By Geoff Wertheim
(**) In theatres
In recent years, the trend for franchises to refresh themselves is to have the characters constantly remark and reflect how awesome the original was, while pretty much recreating the original. They’re films made for the fans, by fans. We saw this with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and now Ghostbusters. In 1984, kids ran around pretending to be ghostbusters – this is the cinematic adaptation of those imaginings.
Director Jason Reitman is, perhaps, the best choice to make this studio approved fan film. While most 70’s born kids, such as myself, can say we grew up with Ghostbusters, Jason can hold that claim a little tighter. As the son of the original movie’s producer/director Ivan Reitman, young Jason was often spotted on set of both of the original movies. He even filmed a cameo in both, though cut from the first, he’s kept in the second.
When it comes to the cast, this is McKenna Grace’s movie the whole way through, in what I anticipated to be more of an ensemble piece. Grace has long been in my radar for her immense talent; an acting child prodigy, not seen since Dakota Fanning, you can expect an even bigger career for her going forward. As Phoebe, Egon Spengler’s chip-off-the-old-block granddaughter, she’s joined by her brother (Finn Wolfhard, previously seen donning Ghostbusters costume as an aforementioned 80’s kid in Stranger Things), Podcast (newcomer Logan Kim) who serves primarily to provide exposition, her mom (Carrie Coon) and their teacher (Paul Rudd), with a cameo from most of the original film’s cast in their proper role. With an ironic exception to Harold Ramis.
Famous as Egon, the brains of the Ghostbusters, Ramis died in 2014. So naturally he’d be the one OG (that’s Original Ghostbuster) to feature the most, often as an unseen apparition, but also through flashbacks and thanks to the magic of CGI. The emotional ties for the late Ramis I expected, but I didn’t expect them to tug my heart and bring tears to my eyes – especially when I could see the scenes coming a mile away.
The story, when not relying on young Grace to carry everything, rests heavily on the 1984 original movie. Instead of Slimer, we have Metal Muncher; original Final boss Gozar is back to end the world again with the hell of the Gatekeeper, Keymaster and Terror Dogs. The only part I truly disliked was the Minionizing of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It was an annoying toy commercial inside the Walmart commercial midway through the movie as we watched multiple tiny Stay Pufts do cutesy (albeit dark and deadly) things. They come back later and act like Gremlins rip-offs, which you’d think I of all people would be predisposed to liking; however these marshmallows left a sour taste in my mouth.
Ghostbusters Afterlife is designed to and achieves its fans’ cheers as they delight in a game of “Hey, remember that?” I cannot deny that I had fun at the time, but it’s all empty, like cinematic cotton candy.
In a recent interview, when asked what will be nostalgic for her generation in 30 years, star McKenna Grace replied, “all we’ve had as kids is basically nostalgia from your generation. You’ve had Jurassic Park, and Star Wars, and Ghostbusters. What am I going to have in 30 years?”