Working as both a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II and a fresh reboot (I for one was a fan of Paul Feig’s take, but that’s neither here nor there), Ghostbusters: Afterlife finds the Ecto-1 in a barn somewhere in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Co-writer and director Jason Reitman, son of the original film’s director Ivan Reitman, injects a large helping of heart into the franchise. More akin to bygone family-focused adventure films like Honey I Shrunk The Kids than the first two films, there’s plenty here for viewers of all ages.
The film opens with a stunning late-night car chase, it’s clear we’ve got a ghost – and a Ghostbuster. We get our first glimpse of Summerville, a town that looks as though trapped in amber. The chase takes us past a neon-lit car hop diner, an abandoned mine, silos, and of course an eerie old house at the edge of the cornfield. Things go bump in the night and our Ghostbuster, mostly kept in shadows, appears to lose their fight.
The next thing we know we’re in the apartment of single mom Callie (Carrie Coon), her science-minded daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and her angsty teen son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). They’re on the brink of eviction, but that’s okay because they’ve just inherited the creepy farm house in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. Coon is wonderful as always, a mess of a woman, but one you believe has an endless pit of strength.
Wolfhard has the more thankless role. He falls in love at first sight with a roller skating waitress named Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), so of course he gets a summer job at this dump to be near her. Wolfhard has easy chemistry with Coon, their dynamic more like a partnership than a mother-son. With his unique look and quirky screen presence, it’s a shame he doesn’t get much more to do beyond pine for a girl.
The real breakout of the film is McKenna Grace as Phoebe, who loves learning but hates school, tells bad jokes so well you cannot help but laugh, and is the spitting image of her grandfather. She’s a scientist, and eager to use her skills whenever she can. You simply cannot look away from Grace when she is on screen. She’s funny and smart, but in a way that feels authentic and true; not like the artificial wit found on many a sitcom featuring a genius named Sheldon.
Making friends with a classmate who’s nicknamed himself Podcast (Logan Kim, a perfect little ham), the two discover more of her inheritance: ghost traps, proton packs, and gadgets galore. The glee of watching them test them out on glass bottles as if it were a BB gun is truly something to behold. When chasing a ghost through an abandoned building, Podcast asks if she’s not scared at all. She replies overstimulation calms her. Truly badass material in the making.
When summer school teacher/seismologist Mr. Grooberson (an affable Paul Rudd), teaching these Zoomers about the Ghostbusters via YouTube (in a wonderfully cheesy use of footage from the first film), convinces them to open the ghost trap, all hell is let loose – literally. The rest of the film follows our new crew as they learn old secrets and figure out how to save the planet once and for all.
While the film uses plenty of CGI, it always feels aligned with the effects of the original films. This coupled with the practical effects makes the visuals in Ghostbusters: Afterlife far more like the films earlier in the franchise than most of today’s effects-heavy films. The action set pieces are thrilling – especially the sequence that begins with Trevor taking the Ecto-1 for a joyride and ends with Phoebe and Podcast using the newfound equipment to capture a blue, metal eating blob named Muncher, a worthy successor to our beloved Slimer.
The film reveals Easter eggs from throughout the franchise to the audience like the layers of an onion. Superfans will catch them much earlier than casual viewers, but both will leave feeling satisfied. The current of nostalgia coursing through the film is helped by its rural setting – with Canada playing Oklahoma – bringing true Norman Rockwell vibes to the whole affair.
Without revealing major spoilers, fans of the original two films should have plenty of moments to spark the joy of watching them for the first time. Plenty here is shiny and new, yet just as charming and cool as anything those original films had to offer. The weakest parts of the film really are when it leans a little too hard into fan service, with too heavy a knowing wink. It shines brightest when Reitman finds new ways to spin these callbacks, rather than just repeat them.
Overall, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a hoot. Truly one of the best sequels in recent memory, offering just enough of the familiar to justify its title, while also bringing so much heart and fun and originality along for the ride. If this serves as a launchpad for a new phase in the franchise, with such a dynamic lead as Phoebe at the helm, I’m willing to follow her anywhere.
Oh, one last thing: be sure you stay all the way through the credits.