Sigh. As critics, we had a video message from director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, on-screen before we watched Ghostbusters: Afterlife, promising us that we were embarking on ‘the greatest Easter egg hunt ever’. For fans of the franchise, that enticement may well be enough, but for anyone expecting an actual film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t much more on message than the much-derided 2016 all-girl reboot. If Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t live up to our expectations, then at least it fails for different reasons; despite the late introduction of the original team, recapturing the wildly irreverent tone of the pioneering Ghostbusters proves elusive.
In what feels like a Stranger Things spin-off, Finn Wolfhard plays a sulky teenager called Trevor who is unhappy to be decanted to Oklahoma by his mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and his little sister Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). But the spooky house they move into is haunted, and for a reason; the death of one of the Ghostbusters team has left a few spectral presences haunting the area. Trevor and Pheobe are quickly out of their depth, and when all kinds of demon dogs and ectoplasm come oozing out of the ground, exactly who ARE you gonna call?
The vaguest of spoilers apply here; yes, the last 15 minutes see Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson return to their uniforms and proton packs, but they’re really just a device to bring about the final curtain on the shaggy-dog story here. Paul Rudd’s slovenly science-teacher Chad Gooberson is probably the best asset here, and he and Coon strike a few romantic sparks in the lulls between ghost attacks. In fact, all the leads are fine, but the overall package is rather undercooked; it’s a long tease until Zuul and the gang and unleashed, and then there’s nowhere to go but to put them back in their box or traps. There’s call-backs to everything from the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, now in miniature size, to Slimer, now updated to Muncher, and it’s certainly nice to see the original cast back in action. But this is more of a teenage adventure than a comedy; the blue-collar, plumbers-in-space cynicism that made the first film so memorable is completely MIA here.
The endless tinkering with Ghostbusters is yet to bear fruit; essentially, we need four new comics who have the kind of deadpan sang-froid that Bill Murray brought to the 1984 film; he’s a man who is literally in the wrong movie, and the incongruity generated laughs. That’s the heart of what audiences loved about the first film, and all the careful efforts to reignite the flame featured here fall short. The two post credits scenes, however, are far more interesting than the actual film; as with so many of today’s franchise films, the promise is, sorry about the mess, we’ll get it right next time….
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is out in the UK and US from Nov 19th 2021. Thanks to Sony for big-screen access to this title.