Today I sat in a movie theater for the first time in roughly two years and saw the movie I've been waiting 30+ years to see...
I saw the first film in a movie theater in Brooklyn with my younger sister when it came out in 1984. It might be the only film we ever went to together, just the two of us. I was 15, she was 10, and I think we saw it free in one of the theater's my grandfather managed (we were really lucky in that way).
Ghostbusters quickly became one of those touchstones in my life - like the original Star Trek television series and the first Star Wars film - that greatly influenced my art, writing, and of course my hobby of Tabletop Roleplaying Games, the ultimate gestalt of all creative endeavors.
I have a deep love for the original, think the second film was OK, and feel the Real Ghostbusters animated series was brilliant. Ghostbusters: The Video Game was also excellent. Everything else has been varying levels of good and disappointing. There was also a film vaguely related to the franchise in 2016 that is best never being mentioned again. Ever. For any reason.
So how does Ghostbusters: Afterlife measure up? Well...
I LOVED IT!
I thought it was terrific. I also think it was a very different movie from the original and therein lies the brilliance of it. It is less the screwball Comedy/Action-Adventures of the first two films but it is not so removed from the them as to feel unrelated. Ghostbusters, the original especially, is clearly there in Afterlife's DNA. Much like the characters in the movie and the director, the familial resemblance is evident and yet it is definitely its own person...I mean motion picture.
The Character and Actors
All the parts were played well but a special shout out to McKenna Grace as Phoebe Spengler (See below) and Logan Kim as Podcast. These two not only brought their characters to life in a way that made them both likeable and memorable but they had wonderful onscreen chemistry together. Grace is especially good as Phoebe, from her initial difficulty connecting with other people to her biting wit and onward to true heroism, she is the perfect character to connect the old and usher in the new for the Ghostbusters franchise.
The rest of the cast rounded out well with Paul Rudd being especially great (as he always is). While Callie Coon and Finn Wolfhard were very good, their characters didn't get a lot of development in comparison to Grace's Phoebe or even Rudd's Gary Grooberson.
As far as the original cast and characters go I think they were handled quite well. I liked their participation in the events and the way the narrative played out, particularly at the end. I do have some minor quibbles but they are less problems I have then they are things that I question in my own head canon.
At the same time, good for Winston! I was so happy to see him become a successful and wealthy man who still held the Ghostbusters near and dear to his heart. Loved that.
The story was solid if not particularly original but the way it was told and how all the pieces linked together was distinctive enough to have this be an evolution of the Ghostbusters setting, the next chapter if you will, and not just a rehash of the 1984 film. In fact, I would go so far as to commend Director Jason Reitman on his ability to take the first movie's story elements and introduce them in a fresh way. We get the best of both worlds here; this is a film seeped in Fan Service and Nostalgia but packaged in a way that says, 'and there is more where that came from'.
Imagine where it could go next.
I have ideas. Oh boy, do I have ideas...
The Special Effects
I have to begin by praising the sound design, which was freakin' spectacular. I didn't realize I had purchased a ticket to an IMAX showing until I got to the theatre and was almost a little disappointed. I don't like IMAX. It is usually too loud for me as my hearing has gotten sensitive to extreme volumes as I've gotten older. I don't hear subtle differences in sound but instead it's just loud for loud's sake. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case here.
Every sound was awesome - sometimes powerful and sometimes nuanced. From the beautiful, vaguely threatening rumble hum of the Proton Pack's activation to the unique, sizzling blast of the Particle Streams, ever tone landed perfectly.
I loved most of the music as well, though some of it wasn't particularly 'Ghostbusters'-y. What I found incredible was that the End Credits song, 'Haunted House' (actually song by Mckenna Grace), was such a GREAT piece of music that should have been in the movie, not just the credits after the film.
The visual effects were amazing as well. I loved the updated look of some of the classic effects as well as the clever detail on some of the newer ones (like Muncher eating through metal and leaving Ectoplasm residue behind).
I can't really say there was anything bad about the film but there were elements that were weaker then they could have been.
There were definitely issues with the pacing in the first twenty minutes. The opening sequence, including the credits for some reason, felt really off to me. That continued for a bit up until the family moves to the old abandoned house and farm left to them by the kid's grandfather, one Egon Spengler. I probably would've started with the family on the road, talking about why they left life in the city for this place instead of having the whole set up they used in the film.
I found it odd that many components, key details to some degree, were left out of the story completely. We don't know the family's last name prior to them being identified as Spenglers. I guess with Callie's husband and the kids' dad out of the picture it didn't make sense to name him but we don't know they are Spenglers until they get to the farmhouse so...who are they?
If Janine didn't end up with Egon...who did? Who got him to feel emotion to the degree where he had a daughter with her. I really, really want to meet Grandma Spengler. I feel a little cheated not getting to know her or her story.
I wish we'd gotten a bit more about the other Ghostbusters and Janine, though it wasn't absolutely necessary to do so. I feel what we got worked just fine.
Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) was definitely underused but his potential love interest Lucky (Celeste O'Connor) was there because he needed a potential girlfriend and there needs to be four Ghostbusters. Beyond that she isn't really a fully realized character. That's a real shame, especially with a name like Lucky Domingo. Come on! You can't make something cool out of that? Missed opportunity.
Now here's something that bugs me and yet I totally get it. Ray and Egon have a falling out when Egon appears to go off the deep end by uprooting himself to the middle of nowhere and taking a good deal of their tech with him while Ray refuses to believe/accept Egon's reasons for doing so. OK. I understand the idea, I really do, but...It doesn't sound like something Egon would do. It seems like the roles should be reversed and Ray would go off on some seemingly mad quest while the more rational Egon demanded proof or something similar.
That said, I do get it and in fact it does work for me on some level. Egon is the rational, less emotional one and yet if you watch the first two movies closely he can get riled up and go after those who threaten his friends. Egon could foreseeably be driven to extremes by a discovery such as the one we see in the new film, the return of Gozer.
Lastly, I kind of wish the big bad wasn't Gozer. I am not against it the way I was with the return of the Emperor in Star Wars' The Rise of Skywalker but I don't know that it had to be everyone's favorite Sumerian God of Destruction. In fact, it would have made a lot more sense to me that Ray thought Egon was losing it if the latter was going on and on about a new otherworldly entity Ray had never heard of.
Gozer looked AWESOME! That was Olivia Wilde? Wow. Very well done. The look, the voice, the approach to it was all excellent.
When Venkman says he's from The Home Office I nearly flipped out (in a good way). After all...
The End Credits scene was perfect. It was almost exactly what I'd hoped to see at the end of such a film. Kudos to Sony/Reitman for having the guy who holds it all together and builds it back up be Winston Zeddemore Can't wait to see what he and Ghost Corps have in store for us next.
To close, it is fitting that I saw this film not on its opening day but today, November 21st, as it happens to be Harold Ramis' birthday. The movie celebrates the man as much as the character he made famous.
Thank you Mr. Ramis for all your contributions to the field of motion picture arts and entertainment, You are missed and your legacy endures.
So those are my thoughts and feelings on Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It might not be the perfect movie that the 1984 film was but I thoroughly enjoyed it. More excited than ever to run another Ghostbusters RPG campaign.