Returning to the Movies – A review of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

My first attempt at a movie review.

Promotional Image for Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

It’s been about 2 years since I’ve been to a movie theatre, mostly due to the pandemic, but partly it’s been a lack of films that I’ve been inspired to see. I was intrigued by the release of a sequel to “Ghostbusters”, and the pull of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” finally got me into a theatre seat. The original “Ghostbusters” came out in 1984 and was an instant hit. The film was original, funny, and well paced. The characters were a good contrast, and nearly 40 years later, it’s accepted as a cult classic. It has been a difficult formula to follow though, after a lackluster follow-up in 1989 and a controversial reboot in 2016.

I noticed that the film received generally poor reviews from critics, but enthusiastic reviews from fans who saw it before it was released to the public. This was the opposite of the reception for the 2016 reboot, which critics praised but audiences disliked. Reading the critics, I think they wanted to defend their praise of the 2016 reboot, and Afterlife makes it an orphan in the Ghostbusters film history. They dismissed Afterlife as pandering to fans of the original. Yet fans found it appealing. Perhaps they want to be pandered to?

This left me thinking – should I believe the practiced eye of the professional critic, or the approval of the kind of fan who attends conventions? Both can be ruthless in their reviews. Sequels and reboots rarely live up to their promise. The Ghostbusters franchise has had 1 disappointing sequel, 1989’s Ghostbusters 2, and the 2016 reboot was considered a failure. The problem with the all female reboot was that it came during a controversial election year. Either criticizing it or supporting it became linked with the candidates. Liking (or not liking) the film got political. When you insert politics into it, you get people polarized for reasons unrelated to the film itself. I think that explains the differences between critics and audiences. It’s the shadow of politics. I decided not to go into the theatre with high expectations.

Count me as pleasantly surprised.
I won’t indulge in spoilers here and it’s difficult not to, but my impression of Afterlife is that it clearly wants the audience to remember its roots in the original 1984 classic. Scene after scene will show something familiar. (Watch the 1984 original before you go, and see how many of these things you notice!) The original cast made brief appearances, and the film paid homage to the late Harold Ramis, who played Egon in the original. The story required a lot of character development, and centers around Phoebe, Egon’s granddaughter, a scientifically gifted girl living with her mother, who clearly isn’t anything like her. The actress, McKenna Grace, was brilliant. She and her family find themselves at her grandfather’s farm, which is full of clues about his ghostbusting past. Phoebe’s brother Trevor, his love interest Lucky, and Phoebe’s new friend “Podcast” become the focus of the story.

The cast, particularly Phoebe, are good. Podcast is a quirky character whose enthusiasm was his strength. I thought Trevor and Lucky could have had more character development though. They felt under-used to me. The film plods through the early phase with Phoebe discovering her heritage, but begins to gain momentum as these characters discover why their grandfather lived there, and the secret of his farm and the nearby mine. Then it builds to a strong finish. The film doesn’t beat you over the head with pratfalls. The comedy is well written. The action sequences are good, and the plot follows on from the 1984 film, giving it a familiar vibe. There is also room for more sequels, but we’ll have to see how it does at the box office before that discussion can start. At this writing, Afterlife has out-performed expectations, and unless interest collapses, it should turn a profit. It’s definitely worth seeing, and while it isn’t as good as the 1984 original, it is definitely better than Ghostbusters 2 and the 2016 reboot. This one is worth buying a ticket for – and also worth watching for the mid credit and after credit scenes! This isn’t the kind of film that keeps you guessing or makes you think, but it does exactly what a film should do: it entertains.

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