Ghostbusters Afterlife is one of the most unfortunate of Ghostbusters movies ever made.
Published on November 24, 2021
Rating 1.5 /5
Perhaps Sony learned the wrong lessons from the mild misfire that was 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Director Paul Fieg attempted to give the franchise a fresh coat of improv comedy that resulted in a mixed-bag of a comedy. So instead of trying something new, Sony reverts back to the easy and tiresome method of retreading so hard on the original film that its good intentions of heartfelt nostalgia come off moldy and tacky.
It really is a shame since there are some shades of a different film in the very setting. The story finally takes a break from the New York City location and ventures out into the wide-open Midwest space of small-town Summerville. Nothing much seems to happen in this sleepy little town that was once home to a mine. Secretly, however, the town has been home to an old Ghostbuster who has secretly been keeping some supernatural force at bay.
New to town are the single-mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and her teen kids of the nerdy Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and the awkward Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). They struggle to adjust for the few scenes we see of their troubles before they fit in just fine. Callie hits it off with the teacher Gary rather well, Phoebe connects with the ghost-obsessed Podcast, and Trevor seems to find a group of friends with ease, despite being a constant klutz with a girl he fancies. They have to get used to the town fast if the teens are to take up the old proton packs to stop a new ghost threat.
That’s a good idea except the threat and the ghost tech are all relying on familiar elements. Sorry, did I say relying on? I meant repeating nearly the entire third act of the first film. Just when it seems as though Ghostbusters is heading into a new direction of action and adventure, the fan-pleasing surface-level component is fired up to 11. Don’t expect anything clever to be done with this staging. The film is hoping you’ll be pleased with the more appearance of Twinkies, Stay-Puft marshmallows, and Gozer.
The biggest problem about such a film is that it rarely lands as either a comedy or adventure film. There are shades of a good film present. I dug the running joke of Phoebe trying and failing to make jokes but the dead space of her awkwardness lingers far too long. It was also cool to see Phoebe in a gunner seat as the Ecto-1 speeds around town, trying to capture a ghost on the loose. But there are so many moments that just don’t land and take you out of the film.
If the cameos in 2016’s Ghostbusters were disappointing, Afterlife presents some of the most flavorless usages of familiar characters. There are wasted opportunities for a handful of familiar faces. There are scenes directly replicating events of the first film, often with the same cast and little variance. And if you think such a film won’t stoop so low as CGI to recreate certain characters, you’d be wrong.
Even for being so obsessed with nostalgia, the very narrative of the film finds little joy in the return to the old. Just look at how Gary, established as a big Ghostbusters fan, reacts to seeing a proton pack and ghost trap with not much enthusiasm. Sure, he gives a “cool” and a “whoa” but that is all there really is to say about the tools that aborted an apocalypse in New York City? The whole experience of such a film feels as though you’re stuck in a Ghostbusters exhibit and forbidden to make any commentary or use out of the materials.
Ghostbusters Afterlife is one of the most unfortunate of Ghostbusters movies ever made. It has the most potential to be something new and not just reiterate previous pictures but squanders nearly all of it. It’s as though such a story were heading in a new direction but then pumped the brakes and made a hard U-turn. All it makes you want to do is run right back to the original Ghostbusters film, especially with Afterlife.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.