It’s been a long time coming, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife, stop reading this review and go see it at your earliest convenience because spoilers abound in this review and, more importantly, the movie itself is really, really, fantastic.
Delayed first by the pandemic and then by… reasons (mostly related to marketing?), Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the sequel to the original film that we needed. After twenty or so months of pandemic, elections, civil unrest, public trials, the supply chain, and, well, everything else we’ve dealt with, Ghostbusters: Afterlife captures what was great about the original film and resettles it in the 21st century. In fact, can we just agree now that the Ghostbusters canon will include only the first movie, the cartoon series, the video game, and this film? (And yes, I know I’ve only really left two things off that list–but I stand by it).
But why is this a great movie? Certainly it is full enough of plot holes. The lead character doesn’t believe in ghosts, until she immediately does with little transition. Characters figure things out effortlessly, the right people just happen to have the right tools and talent, somehow all of the ghosts at the end get trapped but the one we don’t want to see sucked into the trap, and so on.
And none of that matters. None of that matters first because Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a good movie in its own right. Certainly if the original didn’t exist many of the nods and asides wouldn’t exist or would be meaningless (the “who ya gonna call?” line was a bit forced as it was, and would have been completely meaningless without the original movie/song to reference). But even apart from that the plot is a solid monster movie. Destruction is coming, the authorities are skeptical until it’s rubbed in their face, and only the underdogs can save the world. While not exactly running in the “slobs vs snobs” vein of Ivan Reitman’s 70s films, it certainly comes close to being the 21st century equivalent. (As much as that trope can transfer: I’m not entirely sure what either slobs or snobs in the strictest sense would look like today–who is the 2021 equivalent of Walter Peck anyway?)
I think this is an important point. Yes, a good movie is made better by its connection with its predecessor, but it does matter that even if the original Ghostbusters had never existed this movie still be worth your time because it is a solid, well-made, entertaining film.
But it’s also more than that. In addition to being an excellent movie by itself, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a film that is worthy to stand alongside the original. It captures the spirit (heh) of the first Ghostbusters that made the earlier film one of the great American movies. Both films balance humor, adventure, danger, and heart and do so in a way that resonates at least with my generation (though of course I can’t speak for older or younger generations). Neither film is overly technical–I’d say that neither quite fall into the “science fiction” category, despite all the gadgets shooting flashy light things left and right–and neither film is preachy.
Most importantly for a distant sequel, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is respectful and appreciative of the source material. Unlike Ghostbusters 2, which was basically a vehicle for Bill Murray, and unlike Ghostbusters Answer the Call, which was, well, I’m not sure entirely what it was. Not a great movie, despite having a solid cast and lots of potential. (But then again, lots of potential without actual quality can certainly develop a rabid fan base–just look at how well Firefly has done with its fans…) Ghostbusters: Afterlife is clearly made by and for people who love the first film and think it’s a story worth telling to a new generation. (Ghostbusters Answer the Call could have been that, and for the record I’d love to see them try something like that again. The idea is sound, in this case it was just the execution that didn’t land well.)
In terms of telling the story to a new generation, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is neither pandering to an audience that it secretly disdains nor mocking the aesthetic of an older age. Instead, it is bringing the best of the past into the present in a way that preserves what’s good from then and makes what we have now better.
What you shouldn’t watch either movie for, of course, is a doctrine of the actual afterlife. Or of ghosts. Or of science. Or of anything that the movie is nominally about. Reasonable people know this. But this is the internet and reasonableness cannot be assumed, so I’ll state it baldly: if you want to know about the afterlife and how to get to heaven/avoid hell, read your Bible and believe the Gospel (there’s no other way). If you want to know about science pick up a physics or biology text. If you want to think carefully about the intersection of those two things, read both and talk to thoughtful people. None of the Ghostbusters movies are there to meet any of those needs.
But if you want a rollicking good time, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is absolutely here for you.