If you’re a second-generation filmmaker, there has to be some degree of wanting to separate yourself from your familial legacy by creating your own. It was obvious from Jason Reitman’s earlier movies, Thank You for Smoking and Juno, that he had seemingly received his father Ivan Reitman’s knack for character and storytelling through genetics, though he proceeded to create his own brand with one of the most diverse filmographies of his generation.
And then along comes Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which not only puts the younger Reitman into potential franchise territory for the first time in his career, it also shows that his experience on all those earlier films — some more popular than others — has allowed him to tackle a movie so different from everything else he’s done that makes for a damn good Ghostbusters sequel. Reitman has stated that the death of original co-writer and star, Harold Ramis, led him to finally explore beloved territory that helped his father make a name for himself, and that becomes more obvious as the film goes along.
Carrie Coon plays Callie, a mother who is forced to bring her two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), out to Summerfield, Oklahoma to take care of her recently-deceased father’s affairs, having inherited his farmland and the eerie house that resides on it. As it turns out, Callie’s father was the one and only Egon Spengler (Ramis’ character in the original movies), and he had spent the last years of his life holing up on his “dirt farm” preparing for another epic incursion of supernatural beings.
Phoebe is the first to find some of Egon’s Ghostbusters “trappings”, while Trevor is quite pleased to find the Ecto-1 in the house’s garage, which he begins to work on. Phoebe’s science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who has amorous inclinations towards the kid’s mother, realizes what Phoebe has found and informs her about the Ghostbusters and how they saved New York City from a ghost incursion decades earlier.
The script co-written by Reitman with Gil Kenan (director of Monster House and a Poltergeist remake) is hilariously funny, and Reitman does a good job keeping the viewer invested by switching between Phoebe and Travis and their mother getting acclimated and making friends in Summerville. Rudd is obviously a ringer when it comes to comedy, although Coon’s knack for hitting all the script’s comic beats is far more impressive, especially when comparing to her usual film and television roles.
Grace has impressed since she starred opposite Chris Evans in Gifted, but here, she buries herself into a role that makes her unrecognizable by hiding her long blonde hair in a dark, curly wig to create a character that offers similar deadpan laughs as a young Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams. Newcomer Logan Kim plays a character nicknamed “Podcast,” who delivers every line with such dead-panned perfection that he is constantly stealing the movie from the more-experienced cast, and Celeste O’Connor (Freaky) is another great find as Travis’ pseudo-romantic interest. Both of them get into the action when it comes to “ghost-busting,” and you’re rooting for them as much as you are for Phoebe and Travis.
While there’s plenty of references and throwbacks to the earlier movies to keep fans enthused (including a few actual clips from Ghostbusters), it tackles the ‘80s iterations sans sarcasm, which is quite refreshing. It’s clear Reitman is trying something new by introducing really entertaining new characters to the mythos, and it mostly works.
In fact, in many ways, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is probably the closest a filmmaker has come to capturing the magic that Spielberg instilled into his family-friendly films like The Goonies, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and others. It’s not an easy thing to do, and many other filmmakers have tried and failed miserably.
Time to get into some crafts…
Production Designer François Audouy (Logan, Ford v Ferarri) was given possibly the most important task, and his work includes helping to create that ramshackled house, which always elicits a gasp when seen in the distance across a vast cornfield. Set Decorator Peter Lando‘s team probably had an equally grand old time dressing interiors like Spengler’s lab and Gary’s classroom with easter eggs that will require pausing the movie. (Sorry, couch potatoes, you’ll have to wait a few months to be able to do so, since it’s rightfully getting an exclusive theatrical release.)
As much as Reitman tried to keep things as practical and in-camera as possible, dealing with spirits and a proton pack’s particle beam would be impossible without the visual effects work of VFX Supe Alessandro Ongaro and his vast team. They have the benefit and advantage of much-improved visual effects since the ’80s, which gives Ghostbusters: Afterlife a way to make their creatures feel much more real, while still maintaining the original’s classic look in things like that aforementioned particle beam. Fortunately, Creature Designer Brynn Metheney has quite a few new ghosts and ghoulies to introduce to the Spengler family’s adventure in farmland, so it isn’t just throwbacks for the sake of fan service.
Above all else, Reitman’s secret weapon for the movie is Composer Rob Simonsen (Tully, The Front Runner), providing the absolutely perfect score to give Ghostbusters: Afterlife the perfect Spielberg-esque feel by channeling the great John Williams beautifully. It may be an obvious way to go, but it’s also an approach that actually works so well.
One serious concern I had while watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife was the fact that the venue was not a well-tuned movie theater or screening room, but instead a large event hall set-up as a New York Comic-Con panel that included a “surprise” screening of the film. Even so, the stunning sound work by the team of Sound Designers and Sound FX Editors Scott Sanders and Chris Terhune, Supervising Sound Editors Perry Robertson and Will Files and Re-Recording Mixer Mark Patterson came through beautifully, as should be the case with any well-recorded/mixed film. When the film shifts into action mode in the third act, their work and that of Film Editors Dana E. Glauberman and Nathan Orloff, along with the visual effects, creates an incredibly satisfying bit of energy to pull everything together.
Ultimately, Jason Reitman has made a movie that not only should make his father proud as a wonderful coda to the movies he made, but it may also be one of the most satisfying communal theatrical experiences this year. Even if it was never intended as an attempt to relaunch Ghostbusters as a revived franchise — though it probably was — it also acts as an equally marvelous farewell to Ramis’ invaluable contribution to those earlier movies. I expect the diehard Ghostbusters fans — of which there are multitudes — to be quite thrilled by the effort.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife will be released theatrically on November 19.
All photos courtesy Sony Pictures.