Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Review): Fanservice Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

There’s something strange in your neighbourhood theatre: a new Ghostbusters movie. But you’re not sure if you wanna see it. So who you gonna call? Me I guess.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is essentially the Ghostbusters 3 which movie-goers have craved since the 1980s. But also not quite… It’s at least a continuation of that universe and not a reboot. The basic premise: Egon Spengler’s daughter and grandchildren move to his old farmhouse in a quiet town. None of them want to be there, but they’re broke and desperate and have little choice. One big problem: this town stands near a temple dedicated to dark spirits. And the original Ghostbusters have long since disbanded. So it’s up to a new generation of heroes to save the day!

Ghostbusters: Afterlife continues not only the family legacy of its in-film characters but its behind-the-scenes legacy as well. Afterlife is directed by Jason Reitman– son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the first and second Ghostbusters films. Jason Reitman evidently made this film with love! He clearly respects the source material without being overly reverent to it.

Just to set your expectations: Afterlife isn’t as comedic as previous Ghostbusters films. Yes, it’s got a fair deal of comedy (which I’ll discuss at length soon) but it’s mostly a drama about 3 generations of a dysfunctional family. And for that it gets my respect. Copying the exact tone of the other films would have been easy, but Jason Reitman had the guts to present his own vision.

You could probably watch this thing without having seen a Ghostbusters film! Afterlife is a story which (mostly) stands alone and could excel on its own merits. I’d have enjoyed it even if Ghostbusters wasn’t in the title (which is a double-edged sword, because it helps build hype for the project but also carries the weight of expectations with the brand).

Speaking of weight, that proton pack looks HEAVY in the movie.

I didn’t realize before this movie how much Ghostbusters required a change of scenery. After three movies set in urban environments, it was a refreshing shift of pace to set Afterlife in a sleepy little town past its prime. The locale had character, with its abandoned mines and factories, and dusty roads. Speaking as someone from a small town, Summerville, Oklahoma felt just the right amount of lifeless (by intention).

Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t feature a tonne of action, but what little is has delivers! The sequences were fast-paced, dynamic, and original enough for my tastes. The highlight sequence was a car chase through Summerville’s main street.

The real strength of this film was its family component. Behind all the ghosts and action and technology, this is a story of legacy and the complicated feelings associated with that. Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon– Egon’s daughter) spends the film running away from her legacy and hiding it from her children because she wants nothing to do with her father or his world. But Callie’s feelings are challenged by raising a daughter who is a LOT more like Egon than she’d probably like. And Phoebe (Mckenna Grace– Egon’s granddaughter) never knew her family background, which serves to make her feel more isolated. Yet this family is stable and doesn’t define itself by conflict. They love and respect each other. All this to say, the Spengler family dynamic is complex and well established.

Another intriguing twist on the Ghostbusters formula is that adults take a backseat to four teenagers. I was somewhat apprehensive about this choice at first (although I’ve seen a lot of great younger actors carry stories before) but they did a good job. And this isn’t one of those movies where adults become idiots to make the kids look smarter. Also: I was pleasantly surprised to find that the characters drove this movie. All too often plot and spectacle overshadow basic character arcs, but not so in Afterlife.

Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim and Finn Wolfhard in Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Standouts of the cast include Paul Rudd as summer school teacher (and stand-in for prior Ghostbusters fans) Mr Grooberson, and Logan Kim as Podcast (Logan Kim- Pheobe’s friend… who runs a podcast). They were both charming and enjoyable in these roles.

But the undisputed MVP of Afterlife was Mckenna Grace as our protagonist! Her performance really makes this movie. Phoebe is brilliant without being annoying, and convincingly wise beyond her years. Are any actual 12 year-olds so intelligent? Maybe. I don’t care. Grace sells it either way. I also loved Phoebe’s dry sense of humor! Her jokes were groan-inducing by design but they still made me laugh. Could we please get more subdued wit back into mainstream entertainment? I’m sick of the snarky jokes which pervade most blockbuster films (yes– I’m looking directly at you, MCU).

On that note: Afterlife is a funny movie! I don’t think the tone is right to call it a comedy, but it’s certainly light. Does every gag land? No. Are many of the jokes laugh-out-loud funny? Also no. But they still amused me more than most movies’ sense of humor (see my plea above).

Harold Ramis’ real-life death was handled with respect, and where they took Egon’s story in lieu of these circumstances made sense. I’d argue the entire film may be considered a tribute to Ramis and his work. And what they did with the ending should make any Ghostbusters fan emotional. Well done with that! At risk of spoiling anything, I abstain from further comments…

Paul Rudd being effortlessly charming (as is his default).

A few gripes now: the pacing of Afterlife felt off. I enjoyed myself the whole way through, but the plot took a while to get going. The first half of Act 2 suffered the worst because it was sandwiched between the world-building introduction and the action/ adventure elements.

The ending felt a bit too indebted to the original Ghostbusters film. Much of Afterlife worked well enough on its own, so I believe the end threat could have been something wholly unique. They took the safe choice instead. I didn’t dislike it exactly, but the villain was disappointing.

“Fanservice” is a word I see thrown out a lot about this film. Other reviewers make Afterlife sound like mere nostalgia bait. I’m not gonna lie: there’s a lot of references thrown around. But I didn’t have a problem with their use. Let’s take a film like Rise of Skywalker for example of bad fanservice. RoS went out of its way to incorporate major plot points people might enjoy instead of trying new things which made sense for the story (*cough* Palpatine). That movie needed fanservice because it had few other merits to stand on. Compare that to Afterlife: a movie which successfully generates a compelling narrative WITHOUT resorting to cheap tactics at every turn. The fanservice doesn’t hold the movie up; it enhances the final product as a pleasant bonus.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife does justice to the original franchise’s legacy and continues the story in a satisfying way which I say is Worth a Watch.

NOTE: Be sure to stick around for the film’s post credits scenes (there’s 2)!

Do you think Ghostbusters has more life in it, or should stay dead after this one? What did you think of Ghostbusters: Afterlife? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

REVIEW METRIC: Don’t bother; If you’re bored; Worth a watch; Pretty darn good; Must see; Watch it A.S.A.P.

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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