For many years, one of the most talked about subjects in the world of movie sequels was the prospect of a Ghostbusters 3. The original film was released back in 1984 and a cultural phenomenon was born. It was a huge hit for both its comedic acting and for the (at the time) incredible special effects. It blossomed from there into a franchise that appealed mainly to children via the DiC production The Real Ghostbusters. That was my introduction to the franchise as a little kid. I’d park myself in front of the TV every weekday for that cartoon. It was the last one of the day as usually my mom took over the TV soon after to watch the evening news. I can distinctly remember being seated on the carpet of my living room floor with our big, chunky, RCA console television with the keypad channel select in-front of me as the sun gradually went down and the house grew progressively darker. The light from the TV during the closing credits was often the only thing illuminating the room when the show concluded in the fall and winter months and the sounds and smells of my mom preparing dinner would filter in.
Ghostbusters was my first love when it came to a brand. I had a collection of action figures, vehicles, and the ever important fire house play set at my fingertips. And slime, lots of slime, which stained my clothes and ruined carpets. It’s smell is as familiar to me today as it was back then. Like all kids, I eventually drifted away as I was seduced by some reptiles who practiced ninjutsu, but of course I’ve held a fondness for the property my entire life. I would eventually be introduced to the original film, and when the sequel came out I was in prime Ghostbuster-loving form. As an adult, I certainly appreciate that original film more than I did as a kid and it’s rightly held up as a classic.
Still, when it came to the concept of a Ghostbusters 3, I was decidedly lukewarm. Over the years, it became apparent that not everyone wanted it to happen. Actor/writer Dan Aykroyd very much wanted to do a third film, and it certainly sounded like Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and director Ivan Reitman were onboard. The main holdout was Bill Murray, who seemed to have no desire to revisit the franchise either because it didn’t interest him or due to personal conflicts with some of the other parties involved, in particular, Ramis. I know a few fans who were angry and disappointed with Murray over his stance, but I personally never was. You can’t do Ghostbusters without Peter Venkman, and you can’t recast the role either. If his heart isn’t in it, then why force the issue? The existing sequel already wasn’t very good, so maybe the world didn’t need more Ghostbusters?
Murray’s reluctance didn’t stop the franchise from moving forward. Eventually, a compromise was reached in the form of the Ghostbusters video game for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and other consoles. It featured the voice cast from the films and put players in the role of a new Ghostbuster. Some encounters from the films were rehashed and then the plot moved forward into a realm that the movies probably never would have gone. A reboot was also released in 2016, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, which featured cameos from the original cast in different roles. It received a mixed response, some of which was due to misogyny as millions of man-babies scoffed at the all-female cast, which is unfortunate. Sony declined to turn it into a bonafide franchise, despite it being a profitable film. Apparently, it didn’t make enough money or maybe the toy sales failed to meet expectations.
What changed things was, unfortunately, the death of Harold Ramis in 2014. It was during that time that he and Murray apparently made-up and a new wave of nostalgia flowed from the property. It probably helped in getting everyone onboard for the reboot, but when that failed to become a franchise it seemed to put a third film back into focus. It ended up being Jason Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman, who was able to come up with a script for a third film with his writing partner Gil Kenan, and get everyone onboard for a new film. It wouldn’t be a reboot, but a sequel with the aim of restarting the franchise with a new cast of Ghostbusters. It wouldn’t require the original characters and actors to do the heavy lifting, which is probably what interested Murray the most, and it would also give a new generation a chance to succeed as Ghostbusters.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the result of all of that. The film was originally slated for 2020, but COVID happened and the release was delayed until late 2021 as Sony likely expected this to do big numbers in theaters. Reitman would direct with his father on-hand as a producer. Adolescent characters are the focus of the film, so naturally Finn Wolfhard was imported from Stranger Things to play Trevor, McKenna Grace was cast as younger sister Phoebe, and Carrie Coons was cast as their mother, Callie. The three are evicted from their apartment at the start of the film and forced to move to the desolate town of Summerville where Carrie’s absent father lived most recently up until his passing. The film actually begins with her father, who is quite obviously a Ghostbuster (and it’s pretty obvious which, but I’ll refrain from spoiling it), and his final moments.
The family is not particularly happy about their new home, but they adapt. It soon becomes obvious that something weird is going on in Summerville. Phoebe is the film’s center as she makes friends fast with a kid who calls himself Podcast (Logan Kim) and attracts the attention of her summer school instructor Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), a seismologist just collecting a check while trying to figure out why a town positioned on no fault line has daily earthquakes. Phoebe soon has odd encounters with the paranormal in her new, spooky, house and this sets the kids on course to finding out who their grandfather was and what he was dealing with up until his death.
Because of its focus on the kids, Ghostbusters: Afterlife very much feels like Stranger Things meets Ghostbusters. The kids spend the bulk of the film investigating and uncovering the supernatural, and it’s a solid approach for this kind of film. It is a bit unrealistic that the kids are completely unfamiliar with the events of the first two Ghostbusters films, but the movie tries to offer a plausible explanation for that. Ultimately, it’s not that important as it’s more fun for the kids to be mostly unaware. Rudd is the stand-in for the older, male, audience likely flocking to see the film as, unlike the kids, he knows who the Ghostbusters are and he geeks out over the items Phoebe finds in her house. He’s a fanboy, and he remains in the picture partially because he takes a liking to Phoebe’s mom. He’s his usual, likable, self though with great comedic timing.
The young actors all do a terrific job, but it’s McKenna Grace as Phoebe who steals the show. The film asks a lot of her, but she’s up to the task of playing the brainy, socially awkward, pre-teen. She begins the film as a paranormal denier, but she’s also inquisitive and willing to investigate everything her new home throws at her without prejudice. Anyone even remotely familiar with the original film knows where her journey will take her, but she’s such a likable character that we’re onboard with following her and invested in her own journey.
Because this film is designed primarily to appeal to those who grew up on Ghostbusters, it does contain a pretty sizable deal of fan service. There’s lots of easter eggs present in the film, some are tied into the plot and others are just for fun. There’s no real mystery where the film is going, but like an amusement park ride that’s on display for all to see, I think most are onboard with knowing the destination even if it’s plainly obvious. The film drip feeds the audience with the nostalgic moments, saving the big payoff for the final act, and it’s a satisfying ride. You’ll laugh, you’ll cheer, and yes, you will probably cry before it’s all over.
Special effects were a huge component of the original film, and they’re obviously a part of this one as well. The film doesn’t rely on them as much, since special effects are basically in everything, but they are done pretty well. The film incorporates practical effects where possible which helps in not making it look too far removed from the original film. There’s also still plenty of computer-aided visuals and they all look fine. The soundtrack very much invokes the memory of the first film, and yes, the classic theme song will make an appearance at some point. What’s perhaps even more successfully nostalgic are the recycled sound effects we all know and love. Proton packs, traps, the Ecto-1 itself all basically sound the same or near enough to fool me.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is very much a fun, nostalgic, trip back through the franchise that offers a clear path forward as well. It’s not so focused on nostalgia that it can’t entertain someone unfamiliar with the franchise, but it likely won’t land as hard for them. This is the fan service reboot I think a lot of people wanted. It’s not exactly what some may have envisioned of a true Ghostbusters 3, but I think it’s the best possible sequel we could have got. I personally did not want to see a bunch of old guys running around New York again trapping ghosts and that’s partly why I was never personally hung-up on the prospect of a third film. This film approaches Ghostbusters as something to be revered, without taking itself too seriously. There’s plenty of heart and laughs and it does set itself up for a new round of films focused on a younger cast. There may be some who wanted to see more of Ray, Pete, and Winston, but I think the vast majority of people who sit down to watch this will enjoy it. It’s definitely more interested in serving those older fans, so even though Reitman clearly wants to continue with this new cast, I’m not sure the majority of fans will walk away eager for what’s next. Those stories can be figured out later though. For now, this is a wonderful tribute to the late Harold Ramis, and unfortunately has become one for the recently passed Ivan Reitman. I think it’s a film that everyone connected with the property can feel proud of, and it’s a sweet goodbye to these classic characters.