Cast: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd. Directed by Jason Reitman
Now that time has passed since the 2016 release of Paul Feig’s all-woman version of Ghostbusters, there can be an element of reflection. It wasn’t that the film was bad; the effects were good, Chris Hemsworth was laugh out loud funny and the cast were game enough. The problem was that it was a mess. Not enough to warrant the torrents of abuse levied at Leslie Jones, but just not up to par. Now Jason Reitman, son of original director Ivan, brings his indie sensibility to the series for a follow up to the original movies.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife follows Callie (Carrie Coon) a single mother with two kids – Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace – who moves to her estranged father’s dirt farm in Oklahoma to settle the estate. Soon, his secret legacy surfaces and they discover that evil is lurking underground.
Though this is being labelled as part three of the series, it’s technically four: following on from 84’s Ghostbusters, 89’s Ghostbusters 2 and 2010’s better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be Ghostbusters: The Game. Reitman seems like a weird choice of director despite his dad’s legacy. The older Reitman has always been a studio director, making big studio pictures like Kindergarten Cop, Twins, Dave and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. The younger Reitman has never had such inclinations and instead opted to keep his movies on the indie side of things – Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Young Adult, Tully, Up in the Air.
Luckily, Reitman who co-writes, keeps his indie roots. For a big studio film with visual effects this feels like a film from the director of Juno. It’s pacing is much slower than most films of this nature, the comedy much more in line with the acidic wit of the Diablo Cody womanhood trilogy Reitman directed. Even his casting is much more to the indie side – Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Tracy Letts – it feels like a film from the 80s.
That’s not to say there isn’t action, a big set piece in which the ecto-1 charges around the small town zapping a big fat ghost is thrilling and funny in equal measure, underlined by a sense of the magical that can often be lacking from these films. It feels, at times, less like Reitman is channelling his father and more like he’s channelling Spielberg.
Paul Rudd is very funny as affable summer teacher and potentially love interest for Coon, Mr Grooberson, coasting by on that Paul Rudd charm, and Carrie Coon brings depth to the dejected single mother with an absent father. But although these strong performances from the experienced actors, it’s the kids that really shine. Despite a great big front-and-centre spot for Wolfhard (doing stropping teenager very well), this is Mckenna Grace’s film. No longer stuck playing “the young version of” in a film, her role as specks-nerdy Phoebe carries the film shoulder high. Her friendship with Podcast (Logan Kim) is the heart of the film, and their budding friendship nabs the biggest laughs along with the forward push of the film.
Reitman balances the action, the laughs, the heart and the frights perfectly and this is at times a spooky film. Offering family friendly bumps and jumps that will please people that remember that horrifying opening from the original film. The film also balances the legacy very well. It walks a tightrope of fan service – a cop at one point proclaims “who you gonna call?”, little Staypuft men go wild in a supermarket in an extended riff on Gremlins.
Reitman has a tough job on his hands when it came to making a follow up to two films from thirty years ago, not least the fact that one of the stars is notoriously difficult to get to commit and one of the other ones has died. However, Reitman keeps his eyes on the prize, and delivers a film that works for people who don’t know the series and one that honours the original, too. The film builds to an emotional finale that will satisfy even the most casual viewer, and at times brings the prickling sting of tears to eyes.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is that rarest of films, one that honours what came before but carves it’s own identity, mixing an indie-vibe while also riding the wave of nostalgia that is currently in the popular culture. Those who grew up on the originals might either reject it’s devotion or drink deeply of it, but for families looking for a little bit of everything for their weekend trip to the cinema, there’s not much to fault with Reitman’s latest.
As has always been the case: bustin’ makes us feel good.