Nostalgia is nice, but closure is king.
After a man locally known as “The Dirt Farmer” passes away, single mom Callie (Carrie Coon) learns her deceased father left her his property in Summerville, Oklahoma. Down on her financial luck after being evicted, she relocates her family to pick through the life of a man she never knew for a few bucks to keep going. Her oldest son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) seems willing to make a go of it, but her quiet egghead daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace) already lives in her own world of science and invention. The siblings quickly learn their grandfather wasn’t nobody, but with the help of summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), they discover something incredible about themselves: a legacy.
One of the biggest adventure comedies of all time, Ghostbusters has forever eluded the film franchise potential it always appeared destined for. With the passing of Harold Ramis, the 2016 lady-led reboot tried in vain to continue in the spooky spirit of the concept, pretending the story inspiring it never existed while winking hard at the audience. After thirty-seven years since the original film’s release, director Ivan Reitman’s son Jason “answered the call” to attempt the impossible: resurrect the old tropes, transfer the legacy to a new cast for future films, and give dedicated fans a worthy sendoff for the original characters. Does he succeed, or will Afterlife be cast onto the reject pile with upstarts like Tron: Legacy and Superman Returns?
Not only confronting Ramis’ passing head-on but building it into the plot, Afterlife has all the subtlety of visibly tiptoeing through a wake. As a result, the wise decision to pull back on over-the-top comedic bits — especially for somber moments — serves the story well, even while building up to a Spielberg/Amblin-esque climax. The creatures are sufficiently menacing and destructive, a detail the 2016 reboot got wrong with scary-looking things never following through (with one notable exception). With a relatable family-centric story, respect for the source material, and a nod to the DIY solutions of the animated series “The Real Ghostbusters,” the junior Reitman has crafted both a thoughtful sendoff and a ready springboard if audiences show up.
From Easter eggs throughout and a clever soundtrack reworked from Elmer Bernstein’s original score, Afterlife wastes little time in back story or setup; the few instances of this feel like the info dump they are, but not including them would leave new viewers behind. Audiences may be more familiar with the faces of immortal Paul “Sexiest Man Alive” Rudd and “Stranger Things” Finn Wolfhard, but the heart of the film belongs to McKenna Grace, already a veteran actor at a ridiculously young age. She’s amazingly watchable as a mousey brainiac who’d rather be learning new science or inventing things than socializing or hanging out; she speaks her mind, doesn’t care who believes her, and shows passion and commitment once her mind’s made up. Logan Kim’s podcast-obsessed character earns extra screen time sharing it with McKenna, infusing his throwaway character description with raw personality and sheer adventure that plays like an import from The Goonies.
It’s no secret members of the original cast are in attendance; a crucial in-the-moment distraction helps save the day, but the final resolution is left to the new generation, passing the baton in an organic way. Aside from a few noticeable moments dragging a bit when the bad guys wait around to be defeated, it’s as satisfying as an almost four decade old sequel could be, especially when missing a key cast member. Just one request for any future film: open an inter-dimensional doorway to let Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones cross over, because their 2016 characters deserve to keep playing with things that go bump in the night.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is rated PG-13 for supernatural action, suggestive references, and correctly answering the all-important question, “Are you a god?!”
Four skull recommendation out of four