In the original Ghostbusters, Bill Murray talks up the bright future of the ghostbusting business: “The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

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This article was published 18/11/2021 (189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the original Ghostbusters, Bill Murray talks up the bright future of the ghostbusting business: "The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams."

That’s also the modern Hollywood creed, but back in 1984, the Ivan Reitman-directed flick came off as refreshingly anti-franchise. An idiosyncratic one-off, it felt like a standalone smash-up of freewheeling comedy and goofy action that wasn’t made to be replicated.

Still, there was the inevitable sequel and the years of talk about more sequels and then a gender-flipped reboot in 2016. Now a new entry into the Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe focuses on the kids – not just the young protagonists who are the grandchildren of one of the OG squad members but a onetime Ghostbusters kid behind the camera. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is directed by Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason Reitman, who was six when he visited the original set.

<p>SONY PICTURES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS</p><p>This latest Ghostbusters entry includes the familiar cartoony, gelatinous ghosts, including Muncher, as well as Stay Puft marshmallow characters.</p>

SONY PICTURES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

This latest Ghostbusters entry includes the familiar cartoony, gelatinous ghosts, including Muncher, as well as Stay Puft marshmallow characters.

The results are mixed. Reitman combines genuine affection with cautiously calculated fan service, which paradoxically means Ghostbusters: Afterlife can never achieve the spontaneous, loosey-goosey fun that made the first so beloved.

Callie (Carrie Coon of The Sinner) is the estranged daughter of a former Ghostbuster and a tough-minded single mother of two. Phoebe (newcomer Mckenna Grace, coming off a transfixing turn in The Handmaid’s Tale) is a 12-year-old science nerd, and 15-year-old Trevor (Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things) likes to tinker with cars. When Callie learns of her father’s death, she heads to small-town Oklahoma, hoping the farmhouse he left her might help with their financial struggles. When they arrive at the rundown property, however, they learn their legacy has only "sentimental value."

Ghostbusters fans will also find plenty of sentimental value as they watch Phoebe and Trevor discover and dust off their grandfather’s gadgets, gear and even the trusty old Ectomobile. Combining nostalgia for the past with an eye for future merch, the movie brings us the familiar cartoony, gelatinous ghosts and even a brigade of small but determined Stay Puft marshmallows.

<p>SONY PICTURES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS</p><p>There are strong performances from the lead youngsters, including Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Logan Kim).</p>

SONY PICTURES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

There are strong performances from the lead youngsters, including Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Logan Kim).

Reitman, known for Juno and Up in the Air, is an able filmmaker, and co-scripting with Gil Kenan (the Poltergeist remake), he pulls off some lowkey comedy and cracking-wise dialogue. There are strong performances from the lead youngsters, who get some help from Trevor’s new crush, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), and Phoebe’s new pal, Podcast (Logan Kim), who gets his nickname because it’s 2021 so of course he has a podcast. Meanwhile Callie gets a brief romantic subplot with Gary (played by the ageless Paul Rudd), an indifferent summer-school teacher but an ardent seismologist, who’s in town investigating mysterious tremors.

The story starts off as a coming-of-age tale, with some visual and tonal riffs on 1980s youth-centred movies like Gremlins, The Goonies and E.T.

There’s the wonky Ghostbusters mix of science and the supernatural, but Reitman has a hard time finding a balance between spooks and laughs. It’s at least an hour in before anyone is, you know, actually busting ghosts, and then the story rushes toward a hastily contrived apocalyptic ending.

<p>SONY PICTURES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS</p><p>Ghostbusters: Afterlife starts as a coming-of-age tale, focussing on, from left, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim).</p>

SONY PICTURES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ghostbusters: Afterlife starts as a coming-of-age tale, focussing on, from left, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim).

There is something appealingly offbeat about ancient Sumerian deities hanging out in rural Oklahoma, with one scene that effectively plays on this unlikely pairing, when a monstrous creature materializes in a well-lit Walmart.

But scenes like this, with their own distinct vibe, are rare. Mostly, Ghostbusters: Afterlife relies on nostalgia, with Easter eggs, cameos, joking winks and emotional callbacks. At one point, a familiar face, lamenting that ghostbusting has fallen on hard times, remembers the old paranormal boom: "The economy, the Reagan years." Even Gary gets in on the ectoplasmic remember-when act. "New York in the ‘80s," he sighs. "It was like The Walking Dead."

In the end, what should be effortless fun gets a little weighted down with Hollywood daddy issues, both within the storyline and with the movie itself, which can’t get out from the shadow of its progenitor. The latest Ghostbusters entry is not bad, exactly. In fact, it’s better than Ghostbusters II. But it never feels necessary.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.