Following the passing of her estranged father, Dr. Egon Spengler, Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two children (Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard) set off to his remote farmhouse to try and start over. While there, local schoolteacher Chad Grooberson (Paul Rudd) befriends the family as he investigates a series of minor earthquakes that could be connected to their farmhouse and the legacy of Dr. Spengler's work in the '80s...
Legacy sequels have become a popular mechanism to revive dormant franchises. Ryan Coogler's excellent 'Creed' brought 'Rocky' back to life by drawing a line between Stallone's beaten-down boxer and Michael B. Jordan's chip-on-the-shoulder amateur. The movie grasped that it wasn't necessarily about going over the same tracks as the original, but simply trying to understand what made people connect with it. Since then, we've had the likes of 'The Force Awakens', 'Terminator: Dark Fate', 'Blade Runner 2049', 'Jurassic World', and now, 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife'. The problem with legacy sequels generally is that some directors and writers imagine that audiences want the same thing they got in the original, while others believe it's enough to have the same title and change everything else so as to keep it moving forward.
With 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' however, there's marvellous nepotism. Jason Reitman - who was quite literally a child on the set of the original while his father directed - is behind the camera, calling the shots. Yet, if you examine Jason Reitman's filmography, you understand quickly that he was completely the wrong choice to direct this. 'Thank You For Smoking', 'Up In The Air', 'Tully', 'Young Adult' - the younger Reitman's work has been comedy-dramas with satirical flashes and emotional edges. The elder Reitman, meanwhile, directed the likes of 'Stripes', 'Kindergarten Cop', 'Evolution', and produced the likes of 'Private Parts', 'Animal House', and the 2017 movie remake of 'Baywatch'. Quite simply, their work couldn't be more different. If Ivan Reitman wanted to keep it in the family, why not tap his daughter Catherine Reitman instead? She created the witty CBC comedy 'Workin' Moms', is a regular guest-star on 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' as Maureen Ponderosa, not to mention writing numerous episodes of 'Workin' Moms' and directing a couple of episodes of it too.
'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' takes itself far, far too seriously. There's barely a quip or a joke for a good twenty minutes, and the film raises a mere chuckle at best. It's not for lack of trying by the cast, either. Mckenna Grace's bespectacled granddaughter does her best to inject humour with deadpan readings of dad jokes, while Finn Wolfhard plays essentially the same character from 'Stranger Things' with less success. Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd, meanwhile, almost have little to nothing to do in this, except stand around and give space to the child actors in the cast. Neither of them has a big, standout comedic moment, nor does it give them a chance to have one. So much of 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' is made up of moving the plot forward, dropping in Easter eggs at every available opportunity, holding recognisable items up to the camera, not to mention reminding everyone of the original through YouTube clips or dusting off the Ecto-1 from a barn.
Of course, this is what we've come to expect in a legacy sequel. There's got to be the dramatic reveal of some minor item from the original, or someone stepping through a door with the camera holding on them just a little longer so everyone in the audience has a chance to recognise them after not seeing them for thirty-odd years. In all of these box-ticking exercises, 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' forgets what made the original so good. It was simply that nobody cared, and that laidback energy infected every aspect of the movie.
Bill Murray famously only took the part of Dr. Venkman because he wanted Columbia Pictures to fund his ill-fated World War I drama, 'The Razor's Edge'. Ernie Hudson, meanwhile, had his character utterly rewritten by the time he got to set. The late Harold Ramis was known for his improvisational work ethic, not to mention the fact that he was just finished working as a director on 'National Lampoon's Vacation'. In 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife', it's so clear that everyone is trying their hardest to make it work, yet it never connects with that flippant humour that made people love the original so much. More than that, the script by Gil Kenan and Reitman places too much stock in people knowing or even caring about the complicated backstory in the original.
If there is to be a sequel to this legacy sequel, and odds are there will be, it might be better to simply hand the keys of Ecto-1 over to someone not quite so connected to it. There isn't a shortage of wise-cracking writers and directors out there either. For all of the emphasis on family and memory in 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife', its emotions ultimately ring hollow and the catharsis it tries to reach for in the final scenes winds up being something of a misguided effort, much like everything that preceded it.