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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

This review is mostly spoiler free, for people who are avoiding trailers.

Let's get the hard part out of the way immediately. In this movie, one of main characters, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) makes a new friend at her new school. Here's how that goes:

"I call myself Podcast, because of my podcast." That effectively is Logan Kim's character's name.

I was going to reference that old email hack/leak and say that Amy Pascal and the higher-ups at Sony Pictures haven't learned anything in at least nine years, but it turns out the skateboarding in The Amazing Spider-Man was actually Andrew Garfield's idea. (Give the man an Oscar this year, please.) Plus, the results are the same. Something inserted into the movie to stay trendy actually has some genuine meaning or payoff to it, and the actors and other filmmakers make those things work. Ghostbusters: Afterlife just has a lot of that. There's a conflict just in what the movie is that can be seen and felt. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II. The 2016 reboot is now its own separate thing, and the same can probably be said for the 2009 video game that kinda-sorta was Ghostbusters III until now. So, with all that being said the basic plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, from IMDb, is "When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town [called Summerville, Oklahoma,] they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind." It stars Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Celeste O'Connor. Since it's a direct sequel, some legacy cast members may pop in. It's directed by Jason Reitman, written by him and Gil Kenan, and Ivan Reitman returns as a producer.

It's probably best to star with Finn Wolfhard because of the Stranger Things/It/80s vibes of his casting. The way this movie grapples with nostalgia is that it knows if it goes all-in people will, for the most part, pissed. So, it's incredibly selective what it brings back in a way where I couldn't tell when the movie took place. Except for a couple lines of dialogue and the timeline having to fit so that somebody could be a grandpa, this could take place in the 80s or 90s. Instead, Summerville is more like one of those tiny towns that time forgot. Like one John Oliver may cover in one of those invisible injustice kind of episodes. So, one of the featured locations is a car-hop diner, and how out of place it looks will vary from viewer to viewer. Wolfhard plays Grace's brother. He's not given as much to do as he probably should, but one of the first big legacy scenes comes from him, and it's pretty wonderful. Drifting in a field in the Ecto-1, with only a learner's permit, is something that dreams are made of. It's even more heartwarming when there's an Ecto-1 in your area that's occasionally in the movie theatre parking lot.

The other great thing from him is that his scenes with Celeste O'Connor give Summerville a lived-in quality that helps explain that clashing feeling in the town's look. You could easily become stuck there. Whether that's really for better or worse is not really addressed, so that leaves the question more open than most movies that bring up the idea. It's actually pretty fitting, since Reitman's movie Young Adult, reviewed here, really dives into that.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Mckenna Grace as Phoebe (Right), action hero, Logan Kim as Podcast (Left), capable sidekick | Copyright 2021 Sony Pictures

Mckenna Grace and Carrie Coon's first experiences in Summerville are on the more mysterious side of things, and they both work really well off of each other and Paul Rudd. 

A lot of the emotional moments of Afterlife come from Grace and Coon learning more about the upbringing they never really had and coping with it. Reitman could, in a lot of successful ways, push this heavily, but instead it's done just enough so that the momentum of the plot, for the most part, doesn't suffer. The movie's editing is a bit choppy in this way, as one discovery is interrupted with a check-in with Wolfhard back at the diner, and it seems like something that could've been left out. It's meant to build up his relationship with Celeste O'Connor, but I think better scenes later on end up doing that anyway.

Finally, there's the humor, effects, and action. Jokes largely do land, and I laughed out loud a few times in the theatre. Most of the time, this was because of Rudd or some visual gag with a ghost, but everyone delivers in some respect. 

A personal favorite, is when one of the kids says they can't even get any bars on their phone, Coon says there better be at least one. This one, luckily, is the only one ruined by Grace pointing out that it's a joke. Just to be clear, both give great performances, and Mckenna Grace is especially phenomenal. If you haven't seen her in Gifted, go check it out. She and Logan Kim are given what could've been two of the easiest roles to forget, if this was bad Ghostbusters movie, but she's given a lot of time to develop Phoebe, and Podcast has a real charm to him.

Jokes are actually a big part of Grace's character, as she's told to use them to break the ice in Summerville, but it could've been handled better. She does some pretty standard stuff out of a joke book, and I wonder if something really funny, but also really weird or awkward, and science-based could've been done instead. What we get is somewhere between wasted opportunities and eye-rolling moments. Early on, I was afraid there'd be more of them and that they wouldn't go anywhere...not that they leave a huge impact in the end. 

In a huge surprise, to someone who follows this stuff, Sony Imageworks didn't do any of the special effects for Afterlife. Companies listed are Double Negative, Instinctual VFX, Moving Picture Company, and Proof. They all did a gorgeous job, especially considering that they had to, among other tasks, update our beloved Mr. Stay-Puft. 

The major action set piece is a chase to capture a Slimer-like ghost. Tailing him in Ecto-1, while using an RC-Car/Trap, it's a good to modernize things. It's not too much, and it fits the established world. 

Having said that, I would like to say that the 2016 reboot had a lot of fun with their gadgets, the Ghostbuster's logo actually being a ghost for a minute was a delightful surprise. That second one is what told me it was more than a cash-grab, at least to some people involved. There was a lot more stuff like that, this time around.

Along with the lived-in world, little character moments, and surprises all its own, there's one I'd like to point out. After the heroes claim their victory, all the ghost are captured, and everything settles down, Podcast meets the sole subscriber of his show. This guy, an occultist himself, on-screen and off, is a big fan of Podcast's Podcast's Mystical Tales of the Unknown Universe (MT-double-U).

To find out who this occultist is, if you're staying away from trailers and spoilers, go see for yourself. You'll have a good time, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife may even hit you in the heart a little.

3/5

Also, my area has a Ghostbusters-centered non-profit. Hudson Valley Ghostbusters raises money for a variety of charities that they partner with, while appearing in costume at local events. They have their own Ecto-1 that I've occasionally seen in the area. I think we also have a local Mystery Machine, but I have no clue what that's about.
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