"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" Review

Title: Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Director: Jason Reitman
Studio: Sony Pictures
Genre(s): Comedy/Science Fiction
Rated: PG-13 (For supernatural action and some suggestive references)

When “Ghostbusters” premiered in theaters in 1984 it was an instant hit with critics and audiences. Everyday people fell in love with the comedy, the actors, and that darn catchy theme song by Ray Parker Jr. Critics loved the film just as much, but many pointed out something that most audiences would not catch onto: the fact that director Ivan Reitman has revolutionized special effects by using them to add to the humor of the story as opposed to making things look cool. This may be why more than thirty years later the movie is still beloved by many and people seem not to pay much mind to the fact that the special effects aren’t really anything special. In fact, some of them are so poorly dated that you can tell how they were created. Yet modern audiences (even kids) not only seem to not notice, but they also seem to feel that the old fashioned effects make the movie funnier.

This was entirely by design and later movies seemed to forget this fact. Sony’s recent female led “Ghostbusters” film (which is sometimes referred to as “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call”) was certainly the best-looking film of the bunch…and yet, the 3D special effects seemed more for show than effect. I still enjoyed it because the script had some wit and the actresses were skilled comedians, yet the movie didn’t understand that unless the visuals were adding to the humor the process was doomed to be dated and kept at arm’s length by most audiences. This is why I found “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” a bit surprising because it does something that most franchises are afraid to do: it takes the series in a different direction. While the first few movies were clearly designed for adult audiences, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” seems more like a family film (despite a just barely deserved PG-13).

The film doesn’t follow a bunch of adults reacting to the thought of the afterlife with wit and humor, but rather it follows a bunch of kids who view the thought of ghosts with wonder and imagination. It has a very relatable protagonist in the form a young 12-year-old scientist who doesn’t believe in ghosts, but finds her world expanding with excitement when natural events revel that there may, indeed, be supernatural life out there. What’s more, despite the presence of supernatural beings and ancient ruins prophesying that a great evil will reawaken to plunge the Earth into the pits of Hell, the root of the screenplay revolves around a simple family who is trying to make sense of their lives after a father leaves them behind and a grandpa who showed little interest in them dies and leaves behind a mystery to solve. At this point I want to mention that the film was co-written and directed by Academy Award-nominated director Jason Reitman.

Jason is not only the director of acclaimed movies like “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” he’s also (and this is more important) the son of the aforementioned Ivan. Yes, the son has taken over the reins of the family business from his father, and as a result he most likely feels a more personal connection to this movie. While I will not claim that this is Jason’s best film, it may be the one that is closest to his heard. He grew up watching his dad make these movies. Cast members from the older films became like extended family members to him. He is close enough to the franchise to understand why it was so loved the first time around but removed enough that he had an idea to bring the series in a different direction that would be embraced by a modern audience. Again, while I personally liked the female led reboot of the franchise, it did feel like an imitation rather than an organic experience.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” doesn’t feel like ay installment of the series so far. I would go so far as to say it isn’t even a comedy. Not really. To say it is would be to suggest that you’ll be rolling in the isles laughing your butt off. You will laugh at times, but for the most part that is not what the film is about. This isn’t a movie that is out to make you laugh; it is a film that is out to make you cry. To feel. To emphasize. To explain how it pulls this off would be a disservice to the readers of this review, so I’ll just assure everyone that emotional moments are pulled off with ease, and the movie becomes the perfect tribute to this series while also being the perfect relaunch for a new generation. 

Does that make it a perfect movie? No, it does not. I also won’t sit here and lie and say that I want someone as talented as Jason Reitman making ‘Ghostbusters’ movies for the rest of his life. Though his personal touch is felt, this is still one of cinema’s best directors working today, and to think of him spending the next decade of his life on this franchise is not one that I am eager to see come to fruition. Still, Sony desperately wanted this to be a franchise while fans of the first film desperately was hoping for a good sequel. With “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” Reitman has delivered both the franchise starter the studio wanted and the good sequel fans probably deserved after all this time. For me, that’s a good result, and I hope the studio moves forward with their plans now and leaves Reitman free to pursue his next personal masterpiece.