Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an unwelcome spectral form of the original movie

Adapting his father’s 80s comedy, Jason Reitman beats fans over the head with legacy in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, writes Fatima Sheriff.

Love the original Ghostbusters? Fabulous. I have the film for you, filmed and set in 2021 with plenty of nostalgia to take you right back to 1984. Buckle up: are you ready for exactly the same story arc again, but this time it’s longer and almost entirely…serious? Are you happy now, Feig-haters?

Framed with some stolen Steven Spielberg, Stranger Things style storytelling, a young mother (Carrie Coon) and her kids Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) settle into a standard creepy murdery farm, left to them by their grandfather.

Strange earthquakes bring seismologist-turned-school-teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd) to the imaginatively-named Summerville, and you have a recipe for a mystery ready to be solved by this next generation Scooby Gang.

Now, this premise could have presented promising new avenues with a spooky isolated town instead of bustling, wise-cracking New York City, and a host of younger characters to join this crowded universe. Instead, Jason Reitman has expertly crafted Fan Service: The Movie, taking all the elements of the original except the glorious stupidity that made the proton-packs and physics-babble worthwhile.

Every aspect of the mythology is a hand-me-down as Gozer returns once again to pester the living. It is fun to see 12-year-old, coded-as-neurodivergent Phoebe tell deadpan, bad-good jokes and charm us in the way that has made McKenna Grace almost too powerful at such a young age. However, aside from her scenes in the car’s gunner chair (which is, to be fair, very cool), none of the characters get breathing room to establish themselves outside of the suffocating, sickening sentimentality.

Reitman manages to take this promising cast and shroud them in Leo-pointing-from-the-couch moments. Despite his recent label of Sexiest Man of the Year, Paul Rudd’s filmography has established him as being made for the brand of silly, joyous, risky comedy we expect from the franchise: here he is, for the most part, wasted.

The only true element of modernity is young Logan Kim playing Phoebe’s excitable classmate named, sigh for effect, Podcast. But even he ends up serving as the shouting tricycle kid in The Incredibles, without anything new for viewers to find worth shouting about. The SFX are stunning at points but it is moments like Phoebe and Podcast dubbing the next greedy poltergeist “Muncher” in an entirely straight-faced manner that highlight how far Ghostbusters: Afterlife misses the mark.

The original needed more ‘respect women’ juice, yes, but it took risks in its writing, and Paul Feig knew exactly what to keep and what to update in 2016. Here it’s frankly depressing to have three cool female characters within reach, only for them to be wasted in re-enactment. This is a film filled with such reverence for the original that every twist which could have made the mildly tense, darker atmosphere worthwhile is avoided in favour of doing exactly what you’d expect it to do.

Whatever the two MCU-style end credit scenes were seems fairly pointless: they’re already lost to my memory. I am left utterly demoralised with the future of the franchise, having been beaten repeated over the head with its past. In trying to make Ghostbusters cool, Jason Reitman has lost this nerd.