The year 1984 gave the world so many timeless films that are still watched by the millions each year. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” Gremlins,” “The NeverEnding Story,” “Sixteen Candles,” “The Terminator”…the list goes on. But there was one film that premiered that year that took the film industry by its horns and wrestled out a classic most people know the lyrics to just its theme song. “Who Ya Gonna Call?” Your answer will always be “Ghostbusters.” It was a tour-de-force in both comedy and fantasy. The team-up of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, well, when you hear that line up how could it not be an instant classic? In the director’s chair was the then relatively unknown Ivan Reitman. I suppose, long story short, it changed the way comedies were mixed with other genres without being a parody.
After its sequel in 1989, a female-led remake in 2016, the original remained a classic, but ultimately a dead in the water franchise. Then, in 2019, a teaser was released online and in theaters by Sony announcing “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” with Ivan Reitman’s son, Oscar nominee Jason, replacing his father as director. The internet understandably blew up with praises, hatred, skepticism, and everything between. After delays due to COVID-19, we finally got to see what the fuss was about when it released November 19th.
Let me just say, before I remove my fan-goggles, this was the blockbuster of the year that exceeded my expectations and then some. We’ve seen the trailers and the posters. We know the cast. But would it be good? With my goggles on, it was absolutely the best film of the year so far. Now, let me remove the goggles and review the film correctly.
Writing this review without revealing any spoilers is absolutely difficult, but I feel I must keep this spoiler-free so that you can go in with untainted eyes. Before I watched “Afterlife,” I read a review for the film written by a critic I admire to the utmost degree. Christy Lemire gave the film one out of four stars, saying, “It’s essentially a two-hour version of that meme in which Chris Evans, as Captain America in ‘The Avengers,’ says earnestly and with more than a little pride: ‘I understood that reference.’” Her main problem was that it denied the female remake because, and I quote her, “That’s men’s work!” as well as damning Ray Parker Jr.’s theme that “busting made him feel good, we all knew what he was really talking about.” I’m sorry, Ms. Lemire, but you’ve lost a fan. I’m pretty sure you missed the entire point of this film.
What is the point? Sure, I agree, it’s absolutely a nostalgia trip. Is that so wrong? It delves deep into the lack of a third Ghostbusters film, giving a great backstory explaining the breaking-up of the Ghostbusters team because of the late Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler in a rather bitter, heartbreaking way. With this, it may seem a little contrite and derivative of a story, but this entire film was a love letter to Ramis. The relationship between Ramis, Aykroyd, and Murray were shattered because of a difference in story direction with Ramis’s film “Groundhog Day” featuring Murray. Dan Aykroyd stayed friend with the both, but Ramis and Murray never spoke until just before Ramis passed away. They made wonderful amends before he died. So to see the entire original cast (besides Rick Moranis, who’s retired from acting) all returned not for a cash grab, not for a paycheck, not even for a recognition of “Hey, we’re still alive, remember us?” It was purely as respect for Ramis. The great Dr. Egon Spengler.
Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon, two of my favorite working actors right now, are the two slices of bread in the Ghostbusters sandwich, but what makes this film work when speaking of the cast is the peanut butter and jelly: the younger cast members. Finn Wolfhard from “Stranger Things” popularity plays a great cynical rebellious older brother Trevor, and Logan Kim as the hysterical character Podcast who’s obsession with the paranormal makes his every line a laugh-out-loud riot are the peanut butter. But the jelly, the character that easily steals the show, is Mckenna Grace. You might know her from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Annabelle Comes Home,” and “I, Tonya.” Her role on “The Handmaid’s Tale” even garnered her an Emmy nomination. In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” she portrays the granddaughter of Dr. Egon Spengler. The hairstylist for Grace absolutely did their homework simply on the hair. In 1984, Ramis had a strange but iconic combination of curly hair and flat top. I’m sure there’s a term for it, but I’m no hairstylist. Also, the glasses she wears thanks to the prop master were the exact same frames Harold Ramis wore in the original film. Add those aspects to her incredibly adaptable acting skills, and you have the perfect quirky, Aspergers genius descendent of the beloved Egon. From the mannerisms to the awkward humor that doesn’t really make sense, not to mention the attempted flirtations that don’t work yet do, Grace has, in this reviewer’s opinion, solidified herself as the best working child actress in Hollywood.
I acknowledge that this review was much more history and backstory than it was a full review of the film itself, but I must pride myself in that. Films like this are meant to be a fun experience filled (purposefully) with nostalgia while bringing new characters to the franchise. There was one thing Christy Lemire said that I agreed with: she said, “But at least [the original cast] all realized what this is supposed to be: a goofy good time, and nothing more.”
Maybe, after this review, I still have my fan-goggles on. And maybe, just maybe, that is exactly how you should watch this film. But what do I know?
J.D. Stars: **** out of ****