‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ Brings Heart Back to the Franchise

By Janie Walenda

“Ghostbusters” has a rough history with sequels.  In 1989, “Ghostbusters II” failed to recapture the magic of the original, and the 2016 reboot has been largely reviled by fans.  While “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is by no means a perfect film, it manages to both satisfy old fans and win over new ones.

One key to the film’s success is its use of another iconic 80’s genre: family adventure films.  Drawing on the trademarks of this genre, the film follows most of the same plot points of the original while still feeling fresh.  Much of the film depends on Mckenna Grace’s performance as Phoebe, and she delivers.  Not only does she brilliantly fill the same role Egon Spengler’s character did in the original, but she also infuses the character with heart.  She is easily one of the best protagonists in any family film I’ve ever seen and reason enough to justify a sequel.

Despite Grace’s strong performance, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” often drags due to its more serious main character.  It takes a while for the ghostbusting to get started, and most of the characters outside of Phoebe are too one-dimensional to be interesting.  The main exception is Logan Kim as Phoebe’s friend Podcast (a self-given nickname).  He balances out Phoebe’s more serious nature while never being annoying.  The pay-off to his paranormal podcast is excellent and led to the biggest laugh in the film for me.  Paul Rudd is also fantastic, and the movie plays to his comedic strengths well.  All of the other actors do well, but their characters aren’t fleshed out enough to go beyond basic film tropes like“sarcastic teen” or “tired mom.”

Ghostbusters: Afterlife' Cast Instagrams and Ages

The friendship between Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim) is one of the highlights of the film.

While the first act of the film is a bit slow, just wait until the proton pack fires up for the first time.  Once the ghostbusting gets going, the film becomes the action-packed fan service vehicle it was always meant to be.  “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” understands what its audience wants and gladly gives it to them, making the film incredibly satisfying to long-term fans.

Even for casual or recent fans or those who have never seen the original, the film is still heartfelt and engaging.  While the climax might fall short for those who haven’t seen the original, the film stands well enough on its own to bring in a new generation of fans.

It’s interesting to compare “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” with the infamous 2016 reboot.  That film followed the basic formula of the original by casting four talented comedians but chose to cut ties with the original movies, making it a reboot instead of the sequel that fans wanted.  This is where “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” found a winning formula.  It doesn’t try to have the same characters or sense of humor as the original but instead focuses on the established “Ghostbusters” lore and continuing the storyline of the established universe.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife' and the Art of the Pan - The Ringer

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” incorporates the iconic visuals, characters and jokes from the 1984 original.

Much of this film’s story is influenced by the real-life passing of Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler and co-wrote the original film.  Many franchises have had to incorporate the death of a star, but none have done so with the ingenuity and care of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”  Having his family be the main characters, with Phoebe being a mini-Egon of sorts, creates a natural connection to the original “Ghostbusters.”

Additionally, using clever storytelling and top-notch visual effects, Egon himself has a strong presence in the film, which allows for a touching send-off and tribute.  Instead of quickly writing him off, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” takes the time to honor the character, in the process respecting both Ramis and the fans.

Ghostbusters' Cast Then and Now: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and More – The  Hollywood Reporter

The original four Ghostbusters are still part of the movie, despite Harold Ramis’s (far left) passing.

It can be nearly impossible to pinpoint what qualities are necessary for a successful sequel.  While it can be easy to pick up on the surface-level details, as the 2016 “Ghostbusters” did, simply including these details will result in nothing more than a soulless film that pleases no one.  “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” on the other hand, takes its time uncovering what made the original such a classic and delivers what fans want from a sequel.

I am by no means a big “Ghostbusters” fan.  I just watched the original film a week ago.  Despite this, the sound of the proton pack and the siren of Ecto-1 put a massive smile on my face.  Every attempt at catching a ghost had me invested, and I was thrilled for the characters when they finally succeeded.  The film not only captures the spirit of the original but also the spirit of classic ‘80s family films like “E.T.” and “Goonies.”  Despite its occasional stumbles, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” makes up for them with the care and love it invests in its story and characters.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is now in theaters.

Janie Walenda is a freshman Global Business major and an A&E writer for Cedars.  She enjoys watching musicals and movies as well as rereading the same books ten times.

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