Any sequel over three decades in the making would have plenty to live up to, but when it’s a part of a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters, the bar is set even higher. After the disastrous 2016 reboot bastardized much of the franchise’s canon, Afterlife had a pivotal role to play in keeping any hopes of a future for Ghostbusters alive.
A brief opening scene establishes Egon Spengler’s fate – after the death of Harold Ramis in 2014, he could hardly make a proper appearance – but it also handily sets up a passing of the torch to Egon’s grandchildren, who move into his crumbling farmhouse after he suffers a fatal heart attack.
While Afterlife balances its characters remarkably well, its lead is, seemingly, Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe Spengler, the science-obsessed, socially awkward granddaughter of Egon. Grace fills the Spengler-sized gap in the franchise perfectly, capturing much of the socially inept magic of Ramis’ previous performances while still establishing herself as a capable protagonist. Grace is joined by Finn Wolfhard as her brother, Trevor, Carrie Coon as their mother, Callie, Paul Rudd as science teacher Gary Grooberson, Logan Kim as Phoebe’s friend Podcast, and Celeste O’Connor as Lucky, Trevor’s love interest.
In all truth, Lucky is the only character who feels underutilized, with Phoebe, Trevor, Podcast, Gary, and Callie all given plenty to do, with their respective characters appropriately fleshed out. Balancing the comedic charisma of Paul Rudd in a supporting role against a cast of children is no mean feat, and Afterlife achieves it brilliantly. There’s enough to keep each of them involved in the story without ever forcing their presence, and there’s lots of small moments of comedy that hark back to the original Ghostbusters. It’s not Murray-esque comedy, but it’s capable of eliciting laughter from the audience, without being at the expense of the film’s supernatural tone.
Another matter of balance that Ghostbusters: Afterlife had to contend with was the balance between nostalgia and innovation. Slipping too far into fan service can derail an overdue sequel, particularly one as anticipated as Afterlife. The film’s creatively written script makes its fan service more a part of a the plot, while also balancing the nostalgia against Afterlife‘s appeal to a younger (and perhaps unfamiliar) audience, all of which felt natural and organic.
One thing about Afterlife that felt far less natural was Harold Ramis’ appearance as ghostly Egon Spengler in order to support the film’s conclusion. While it was a touching moment and a tribute to the late Ramis, it was a lingering moment that likely meant very little to those in the audience less familiar with the Ghostbusters franchise.
Still, Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a magical, supernatural, comedic continuation of the beloved franchise, featuring a cast of characters more than capable of leading the series into the 21st century. Jason Reitman’s direction also secured this passing of the torch as he took over from his father Ivan, all of which makes for a deeply satisfying experience for Ghostbusters fans and casual audiences alike.
Summary: An exciting, well-considered sequel that lived up to the 32-year wait in the only way it could. Afterlife has plenty for existing Ghostbusters fans, but also does a stellar job of moving the series forward, bringing with it the promise of more Ghostbusters movies led by the new cast.
Highlights: The film’s gorgeously rustic and spooky settings perfectly represent the film’s tone. The cast are well balanced but personally, Logan Kim’s Podcast stole the show somewhat.