"Don't be yourself."
First things first: I'm not a huge fan of Ivan Reitman's 1984 Ghostbusters. It isn't that I didn't enjoy the film. It is fine. I am simply not as obsessed with it as many and haven't been waiting on pins and needles for this sequel.
I mention this to note that there are likely several easter eggs hidden within Ghostbusters: Afterlife that went entirely over my head, call-outs and hidden gems that I didn't notice. For that, I am sorry.
Regardless, Jason Reitman's painfully long delated sequel, starring a new generation of ancestrally connected Ghostbusters, is fun, entertaining, and worthwhile—especially considering the dumpster fire the franchise attempted to stir in 2016.
With the director's chair staying in the family, it makes sense the film itself would center on the same. Set in Oklahoma, where earthquakes are oddly a regular occurrence, Phoebe's (Mckenna Grace) mom has just inherited a house from her absent grandfather. Not knowing what to expect, the run-down home is anything but ideal.
Phoebe, a bit odd and a lot smart, is an interesting character. An unquestionable outsider, she has a curiosity about her that yearns for answers and a better understanding. Her demeanor, hesitant and shy, is countered by a high IQ and an unapologetic wit. Possessing an arsenal of what can only be described as a cross between nerd humor and dad jokes, she is accustomed to sitting alone but finds a friend in Podcast (a perfectly cast Logan Kim) on her first day of self-induced summer school.
That first day of summer school is also where we meet Paul Rudd's Mr. Grooberson, an over-the-top terrible science teacher who has no interest in teaching. Rudd serves as a love interest for Phoebe's mother and a clever/witty/sarcastic confidant for the overly smart middle schooler. Both roles are a bit of a stretch, but this is Ghostbusters; forgoing rational and cognitive thoughts is not only expected, it's mandatory.
As Phoebe is guided to the basement of her new home, her mom frustrated with the lack of value in both the house and its contents; we watch her grandfather's spirit guide her to a ghost catcher. At the same time, her brother Trevor (Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard) is working to reignite the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura Duplex with the famous logo on the side.
Both pieces of film memorabilia are iconic and critical to the success of the film's mission. When Phoebe and Mr. Grooberson release a ghost from the catcher chamber, it sets in motion a series of events that reveals Summerville, Oklahoma is the hotbed of ghost activity.
The story, at its core, is lazy. The obstacles are tedious, the flow a bit disjointed, and the culmination insufficient. As Phoebe and Trevor fly around the small town, destroying everything in their path as they work to capture a single ghost, the entire situation feels overly excessive. Thankfully the special effects offer a substantial improvement over the 1984 original; however, the climax leaves a bit to be desired.
I understand that there is an effect obtained through the cheesy style. And I get that Reitman is preserving the visual aesthetic of the franchise. But the result is too niche in its effectiveness, the success of the mission too presumed. Playing towards family (again, that familiar word) is wise, but the film sacrifices as a result. Nevertheless, it isn't entirely bad. The sequel is worthy of its existence. A franchise loyalist will likely find the exaggerated antics enjoyable—the unexpected (but entirely expected) third act "surprise" a vital part of that perception. But Afterlife possessed the potential to kickstart a new set of films and rebirth a franchise longing for modern-day relevance. It didn't achieve that level of execution. Much like 1984, it is good, just wish it was better.