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‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ true to the spirit of the original

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Revisiting the things that we love comes with risk. How do we continue the stories we cherish in a way that is loyal to the original while also adding something meaningful? It’s a delicate tightrope walk, to be sure, a balancing act that far too many creators and artists have failed to execute.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” After all, I love the Ghostbusters. I love the 1984 original. I love the 1989 sequel. Hell, I’m even in the minority that enjoyed the 2016 reboot, for its flaws. But the idea of making a direct sequel to those films over three decades later seemed … ambitious? Complicated? Risky?

Well, I’m happy to report that my concerns were largely unfounded. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” – directed by Jason Reitman from a script by Reitman and Gil Kenan – is a delightful experience, one that stays true to the spirit (see what I did there?) of the original. It’s a fun and funny and at times surprisingly poignant dip back into this world, a world where the consequences of long-ago actions have rippling consequences to this day.

It’s not perfect – there are those who have argued that the third act leans a little too far into the fan service lane and I don’t think they’re entirely wrong – but the truth is that this film treats the legacy of the franchise with love and respect. No surprise, considering that Reitman’s father Ivan was behind the camera for the original, but it’s worth noting.

In the small town of Summerville, Oklahoma, something sinister is at work deep beneath the Earth. Former Ghostbuster Egon Spengler has moved to a dilapidated farm on the outskirts of town, devoting himself single-mindedly to combatting the forces of evil there, set in motion by eccentric millionaire and occultist Ivo Shandor and his mining operation. He sets a plan in motion, but ultimately falls.

Callie (Carrie Coon) is Egon’s estranged daughter. She’s struggling financially, doing her best to do right by her two kids – the mechanically-inclined Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and burgeoning scientific genius Phoebe (McKenna Grace) – and so when she gets word of her father’s passing, she packs up and takes her family to Summerville.

Neither kid is particularly thrilled about the move. Trevor winds up applying for a job at a drive-in restaurant because he develops an insta-crush on Lucky (Celeste O’Conner). Phoebe enrolls in summer school, taught by checked-out science teacher/seismologist Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd); he’s happy to have a student who is interested in his work tracking the odd and inexplicable seismic events centered in the town. She also makes a friend, a weirdness-obsessed kid who calls himself Podcast (Logan Kim), because … you know … he has a podcast.

It soon becomes clear that there is something apocalyptic bubbling deep within the mines. And when Trevor and Phoebe discover their grandfather’s things – a secret workshop packed with ghostbusting gear, an old barn hiding the rusting Ecto-1 – they finally learn just who he really was, even as their mother’s resentment of her father continues.

And when circumstances shift, all hell breaks loose. Specifically, Gozer the Gozerian, the monstrous entity defeated by the original Ghostbusters, is back. And this time, it will stop at nothing to break down the dimensional barriers and unleash the horrors of the spirit world on an unsuspecting Earth.

It’s up to Phoebe, Trevor and their friends to stop the scourge of the dead before it is too late. But maybe – just maybe – they might get some help from a few folks who know a little something about busting ghosts.

Look, I’ll concede that I was primed to like “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” even if I did have some concerns. But this is a straight-up good time at the movies, one with some solid set pieces and some great laughs and some unexpectedly heartfelt moments of familial love. It is a story about the ups-and-downs of the relationships we have in our lives and the sad truth that sometimes we become disconnected from one another for reasons that we never fully understand.

It is also a story about fighting ghosts, and that rules.

I have no doubt that the nepotism card is going to be tossed around with regard to Jason Reitman’s work on this project, which, well – fair enough. But here’s the thing: he’s an excellent filmmaker in his own right, regardless of who his father is. And honestly, is there anyone out there who would be more invested making sure this project succeeded? He comes by his love of the franchise honestly, and that reads onscreen. No doubt his own connection to not just the films, but to his father, contributed to the work.

And it’s good work. I’m not going to go into too many specifics because of spoilers, but it’s worth noting that Reitman and company do an excellent job of connecting this world to that of the previous films. Even decades later, when the events that took place in 1980s NYC are largely relegated to internet myth, we see bits and pieces that connect the various dots in a simple and clever fashion.

(Seriously – the moment when we first hear that sound of a proton pack being activated … legitimately magical. For me, that alone was worth the price of admission.)

It doesn’t hurt that the cast is stacked. We’re going to talk about McKenna Grace for a minute, because that girl is a wild talent. Not only does she absolutely look the part – the resemblance to the late Harold Ramis is uncanny – but she proves more than capable of handling her business in moments both large and small. I’ve been on the Wolfhard bandwagon for years now; he’s one of the best young actors out there and he continues to deliver. The big brother/little sister dynamic between him and Grace is spot on. Carrie Coon is wonderful, a perfect fit for this role. Paul Rudd crushes it; you can tell the reverence he has for the source material and he goes for it in a great way. O’Conner and Kim are both excellent fits. A couple of unexpected cameos prove delightful as well.

Oh, and those people that you’re wondering whether they show up? They show up.

(Quick aside: Shoutout to the lovely and talented Danielle Kennedy, the coolest roller-skating carhop that ever was and ever will be.)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a popcorn-munching treat, a delightful moviegoing experience. Sure, it stumbles a bit toward the end, but it also sticks the landing. All in all, a worthy successor to a beloved series, breathing new life into the proceedings and helping introduce it all to the next generation.

As always, bustin’ makes me feel good.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 22 November 2021 10:14

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