see it very differently.

    Successful sequels to our greatest genre masterpieces are few and far between, largely because you can't catch lightning in the same bottle twice. Why then are you trying? Why not stand in a different field, with a different bottle.

    ALIENS is a great movie but it isn't ALIEN. One is a Slasher in a Haunted House Horror Film, brilliantly set in the future, on a spaceship, with professional, blue collar adults instead of scream fest teenagers. The other is a Vietnam War Movie vibe picture, with a collection of quirky badass soldiers.

    ALIENS works so well because it's Not ALIEN.

    The Empire Strikes Back is not Star Wars. The Winter Soldier isn't The First Avenger. If one were hoping to watch Ghostbusters 1984 again, by all means fire up the blu-ray/DVD player and watch it again. I've seen it dozens and dozens of times.

    Afterlife is a different movie. A different take on the Ghostbusters universe. What makes it awesome is that it IS that universe. Not a reboot or a remake but another story, a separate but related story, in the same setting.

    While I had my issues with bits and pieces of it, I really, really liked the movie. I think it helped that I didn't go in expecting Ghostbusters 1984 II. I went in thinking, 'OK Jason Reitman, what have you got for me? What is your Ghostbusters story?'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Adan, thank you taking the time to write this great comment - it's much appreciated.

      My problem with Afterlife - beyond the kidification of the lead roles - was that it was too similar to the original. I loved that it continued the story of Ghostbusters, but - for me - it wasn't distinct enough.

      If it had just been another chapter in the GB story (preferably with more humour), I would have been happier, but it was very The Force Awakens in its approach to recycling elements from the earlier film.

      I realise it's possibly sacrilegious to say in some quarters, but beyond the return of the old guys and Phoebe's fantastic arc as our new Egon, I actually enjoyed the 2016 'alternate universe' movie (which I know had a lot of faults) more.

      Delete
  2. So, I've held onto this in a browser window on my phone for over a week because I wanted to be sure to not miss out on replying. I had been waiting for your take on Afterlife, and Adam's excellent "rebuttal" above is also a great read!

    Your closing sentence (not the Blu-Ray part) really does summarize it well, and I think, as Adam points toward, one's reaction to the film is going to be largely based upon how much we compare it to the original, whether in specifics or in broad quality. Personally, I left the theater not in love with it BUT not disappointed that it's what we got as our next GB film. Truthfully...the most disappointing part is how it likely contradicts the headcanon I've built up over all these years playing the Ghostbusters RPG and working in bits of The Real Ghostbusters. That's largely out the window if I get back on track with official canon going forward...

    I'm glad you found it to be a decent watch overall, and I agree that it's nowhere close to perfection, but it's hard to imagine getting what I really want out of it without just writing it myself...!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First of all: thank you for the excellent response. Oh, how I pine for more "letter column debate" in the comments section of HeroPress ;)

      I had a similar thought to you re: the subject of gaming headcanon (and all the comics and cartoons in the intervening years), but, again, I refer to Star Wars and how the movies/TV always trump all the secondary media (even the licenced stuff).

      Such is the power of headcanon though that every fan can pick and choose what constitutes his personal vision of Ghostbusters/Star Wars/Star Trek/Doctor Who etc etc

      Delete
    2. True...and, especially in this Age of the Multiverse, IT ALL HAPPENED! :)

      Delete

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