Ghostbusters: Afterlife Has Great Moments, But Also Has Frustrating Problems
Ghostbusters (1984) is a stone cold classic by an measure. It’s one of the most quoted comedies of the last 40 years. So I understand the attempts to extend the franchise by making more movies. However, I don’t think any since the original have struck gold yet. The original sequel was divisive and gets largely ignored by many. The 2016 remake was unfairly maligned, but was still far from great. Now Afterlife, well…it exists. And it’s not bad. I’m not sure it’s “better” than the 2016 take, though. It’s just aiming at different audiences.
These last two films demonstrate that you can take wildly different approaches and deliver a product that is…very watchable, but flawed. In Afterlife, we have a movie that feels the need to be a new thing for the franchise by focusing on kids and using a middle of nowhere setting. Yet it also struggles with its love for the original film and doesn’t always know how to best incorporate that legacy. Much has been made of how this movie leans too hard on nostalgia. During the first two acts, I would have very firmly disagreed. The references were organic and helped push the story forward. I liked the pacing through the first hour quite a bit, and thought there was a touching method of incorporating an old character. Even though the first hour doesn’t feature hardly any ghosts and definitely no ghosts being busted, the story was interesting and I fully engaged in the beginning.
McKenna Grace as Phoebe and Paul Rudd as her summer school teacher Gary are the clear highlights for the new characters. They level up the script they’re working with and inject a lot of personality where lesser performers may have struggled. This is especially true in Rudd’s case, who is basically doing Paul Rudd as a teacher who is nerdy about science. Which is great. I’m all for it. It’s just, you know, hard to give the writers too much credit for that. I’m a big Carrie Coon fan and fully believe she gave one of the best ever TV performances in The Leftovers (it’s a shame that show is so under discussed). Yet here Coon is mostly just the mom who is nice, but has daddy issues and is not good with money. There’s not a lot to for her to work with, but she does have one of my favorite moments of the film, one that everyone will see coming ten miles away, but a moment that hits well regardless.
The first Ghost bust leads to a fun chase sequence that will undoubtedly excite old school fans and young kids alike. However, after that the movie can get tedious at times. The Finn Wolfhard character could be cut out of the movie completely and impact the plot exactly zero percent. You’d just have to adjust some characters into his place in a couple scenes (which would better serve the already better characters), and then you’d have a slightly shorter, better movie. It’s not his performance that’s a problem, it’s just that his character doesn’t make anything better in any way. He mostly has a side plot about him liking this girl, but it’s not interesting and goes nowhere. It’s just a waste of screentime. It’s almost as if they cut out a lot of pages or forgot that main characters should either be entertaining or… important to the plot in any way. Again…the writing here isn’t great.
The film also becomes very preoccupied with making references to the original in the third act. There are several nods to the 1984 movie that barely work, but I’m kinda over this idea that just saying a line from a different movie qualifies as clever. It can be fun. But there should be effort put into it. This movie got it all right in the first 70 minutes. Then it became a mixed bag. I will say it is very exciting to see some designs from the original updated with today’s effects, as the 37 years old original Ghostbusters has some effects that are dated to say the least (even if everything else in that movie is essentially perfect). Look, it’s a conflicting thing for me.
Did I like seeing members of the original cast pop up? I mean yeah! Is their reveal a little ridiculously convenient? Most definitely. Are there a couple moments with them that made me laugh? Absolutely! Did some of it fall *really* flat with the crowd I saw it with? Yes. Hearing one of the great comedic actors deliver several jokes to deafening silence was a bummer. There’s a great scene in the film where one of the older characters talks to one of the new younger characters, and there’s some really interesting stuff in their conversation. It also makes no sense as to why the older character spills their guts. There’s a line at the end of their convo that would have made him want to talk, but before that he’s just talking to some random stranger out of the blue. It’s wildly weird writing. I bring it up because this happens several times.
We are told Finn Wolfhard’s character “failed his driver’s test three times.” Later we learn he is fifteen and won’t be sixteen for over 8 months. I mean…unless I’m a complete idiot and missed something about how the driving age is now fifteen, that doesn’t make any sense and is bad writing. There’s a character named Podcast. You’ll never guess why he’s called that. At least the movie thinks so, because our main character asks, “why do they call you Podcast?” Unless the joke is that the character is not the brightest, why would anyone ask that? Podcast comes up to out lead character and sticks a microphone in their face and begins interviewing them before telling them his name is Podcast. What’s worse is that our main character is supposed to be wicked smart. Saying “I know” and knowing more than almost all the characters about anything related to, well… everything? I haven’t mean slapped out of my seat that had by bad dialogue in a good while. I know this film is leaning towards kids in a lot of ways, but do the filmmakers think kids are stupid?
To be quite honest there are more problems with the basic plot and character backstories we are given, but I’m not here to spoil the movie. The biggest non-spoiler one I have to discuss is this: basically nobody believes in ghosts. Despite having live TV video of the Ghostbusters walking up to face Gozer, apparently nobody in the New York media ever got a shot of a ghost! Or of the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man going on a Godzilla walk through the city! The movie doesn’t say that. But that must be the case if all the main characters in this movie don’t believe they exist. There’s YouTube footage of the Ghostbusters commercial from the first film that McKenna Grace’s Phoebe watches, and other clips shown to her and Podcast by Paul Rudd’s character Gary. So…come on. There’s footage of the actual ghosts. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
Phoebe, again a complete genius, gives the explanation, “that all happened before we were born.” Okay. So did Pearl Harbor. And 9/11. And any number of other events across time. That doesn’t mean you’re oblivious to major events in human history. Is this movie really saying a ton of people witnessing paranormal activity (not the movie) at once, while it is more than likely being broadcast on live television doesn’t qualify as historical? The original Ghostbusters ends with them emerging from the battle as heroes. Heck, even when they show up to fight Gozer, the crowd is cheering their arrival. All I’m saying is there’s a lot of people who can now legally drink who weren’t alive when Batman and Robin was released. Yet I can assure you that George Clooney’s Batsuit had Batnipples. That was a thing that happened. I can show you on YouTube if you weren’t alive yet.
Do these plot holes and poorly written character moments ruin the movie? No! It’s just it would be easier to forgive if the movie was great more often. Eventually the movie starts to rely on “look at this! Remember this? Don’t you still love this?!” My answer is yes, but I already own the original Ghostbusters. I can see some of these things whenever I want. I didn’t need this movie to redo so many of the same beats. It’s not as if the original movie has been lost and unseen for years. If somehow every copy of Ghostbusters was destroyed and we could no longer watch it ever again, then parts of this movie would have made me cry. It would have been beyond heartwarming and like soup for the soul. But that’s ridiculous and not the world we live in.
There are credit scenes. And absolutely stay for them! There’s great fun to be had. The movie itself is inconsistent but will surely please many. Many more will be disappointed by parts of it, and I already know there are fans of the 2016 film who wish that movie wasn’t wiped away. We could get into that larger discussion some other time, but just know there’s a spectrum here, and be prepared to fall anywhere on it.
As for more Ghostbusters movies, I think we as a society are probably good now. We did it. Let’s stop for a while. Maybe a hundred years? By then they can do a 48K virtual reality Ghostbusters movie where everyone plays the main character in their entertainment pod. Yes, in the future movies are video games. Anyway, Ghostbusters 1984 is out on 4K now. Oh, and Afterlife is now in theaters!