Film Reviews

Ghostbusters: Afterlife IMAX review: Dir. Jason Reitman (2021)

Filmmaker Jason Reitman mentioned that he thinks of himself as “the first Ghostbusters fan”, having visited the set of the 1984 original – directed by his father, Ivan Reitman – as a child and loving the finished film. Perhaps then it’s not so surprising that his entry into the franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, views the original premise through the eyes of children: specifically the young ensemble cast, led by McKenna Grace‘s Phoebe and Finn Wolfhard‘s Trevor. Their grandfather? None other than original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler, in case you were looking for that parental influence…

The story sees Callie (Carrie Coon) move to the town of Summerville with her two children Phoebe and Trevor in the wake of her father’s death. Upon arriving at his rather haunted-looking house, the family find themselves struggling to fit in, that is until Phoebe discovers her grandfather’s old ghost-busting gear, and Trevor encounters a supernatural force at the nearby mine. Together with summer school teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd), Phoebe’s friend Podcast (Logan Kim) and Trevor’s friend/love interest Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), the family must prevent the emergence of a ghostly presence…

The instant highlight of Afterlife is McKenna Grace as Phoebe: quirky, funny and endearing, she’s just perfect casting, not just as the lead character but also as the granddaughter of Harold Ramis‘ Egon. Grace imbues the character with plenty of charm alongside her eccentricities, and I loved her scenes with Logan Kim‘s Podcast – who’s central gimmick is, you guessed it, that he hosts a supernatural-themed podcast. I was a little uncertain about Finn Wolfhard starring in yet another 80’s homage – he’s already a lead in Netflix’s Stranger Things and the two-part film version of It – but he does get to play a different kind of character here. There is the element of the clichéd stroppy teenager, yet his relationship with Phoebe is also earnest and loving, while his romance with Celeste O’Connor‘s Lucky is as awkward as you’d expect. Paul Rudd is clearly absolutely delighted to be in a Ghostbusters film, while Carrie Coon brings a lot of charisma to Callie, who in lesser hands may have been a rather dull generic “mom” character. The first two-thirds of the film, following these characters are they gradually become aware of the ghostly threat, are great fun to watch, and filled with some lovely character beats.

Unfortunately, where Ghostbusters: Afterlife goes wrong can be summed up with Reitman’s comment that he’s handing the franchise “back to the fans”. The third act of the film is filled to the brim with fan service and call-backs, and while there are some strong moments (mostly focused on the new characters), it’s an almost beat-for-beat re-tread of the original 1984 film. The creative team behind Afterlife have urged fans and critics who’ve seen the movie early not to spoil it, and while I won’t, I have to say that there’s really not much to spoil when it’s so ridiculously similar to the first film. Those who complained about Star Wars: The Force Awakens being too similar to A New Hope will probably have a field day with Afterlife. The movie is so focused on these endless references that it forgets to actually conclude the stories of its main characters in a satisfying way.

This juggling act between new and old is quite precarious in Afterlife. There’s some great practical effects work, and some of the CGI has clearly been designed for a “vintage” look, yet the cinematography is very clean and digital, and some of the CGI very crisp and modern. Even Rob Simonsen‘s score is evocative of Elmer Bernstein‘s from the 1984 film. Ultimately, I think the filmmakers would’ve been better off shooting Afterlife on 35mm film and going all-in on the “retro” aesthetic. Jason Reitman directs the character scenes wonderfully, although his handling of the action often feels quite bland and uninspired. There’s a clear attempt to keep the keep the focus on the main ensemble and Summerville itself, which works best for the story, even if it means that the action is nowhere near as bold and varied as either the 1984 original or the 2016 reboot. In terms of IMAX spectacle, it’s not Dune, but the action sequences in particular do benefit from the enhanced picture and sound system, with ghosts whizzing around the speakers and proton streams firing after them.

Overall, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a pretty solid and entertaining fourth entry to the franchise, although it primarily suffers from being overly self-referential. Some of the call-backs work quite nicely, but with a third act that seems determined to rehash the original film, it just gets a bit too familiar. It’s difficult not see this as a response to the backlash received by Paul Feig‘s 2016 reboot, yet Afterlife does showcase a talented younger cast of characters I’d definitely like to see more of. I think hardcore Ghostbusters fans will be delighted with Afterlife, while general audiences may find its reliance on nostalgia perhaps a little off-putting. If nothing else, I hope that the film inspires a younger audience just as the original inspired so many in 1984.

Oh, and stay through the credits…

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is released in cinemas on 18th November!

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