Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Jason Reitman and Gil Keenan
Starring Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd
Classification PG; 124 minutes
Opens in theatres Nov. 19
What’s your favourite Ghostbusters memory? Is it the first time that the Ecto-1 roars down the streets of New York, siren blaring? Or when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man crushes Manhattan before exploding into white goo? Maybe the slobs versus snobs chaos in the Sedgewick Hotel? When Dan Aykroyd’s character receives oral sex from a ghost? When Zuul opens the gates of Hell? When … wait, did that bit with Aykroyd actually happen? Yes. Yes it did. But moving on: If any of the above has been sustaining you since the 1980s heyday of Ecto Cooler juice boxes and Slimer Happy Meals, then Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the film that you’ve been impatiently waiting three decades of your actual life for.
Okay, the supernatural fellatio bit hasn’t survived into director Jason Reitman’s sequel to his father Ivan’s original two films. But nearly everything else – from certain lines of dialogue to specific demigod mythologies to seemingly minor references to Crunch candy bars to Elmer Bernstein’s score – is here. So much so that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not really a movie at all.
Instead, it is a gigantic, perverse admission of defeat. It is Jason Reitman admitting that he will never match the creative powers of his father. It is Sony Pictures admitting that they should have never made a “lady” Ghosbusters. It is the entire Ghostbusters brain trust admitting that the fans have always been right, that they can never be wrong, and that all their devotion and unquestioning nostalgia is the only thing that matters, that will ever matter, so far as ghostbustin’ is concerned.
Everyone would have saved a lot of time and money and frustration had Jason simply written his father a nice note (“Congrats, pop, on making such a fun movie. See you in the car!”) and then digitally nuked, proton-blast-style, all traces of Paul Feig’s 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.
Instead, we have Afterlife. Which, for its first ghost-free first hour, promises a fine enough little family dramedy that apes Steven Spielberg’s peak Amblin era.
Taking place 30 years after the events of 1989′s Ghostbusters II, the film focuses on harried single mother Callie (a slumming Carrie Coon) and her two wise-beyond-their-years kids, the teenage slacker Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and the preteen STEM genius Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). After Callie’s estranged father dies, the family pack up for Summerville, Okla., where they hope to start a new life. The hitch: Callie’s father was famed Ghostbuster crackpot Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the first two films with Aykroyd), and the clan’s new heartland digs rest on ground zero for supernatural activity.
As Phoebe and Trevor begin to pick through the detritus of their grandfather’s life – proton packs, ghost traps, a rusted Ecto-1 – Reitman teases a genuinely compelling intergenerational tension: How do you live up to your family’s name while also trying to forge your own path? Unfortunately, the answer, as delivered by the second half of Afterlife, is: copy, paste, repeat.
Once the film introduces its first big ghost moment – a Slimer-esque critter named Muncher, so called because, um, he munches on stuff – the film embraces its destiny as a sloppy serving of wan call-backs and eye-rolling fan service. And what is new – a kid called Podcast (Logan Kim), so called because, um, he likes podcasts – is uninspired to the point of cinematic malpractice. This is not a film delicately peppered with Easter Eggs – cute little references to be hunted down by obsessive fans in the margins. This is a movie that is one giant Easter Egg, cracked and rotten and sulphurous in its stink.
Perhaps if the script’s narrative mechanics made sense, I could brush it off as a harmless Reitman family lark. But unlike the 1984 and 1989 movies – I’ll go to bat for Ghostbusters II, whose Statue of Liberty pink-slime finale is still a riot – Afterlife forgets to build the basics.
Characters don’t tell each other crucial information, the big set-pieces arrive too late, and there is no corporeal villain to root against (god, this film could use a dose of legendary 1980s big-screen jerk William Atherton; Jason, if you chose to bring nearly everything back from the first movie, why not EPA agent Walter Peck? I’d even take Peter MacNicol’s Vigo the Carpathian acolyte!).
Also missing is a genuine sense of humour. Paul Rudd tries his hardest to bring some deadpan Bill Murray-esque energy to the proceedings as Phoebe’s slacker science teacher Mr. Grooberson, and there is one good dark gag involving a regular Jason Reitman collaborator that I won’t spoil here. But Feig’s Ghosbusters had at least a dozen rock-solid bits that made me laugh out loud. Here, the comedy is an afterthought, something to be sorted out once Reitman and Keenan ensured that we were all caught up on who Ivo Shandor is.
I’ll give Afterlife this: Children under 13 might enjoy its second-half shenanigans. And the film is big on the idea of rural America magic-hour atmosphere (even though it was shot in Alberta). I guess if Marvel obsessives are calling Chloé Zhao’s Eternals the superhero movie that Terrence Malick never made, then Afterlife can be Malick’s Ghosbusters, poor guy.
But kids and sunsets aside, the film is conceptually, artistically, spiritually empty. So yeah, somebody call a Ghostbuster. Because this thing is dead.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.
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