Like so many things in 2016, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters drew people into unedifying online wars. The all-female reboot was far from spectacular, but neither was it the childhood-ruining disaster others claimed. The debate became toxic, the film tanked, but that didn’t stop a franchise-hungry studio from forging ahead. This week sees the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the third movie in the original timeline, and a soft reboot for the series.
Set in the present day, the story follows single mother Callie (Carrie Coon), who moves into her late father’s farmhouse in the small town of Summerville after falling on hard times.
Her two children, the studious Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and the more rambunctious Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) make the best of their new surroundings, and while potting around their new home they discover their grandfather’s connection to The Ghostbusters, now all but forgotten in the years that followed. As spirits begin to terrorise the town, they must uncover the mystery of why their grandfather moved there.
It’s a family affair on screen and off it. Director Jason Reitman is the son of the original films’ director Ivan, and even had a cameo as a twelve-year-old in Ghostbusters 2. It’s safe to say he knows the material intimately, and so has been brought in to both revive the franchise and pay tribute to the films fans love. This has a mixed effect, with the new elements hampered by nostalgia. The early parts of the movie are influenced by Stranger Things and early Spielberg, looking through Phoebe’s eyes at this cosy world with a dark secret.
However, there’s another part to this contract that has to be fulfilled. The plot takes a hard turn, ambling down a path that resurrects ghosts from the past (often literally), feeling authentically like the original movies in a way that will satisfy those who just want one more hit. The two elements work alongside each other, just about, but there’s a nagging sense that the new characters would have flourished without the relentless Easter Eggs and call backs, lovely as they are.
With round spectacles, curly hair, and a deadpan delivery, you don’t have to be a scientist to work out who Phoebe is related to. That said, both Grace and Wolfhard are utterly charming, bringing an innocence and wit that gives the ECTO-1 a fresh coat of paint. Carrie Coon brings some depth to what could have been a bland supporting role, finding inevitable romantic interest in teacher and GB fanboy Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). The Ant-Man star is made for this world, serving as a bridge between past and present, and has every chance of being a fan favourite.
So, do we get to see the remaining original Ghostbusters suit up? This review won’t spoil specifics, although the film’s promotional material almost certainly has. Suffice to say, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a crowd pleaser in every sense.
The movies are a different business to when Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters was released in 1984, a time that now seems almost innocent by comparison to the wafer-thin margins and toxic fandoms of 2021. Afterlife spans the gap admirably, and will satisfy old fans even as it tempts in new ones.