Ghostbusters Afterlife Review: A Rotten Rut of Nostalgia

Afterlife has its moments, but it deserved more than a repeat of the original.

Ghostbusters Afterlife Review: A Rotten Rut of Nostalgia
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters: Afterlife continues a franchise that Sony just can’t let die. It was too much of a cultural icon of the 1980s that many still hold nostalgia for. It’s why there’s a separate production company of Ghost Corps, despite only producing Ghostbusters films.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a limp attempt to revive the joy of the original film. It feels as though the franchise is dead and this picture attempts to electrocute it back to life. So much is rebuilt to recapture and all it does is regurgitate.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Uses A Change of Scenery

At the very least, this Ghostbusters: Afterlife has a fascinating setting. Taken out of the city, the story shifts to the sleepy town of Summerville. Nothing much happens here, making it perfect for ghosts to haunt more than a city.

This film goes more of the Amblin route, favoring more of a youthful adventure than shlubby comedy. That’s an interesting angle to pursue considering how much the film can distance itself from the others. Sadly, it doesn’t travel far and sticks too close to home.

The Next Generation

Summerville was once home to a retired Ghostbuster. He recently died during some mysterious event involving an unseen force. His remaining family moves to Summerville to take up residence at his place.

The Ghostbuster’s daughter is Callie (Carrie Coon), a single mother who struggles with money. Her teen children of Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) are also awkward at connecting with others. Phoebe is a tepid nerd and Trevor is a hopeless dope who can’t land a date.

The two teens will eventually happen upon their grandpa’s old Ghostbusters technology. After some exploring and tinkering, they also discover what their grandpa was doing in Summerville. He was still fighting supernatural forces and there’s a big one on the way.

Memories That Don’t Die

To say that Ghostbusters: Afterlife draws a lot from the first Ghostbusters movie would be an understatement. This is a film that not only requires knowledge of the 1984 film but repeats much of the same story. So many beats and characters remain as little more than replications of the old.

There’s a golden opportunity missed here. Here you have some kids who are too young to have known about the events of the Ghostbusters in 1984. It would be great if they could discover something new for the first time.

The problem is that the Amblin awe is not present. Phoebe discovers ghosts and the old tech but seems way too passive about all of it. Even the most fantastic moment of firing a proton pack feels weak, more as a narrative requirement than a fascinating discovery.

The Irritating Easter Egg Hunt

Paul Rudd is present in the picture as the love-interest teacher Gary. Really, though, he’s present as a big Ghostbusters fan. He’s there so that when Phoebe unearths a ghost trap, Gary can gush about nostalgia behind such pop culture.

Gary’s inclusion feels akin to a studio audience as if to signal when to point at the screen for something you recognize. But just look at the scene where Gary first encounters a proton pack. He says “whoa” and nothing more, just lavishing in the fact that he’s present with such a device.

This goes for all of the referential humor in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. There’s a moment in the Ecto-1 where the siblings find a Twinkie. The joke here is not about how old that Twinkie must be or why it’s there; it’s just there and the film is hoping you’ll smile at what it recalls from the first film.

Can’t Revive

For as much as the film tries to be a different genre of Ghostbusters, so much of it doesn’t work. The editing is choppy where we don’t get to appreciate much of the characters. Phoebe is shy and makes dorky jokes but she rarely gets much air to be plucky.

Trevor tries to woo a girl in town but fails with every exchange. There’s not much chemistry present, especially with how Trevor consistently falls flat on his face. It gets to a point where there’s more embarrassing pity for him than any enduring appreciation.

Even Callie feels so distant in this picture despite having the closest relation to a Ghostbuster. Her pains of the past are drowned in drinks and her issues are pushed so far off-screen it’s hard to love her. Her romance with Gary feels especially dead because of this.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Is Stuck in the Past

I don’t want to divulge all the many cameos and callbacks in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Suffice to say, there’s a lot. They’re also not used creatively and feel more like a series of reenactment skips for a late-night talk show.

The villain of this picture is a familiar one and there’s no change to this supernatural antagonist’s scheme. His plans for humanity are the same and his dialogue is repeated almost verbatim. It was so disappointing to see this film just repeat the first film all over again.

Though there’s a heartfelt nature in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, so much of this nostalgia tapping comes off as uninspired at best and tacky at its worst. This is especially true in the climax of the film. There’s a tribute to Harold Ramis in that had good intentions but just feels so uncomfortable.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Final Thoughts

For as much as I found 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot devoid of laughs, I find myself more appreciative that the film tried taking a chance on something new. By comparison, Afterlife feels as though the first film was tossed in a microwave and reheated to be bland and boring leftovers.

This is the film that everybody fears will befall a franchise. It’s a picture that offers nothing new in its attempts to ressurrect the dead and please the fans. There’s more nostalgia present than any semblance of a saga that has more to offer.

It’s a Ghostbusters film for the fans if all the fans want is to see is Ghostbusters stuff and characters. If you want anything new out of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, you’re out of luck. Sony dug up the corpse of Ghostbusters, slapped an Amblin sticker on it, and called it a new movie just as good as the original.

By the end of the film, however, you’ll want to race back to 1984 to remind yourself of how great Ghostbusters used to be. Such a film deserves so much more than this lifeless retread. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is something strange and it doesn’t look good.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is currently playing in movie theaters.

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