Film Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife heavily winks to fans of the original in its bid to conjure up nostalgia

There’s a lot of DNA shared between Jason Reitman‘s Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the 1984 original that his father, Ivan Reitman, helmed to fruition.  But it’s not just a familial bond that links the respective films, with several portions of the film’s plot and its character line-up clearly based off what came those near-four decades prior.  As enjoyable and as wink-to-the-audience these ingredients are, it’s the nostalgia of conjuring up the memories of similarly-themed adventure films of the same era that Afterlife truly earns its value through.

Though the film as a whole doesn’t exercise much originality and instead relies on the callbacks to its predecessor, it’s likely to ruffle far less feathers than the much-discussed 2016 iteration that, ironically (and somewhat controversially), feels a little more veritable in comparison.  Afterlife feels more designed as a product to appease fans of the original, filling itself with references and easter-eggs that, whilst amusing, run the risk of alienating new viewers who are just as likely to get swept up in the film’s enjoyable brand of humour and adventure.

The first 2 acts of Afterlife toe the line rather successfully between understanding the heart of the 1984 film and forming an identity strong enough to stand on its own two feet.  As an audience member, our eyes are conveyed through the frame-rimmed spectacles of Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace), granddaughter to original Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis), who, along with her mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), and brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), gradually uncover the supernatural entities and responsibilities Egon was tending to enough that it ultimately cost him his relationship with his family.

The manner in which Egon is brought back into the fold is more organically handled than the presences of the staple line-up of Venkman (Bill Murray), Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), whose ultimate appearance in the film comes at a time when Reitman and Gil Kenan‘s script has gone a little off the rails in terms of balancing the act of catering to the fans whilst also entertaining the uninitiated; the film’s final act almost feeling like a retread of the original, with all subtlety disregarded and its eventual tone feeling wildly at odds with the more comedic temperament it was successfully executing to this point.

Fan service is one such action that has been adhered to in a number of 2021 releases – the most recent being the behemoth that was Spider-Man: No Way Home – and though it can oft be a successful venture, it does run the risk of making a film’s plot entirely obsolete.  There’s a fun story on hand here in Afterlife, and it’s at its best when it allows Phoebe and her new classmate Podcast (Logan Kim) loose to investigate Spengler’s findings, when it dedicates time to Trevor and his crush on co-worker Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), and when Callie and Phoebe’s adorable teacher Gary Grooberson (an adorable Paul Rudd) begin a romantic relationship.  These human connections and the exaggerated action their interactions lead to are where Afterlife feels like a worthy product.  When it panders so desperately to fans under the guise of an homage it loses its way.

Whilst there’s more about Afterlife that works than what doesn’t, the mixture of being an overdue sequel and a semi-reboot is one that doesn’t sit naturally well.  One personality needed to be devoted to entirely, and, this may hurt the fans to hear, it’s when the film deviates away so obviously from the original that it feels like a stronger product.  There’s plenty of fun to be had overall, but if these characters truly “ain’t afraid of no ghosts” (as the legendary theme song so tells us) then hanging up the proton packs is probably the smartest option as Afterlife seems more of an existence that’s now best laid to rest.


Ghostbusters: Afterlife is screening in Australian theatres from January 1st, 2022.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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