When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind. (from IMDB)
It’s still kind of hard to believe, even after being delayed for almost a year-and-a-half due to the global pandemic, that a third Ghostbusters film, continuing the story launched in the 1984 original, is finally here. While the story is largely about the legacy of the now-defunct Ghostbuster foursome, the story keeps it in the family–on and off screen, even being co-written and directed by the original director’s son, Jason Reitman. Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t the Ghostbusters III that fans have been waiting 32 years for (seriously… it’s been since Ghostbusters II released in 1989 that a third film has been talked about), but it neatly puts a bow on the tale of the original Ghostbusters while paving the way for a new team to possibly take up the mantle. And with that in mind, Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes a page right out of the book of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by revisiting the past in order to forge ahead into the future.
If you’ve been trying to stay in the dark about the plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, you’ll want to skip this paragraph. I won’t go too much deeper than the basic plot, but if you don’t even want to know that, just jump ahead. Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes place in the present, 30 years after we last saw the guys. In the time that has past, the original four ‘Busters — Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston — have all moved on to other things. Egon Spengler, however, has been keeping an eye on a remote town in Oklahoma that seems to have a history with the Big Bad from the 1984 film, Gozer, and his obsession with this has apparently caused tensions within his own family and the original GB team. We quickly learn that Egon has an estranged daughter named Callie who has two children of her own — Phoebe and Trevor, both of whom do not know their grandfather or what his famed profession once was. When Callie finds herself broke and her father having suddenly passed on, she inherits his creepy old farmhouse in Summerville and Callie and the kids are forced to move there. It isn’t long before some strange rumblings in the town lead to bigger things, and Callie’s Egon-like awkward daughter Phoebe starts to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps.
Reitman has gone to great lengths to try to replicate the feel of the first movie — something absent from its previous sequel, Ghostbusters II — while trying to create something new. He turned to composer Rob Simonsen to make a score that spawns from the 1984 Elmer Bernstein score, much in the way that John Williams would adapt each of his Star Wars episode scores to utilize similar themes over and over while creating new ones. This is the first time in 37 years that we’ve gotten a Ghostbusters movie score that really draws from its original roots. As an avid fan of the 1984 fan myself (it’s still my favorite movie of all time), it’s a big adjustment for me to hear themes always previously associated with Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston now being reused for brand new characters. It’s almost shocking. But what’s a Star Wars movie without those iconic themes? So I do appreciate Reitman trying to create a cinematic consistency where these themes represent the heart of Ghostbusters. (I still would love to see Ghostbusters II with a soundtrack like the 1984 film and Afterlife; I think it’d really change the feel of that movie.)
Where The Force Awakens revisited some beats from A New Hope in almost a remake fashion, Afterlife has this because of it revisiting the Gozer lore. I love the idea of why Egon ended up in Summerville, and I do like the idea of bringing back the iconic villain from the first film. While it might feel a little lazy or cheap to tread familiar ground like that, the writing team makes it make sense and feel natural to this universe — and of course, it makes for some fantastic moments. It also allows the movie to have some iconic reunions, too, and I think it’s a thoughtful way of giving fans some closure to the origins of Ghostbusters without starting from scratch (I still refuse to see that dreadful 2016 reboot which made that mistake), but sets up a future for the franchise. As long as future films might continue to chase the “feel” of what makes Ghostbusters undeniably Ghostbusters, then continuing the story from here would make sense and feel right.
To move this franchise forward, Reitman has centered this new story on a new cast of characters. Leading the way is Phoebe, played by Mckenna Grace (who’s also a real-life Christian), who is the 12-year-old Spengler granddaughter. Her mom, Callie, is played by Carrie Coon, who has a little bit of a Dana Barrett/Sigourney Weaver vibe. Callie’s son, Trevor, is played by Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard, who coincidentally dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween in the second season of the show. Celeste O’Connor is Summerville resident, and love interest to Trevor, Lucky, who was my least favorite addition to the cast (she’s just way too cocky and smug for my taste). Logan Kim then rounds out the cast as a kid who just goes by the name of “Podcast” and sort of fills the role of the new Ray Stantz of the group. He’s nerdy and a little goofy, but he seems like he’s got a good heart. But, admittedly, my favorite addition to the cast is comedic actor Paul Rudd who brings a whole lot of heart and humor to the proceedings. If you liked him in Ant-Man, you’ll love him as the kids’ summer school teacher, Gary Grooberson. He pretty much fills the role of both Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman and Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully and he does a great job doing so. I loved seeing him in this (and I’d love to see him return in future movies if possible). I do miss the camaraderie that the original four guys had and brought to the screen, but this is a different kind of origin story, and that void is kind of filled in pieces as Phoebe and Podcast begin hanging out together, and Trevor and Lucky strike up their friendship. The movie has a tough job of honoring the legacy of the original films and characters, while tickling that nostalgia bone and making way for a new generation. But I’m not quite sure they could have done it better.
My gripes, after the first viewing (keep in mind, I’ve seen the 1984 original MANY times over the past 37 years) are few, but I did have some. I was definitely expecting there to be less language in the movie, not “about the same” as the original films. The use of profanity is infrequent, but there are a 5 uses of the “S” word and even “*ssh*le” used once (most of it is spoken by Wolfhard or Carrie Coon), and several uses of “h*ll” and one of “d*mmit.” The only blasphemy are a couple uses of “Oh my G-d” as exclamations. There’s also a really fleeting but shockingly violent moment where a ghost tears a person in half vertically. It’s done very unexpectedly, quickly, and not too gruesomely, but it felt really out of place for a movie like this. Other little plot elements also didn’t seem to add up, or leave you pondering later and wondering how that could be, but they’re still largely forgivable. And like The Force Awakens, it’s tough to pick up a familiar story 30+ years later and not leave the audience wondering what all took place in the years since we last saw them. I loved seeing some of my favorite characters once again, but it was bittersweet not having more screen time with them. (But be sure to stay till the VERY END of the credits! There’s a mid-credits scene and a longer post-credits scene that is worth staying for!) Lastly, if you felt like Ghostbusters 1984 had some inappropriate sexual humor, you’ll also find that Afterlife repeats this problem, too. Lucky teases the 15-year-old Trevor about being a virgin, which obviously isn’t anything to be ashamed about, and Podcast teases Phoebe that Rudd’s character wants to “bone” her mom. Sure, it’s the kind of off-color remarks immature kids make (and wouldn’t be out of place in 1985’s The Goonies), but there just isn’t any need to go there in this film. Lucky, upon hearing a ghost is not specifically a male or a female, comments that that is “pretty woke” for being several thousand years ago. Please. We could do without that tired reference in any pop culture craze movies.
So the content for Ghostbusters: Afterlife is definitely PG-13. It’s got some of the creepy/spooky moments like the original movie had, with some new takes on them, but it’s hardly a horror movie (especially by today’s standards). In addition to the above-mentioned sexual or suggestive references, it’s heavily implied that two possessed characters (a man and a woman) have slept with each other off screen. It’s handled pretty delicately, though. There isn’t really much by way of blood in the movie – just some scratches and such – but the aforementioned unexpected moment where a man is torn in half by a ghost is pretty surprising and sudden. Otherwise, the only other content to be wary of is the spooky scenes involving unseen ghosts or creatures, with some iffy spiritual content involving talk about one evil ghost being a “god” or “deity.” However, in the end, even that ghost’s foremost worshipper is horrifically dismissed by this evil deity, which only cements this “small ‘g'” god as a force of evil to be stopped — which is just what the Ghostbusters are for.
While fans will never ever see the Ghostbusters III they have hoped for since the early 90’s, Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an enjoyable revitalization of a franchise beloved by many. It’s hardly a perfect sequel, but it rights the wrongs made by the gimmicky 2016 reboot and goes out of its way to honor the source material while making room for new stories to be told. If you loved the first two movies from the 80’s, chances are Ghostbusters: Afterlife is just what you’ve been waiting for. I caught my second viewing while working on this review and I found myself really enjoying my second run more than the first… and I look forward to seeing where Reitman & Co. might take this franchise in the future. — Don’t forget! If you do choose to see this movie, DO NOT miss the mid-credits and post-credits scenes!
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/19/21)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is available on 4K UHD, Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital UHD and Digital HD. We received a Blu-Ray to review, and the disc includes the following extras:
As a nearly lifelong fan of the original Ghostbusters movie, it’s pretty surreal to not only have seen, but be reviewing a new Ghostbusters movie (at least, in this case, set in the same “universe” as the original two films). The special features for Ghostbusters: Afterlife celebrate the movie and its legacy, and it’s a warm, fun, enjoyable and emotional trip down memory lane.
Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife (19:50) – Ugh, this 20-minute featurette is so good. It covers the filmmakers’ desires to create a new movie using the “DNA” of the first movie. They talk about the new cast, building physical sets, the tone of the movie, its practical and digital effects, and the return of the original guys. It concludes with talking about passing the proton pack on to a new generation of GB’s. (1 “b*d*ss,” 1 “Oh my G-d”)
The Gearhead’s Guide to Ghostbusters Gadgets (6:12) goes over the different gadgets and tools used in this film, and Afterlife‘s cast and crew talk about their favorite ones. They also talk about updating the classic gear, and designing an RTV that can keep up with a car. They also talk about populating the “trap field” with a hundred ghost trap props, and using as many practical effects as possible. This segment is just brimming with joy and admiration for the Ghostbusters gear.
Spectral Effects: The Ghosts of Afterlife (6:29) – Here, the cast and crew talk about which ghosts are their favorite (director Jason Reitman’s is Stay Puft), creating the mini-pufts, and filming without them (so they could be inserted into the movie digitally). They then talk about Muncher and filming ghost Egon with an actor as a stand-in. (1 “cr*p,” 1 “Oh G-d”)
Bringing Ecto-1 Back to Life (4:49) – Finn Wolfhard talks about Trevor and how his favorite gear is the car. We find out that they restored the original Ecto-1A from Ghostbusters II to be used in this movie as a regular Ecto-1, too. It’s also pretty interesting to hear them talk about all the work that went into restoring the classic car. (1 “S” word from a scene)
We Got One! Easter Eggs Revealed (7:49) is a pretty extensive look at the Easter Eggs in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Some are super obvious, but there were also quite a few obscure ones that I missed that I was glad they pointed out. This is definitely worth a watch!
Ghostbusters: A Look Back (10:37) – For the 2019 35th Anniversary of the first movie, they re-released the original 1984 film in theaters. There were cast interviews with Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, as well as director Ivan Reitman, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver that preceded the showing of the movie. I remember seeing chunks of theses interviews at the theatrical event, but I think there is also quite a bit of new material here that was previously not shown, because I definitely didn’t remember seeing several moments in these interviews. I’m glad they added it here. (And it’s relevant to Afterlife, because they reference their reunion in it.) (1 “S” words, 1 “h*ll,” 1 “*ss”)
A Look Ahead (3:44) has more from the 2019 interviews. We see some clips from the movies, and learn that Ivan Reitman stood in for Egon in some scenes. Unfortunately, it’s not so much a look ahead as it is a look at now.
Deleted Scene: Is It Ever Too Late? (1:24) – This scene takes place right after Janine shows up at Egon’s farm house to meet Callie. There’s a neat cameo of the toaster from Ghostbusters II, and we learn that Egon had been cremated and his ashes were in a box at the house. Callie also says she never even MET her father, Egon (which is especially sad). Janine reassures her that, even though he’s gone, it’s never really too late, which is a nice little tease that death isn’t the end of their relationship. They probably should have left this scene in the movie, but my guess is they cut it for the sake of pacing. (1 “S” word from Callie)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/29/22)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Podcast tells Phoebe that Gary wants to “bone” her mom; While talking about how the Gatekeeper and Keymaster get together, it’s mentioned that they “unite.” Phoebe asks what that means and Podcast comments that they at least get to “third base;” A man and woman embrace in a kiss and fall to the ground. It’s implied that they have sex. Later, the man says to the woman subtly that he thinks they may have done that; A comment is made about virgins being sacrificed down a well. Lucky teases Trevor that he’ll be in danger. It’s then revealed that Trevor is only 15, as Phoebe states that statistically speaking most 15 year old are virgins; When Phoebe states that Gozer is neither male or female, Lucky comments that that is “pretty woke” for thousands of years ago; Gary brings Phoebe and Podcast to Callie’s home and when she asks why, he says he’s an escort. He realizes how that sounds and says “That didn’t come out right.”; Gary jokes that Phoebe might become a “pole dancer” and Callie jokes back that she’s not coordinated enough. He then says that doesn’t really matter; A possessed woman strokes a young boy’s hair and asks if he’s the Keymaster, causing him to act very shy; A boy refers to a woman as acting “humpy” after being possessed.
Vulgarity/Language: 5 “S” words, 4 “h*ll,” 1 “*ssh*le,” 1 “d*mmit,” 5 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “Oh G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: Phoebe sees Callie sleeping with her head down on a table and a glass of wine next to her; Phoebe tells a joke about a drunk whale in a bar; When Trevor is trying to get a signal on his cell phone, he holds it up and says “There isn’t even a bar?!” and Callie quips, “There better be a bar.”; When Gary commends Callie for getting by as a single mom, she jokes that drinking helps.
Blood/Gore: While Callie is trimming Trevor’s hair with an electric razor, she accidentally knicks his neck. He then touches the spot and holds up his hand saying he’s bleeding, but there’s barely anything noticeable on his fingers; Gary has a little bit of blood on his head; While the kids watch “Cujo” during summer school, we see a flash of what might be bloody imagery while the dog is attacking something; A resurrected man is suddenly – and unexpectedly – vertically torn in half very quickly (we see a little “goo” but it’s very fast); We see a ghostly creature with an eyeball on a tether; We see a ghostly figure that starts to dissipate and come apart as its powers weaken.
Violence: A man speeds through a mine gate in his pickup truck, but his vehicle is overturned into a cornfield during an accident; A demonic dog-like ghost looms over a man in a chair but disappears. Hands then come out of a chair and grab the man and the man stops moving. We soon learn he died during this brief encounter; In summer school in Middle School, Gary shows the kids the violent movie Cujo. We briefly see some flashes of the dog attacking something and a woman screaming. On a different day, we see the kids watching the movie Chucky and briefly see it attacking people with them screaming (mostly off screen); Gary drops a ghost trap when he sees some mist coming out of it; There are many mini earthquakes / tremors throughout the movie that cause things to shake in houses and in stores and shops; A trap is opened and a dog-like ghost rushes out and flies by a few people, blowing out the windshield on Gary’s car and the windows on nearby school buses; Phoebe tests a proton gun on some junk in a field, melting it into nothing; Podcast and Phoebe follow a ghost into an abandoned factory where they find a ghost eating metal. Podcast blows a whistle which startles the ghost who spits pieces of metal back at them like machine-gun fire. They duck behind some piping to avoid getting hit. Phoebe then shoots the ghost with the proton gun and holds it till it breaks free; Trevor takes the Ecto-1 joy-riding through a wheat field and ends up accidentally jumping it into the air and landing hard on the road; The kids chase a ghost through the Summerville town streets, shooting at it with a proton stream, accidentally destroying storefronts and vehicles; The ghost shoots metal at their car, causing them to scream in fear; A character sits in a gunner seat of the Ecto-1 that sticks out from the side of the car. As the car approaches a bridge, they struggle to retract the seat, narrowly saving the seat’s passenger; A marshmallow comes to life and bites a man’s finger. We then see a large number of mini-marshmallows impaling each other with toothpicks, using torches to burn each other (or melt chocolate on one), spear a pair of them and burn them over a grill, one melt as it walks across a grill, one get splattered in a blender, and other comedically violent goofs; A terror dog chases a man through a store and crashes into some displays. It then bursts through the store’s glass doors as the man runs and jumps into their car. The dog then gets on the hood of the car, causing the tire to pop and the car to sag; We see a temple with a pit that has what looks like hellish, ghostly figures writhing around inside and reaching out; Some mounted proton streams shoot a well of souls to keep them contained. We see a dead body in a coffin suddenly start to come to life but then stop; A terror dog suddenly lunges out of the darkness at the camera; A woman is shown possessed and acting a little animalistic toward other people. She then growls and jumps out a window; A resurrected man is suddenly – and unexpectedly – vertically torn in half very quickly; A terror dog chases a car through the town streets and crashes into things along the way; A ghost starts to deteriorate some when another ghost is trapped. We then see it looking creepy and wispy as it travels through a corn field; Some mini marshmallow creatures pull apart and attack equipment. We later see them exploding as they get shocked; We see a couple mini marshmallow creatures burn up and get destroyed; A ghost grabs a girl and possesses her; Some characters fire their proton streams at a ghost but are thrown back, with one hitting a car and the others landing on the ground; and other action / supernatural action.