Movie Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Sony Pictures)

“Science is punk rock! Science is the safety-pin through the nipple of academia!” Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a 2021 release from Sony Pictures. The film is a sequel to 1984’s Ghostbusters […]

Science is punk rock! Science is the safety-pin through the nipple of academia!”

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a 2021 release from Sony Pictures. The film is a sequel to 1984’s Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II from ’89. It is directed by Jason Reitman from a story by Reitman and Gil Kenan that ignores the 2016 reboot.  Starring up and coming stars like Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Celeste O’Connor, Logan Kim, and Carrie Coon as well as the sexiest man alive, Paul Rudd, the movie is a nostalgia-fest that brings familiar faces Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray back into the fray.

A man, known as the ‘Dirt Farmer’ by his neighbors, is found dead on his Dirt Farm in Summerville, Oklahoma. His estranged daughter, Callie, (Coon) is notified of this unfortunate happening, and due to her own exigent circumstances, decides to schlep her family out to the farm to claim it as her own. Her hopes of a windfall are soon dashed by the arrival of Janine Melnitz, (Potts) who is managing the Dirt Farm’s finances and tells her she’s inherited dirt, debt, and dirt.

Local seismologist and summer school teacher Gary Grooberson, (Rudd) has been tracking mysterious tremors centered on an abandoned selenium mine belonging to the deceased Ivo Shandor, the founder, and patron of the town of Summerville. The town doesn’t sit on any faults, and the absence of a proximate cause intrigues him.  After being assigned to his class, Callie’s precocious daughter, Phoebe, (Grace) immediately recognizes his earthquake maps for what they are and decides to help him track down the epicenter and hopefully, the cause of the quakes.

Callie’s other son, Trevor, (Wolfhard) is interested in more earthly pursuits. He finagles a job at a fast-food joint so he can hit on the winsome and streetwise Lucky (O’Connor), who works as a waitress but is also the daughter of the chief of police.

In her bedroom at the house, Phoebe has set up her grandfather’s chess set. She awakes one morning to find a pawn advanced and a game offered to her. Her scientific mind rebelling, she responds. Before her baffled eyes, a piece moves into a new position, and the game is on. Several other inexplicable events follow, defying her understanding, but leading her on the path to learn the truths about her family’s past and her grandfather’s death. The outbuildings of the Dirt Farm hold secrets key to unraveling the mysteries behind the things she is seeing but can’t fathom, the quakes threatening the town and why in the world anyone would use cold-riveted girders with selenium steel cores, magnesium-tungsten alloys and gold plated bolts to build a luxury tower at 550 Central Park West.

There is a lot to like in this film, which is a feel-good quip-trip down memory lane while at the same time is quite obviously laying the groundwork for future films using the younger cast to carry on the franchise.

There was a throwaway joke in the first movie about the franchise rights making the characters richer than their wildest dreams. That joke was realized in the role-playing game published by West End Games in 1986, where the players all operated or worked for franchise satellite locations managed by Ghostbusters, International. At the end of Afterlife, it’s made explicit that they’re going for more sequels. The franchise will continue, the interminable march of time be damned.

Grace plays a character who is basically Lisa Simpson (from The Simpsons season #3 to about #9) if she was good with her hands and electronics instead of being a musician. She’s armed with a deadpan delivery that would make Stephen Wright jealous and a twinkle in her eye that Don Rickles would kill for as she drops one dad joke after the other. She puts the entire movie on her shoulders and with a wry little grin asks us how far we want her to carry it.

Logan Kim plays her sidekick, Podcast with an effusive enthusiasm for the macabre that is quite a kick as he narrates their worst-case scenario in scene after scene.

Coon really shines as the damaged daughter of the Dirt Farmer. Her boundaries are there for a reason, her parenting techniques informed by opposite-land and her urge to never be like the father that hurt her so.  She has thick defenses that she can spring up faster than the shields of a starship, and it all makes sense.

Rudd is breezy. Everything he does is so slick, so natural, so charming. It’s clear early on that he’s going to be relegated to the much cooler version of the Louis Tully role in this story, and there is a great, goofy, Keymaster/Gatekeeper callback in the tail end that he pulls off with ease.

This reviewer has very mixed feelings about this movie. I went in wondering how it was going to go, how much of the older movies were they going to milk, how much of a fresh path was it going to hew. Then the movie opens with the identical audio notes and exact refrains from the ’84 film and my heart sank. While there are many elements of the older films that are integrated seamlessly into this feature’s new future, there is a detectable effort in pushing an old, wheezy engine up a hill in an effort to link it to the modern world. It’s effervescent. It’s irreverent. It’s glib, winking and sly, but it’s also suffused with the relentless crawl of cruel time, and how life is infused with and fueled by death. The film can’t help but be about coming of age and youthful exuberance inexorably tied to decay and decrepitude of the older generations.

The locations are stunning. Filmed in Alberta, Canada, in lieu of Oklahoma, there is a lot of big country and big sky on camera, in languid pans across the horizon as well as strikingly composed shots. The effects are a blend of practical, on-camera tools as well as CG, and they really managed to recapture the sparkly rainbow nature of the eighties-style rotoscoping as well as solidity and weight of the space-cougars, Zuul and Vinz.

Don’t ask how the kid got ECTO-1 running again. Just don’t ask.

 Parts of this movie, I liked. Parts of this movie resonated with me. Parts I really enjoyed. Parts, I thought were cringy nostalgia bait, but also, parts I thought were impossibly lazy.

And now we have to talk about the elephant in the room, the Deus ex machina. Translated as “The God in the Machine”, it is a 2,500-year-old storytelling technique allegedly created by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, known as the ‘Father of Greek Tragedies’. The idea was simple but effective. At the end of the story, an actor playing the role of a god, would be lifted or lowered onto the stage by a trap door, a crane, or some other form of rigging, which became known as “the machine” to resolve the plot and tie up loose ends. Basically, this is a trick used when the writer has written himself in a corner and needs an out. It’s a very, VERY old idea. In modern usage, the bacteria that stops the invading Martian juggernaut in The War of the Worlds is a good example, as is the presence of the eagles at the end of The Return of The King, who arrive JUST in time to rescue Frodo and Sam from certain death.

This movie is resolved by a very lazy Deus ex. I don’t know that it’s on purpose as a response to the climax, which features another rather malevolent ancient deity, but I kind of don’t think so. I give this movie high marks in almost every category, from set design, dialogue, directing, composition, music, acting, and effects, but I’m just disappointed by the lack of effort put forward towards the resolution of the plot as well as the writing in general.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens in theatres November 19th.

The Ghostbusters were created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.