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I finally managed to see Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) when I found the Blu-ray at my local public library. Actually, like the blurb says on the Blu-ray cover, it is “perfect.”
Not absolutely, but it was an amazing experience, especially for a film that is so different from the original (I still haven’t seen the 2016 gender-flipped reboot and we will speak no more about it here).
First of all, McKenna Grace totally nailed it as Igon’s nerdy granddaughter Phoebe. I was a little dubious about a bunch of kids trying to be Ghostbusters, but I really loved how the film pulled it off.
It’s such an unlikely setting, a rural town and former mining community in the-middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma, but it worked.
Callie (Carrie Coon), Igon Spengler’s (the late Harold Ramis) daughter and her two kids Phoebe and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) are evicted from the apartment somewhere (the location is never disclosed), and go to the only place left to them. A year ago, Igon died and Callie hopes to sell his farm to recoup her losses. No such luck.
Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) makes an appearance when they arrive explaining that the only thing Igon left behind was a lot of debt.
Curious Phoebe finds the place fascinating and there are plenty of “Easter eggs” around that call back the 1984 film.
I suppose I should say that the film starts with Igon as an old man driving maniacally away from an old mine, across a bridge to his literal dirt farm. He’s carrying a trap with who knows what inside, but as a lure. An evil force follows him and as it approaches, Igon activates some massive power source. But when he tries to use it against the force, it fails.
With nothing left to do, he hides the trap under the floorboards in a “safe” that can only be opened by solving a puzzle. Then he waits…and dies.
Phoebe “discovers” who the audience figures out as the ghost of Igon when her chess board starts spontaneously playing against her. She also is led to a shed and underground workshop containing a ghostbuster particle accelerator and the original gray uniforms among other trivia.
Meanwhile, both Phoebe and Trevor make friends and we all have to suffer through our adolescence over again as Trevor awkwardly tries to impress Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), an attractive girl who works at the local burger stand.
Phoebe finds a friend at summer school, a boy who only goes by Podcast (Logan Kim) and (you guessed it), attempts to record a podcast of everything he encounters.
The summer school teacher is the worst teacher ever. Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) is a seismologist who only took the job so he could study the mysterious quakes that plague the town of Summerville. They occur on a daily basis in spite of no tectonic or volcanic activity (or fracking) causing them.
He shows his students, most of whom seem brain dead, old 1980s horror films on VHS while he’s doing his research. Phoebe impresses him and eventually, Gary and Phoebe’s Mom start dating.
Callie is bitter and depressed since Igon abandoned her and the family when she was small and even the locals said he had no redeeming value. It’s later revealed that the rest of the original team also came to hate him as he cleaned out their supplies and left New York with only a crazy explanation about the end of the world.
Things pick up after Phoebe repairs one of the portable accelerators (okay, she’s smart, but the ghost of Igon must have been helping her a lot to get the thing fixed in the first place and not get her killed in the second). Meanwhile, Trevor, having gotten the worst of all possible jobs at the diner, fixes up Ecto 1 which he found in the barn (I have no idea how he got it running no money for repairs).
For a scientist and someone who knew a lot about the original Ghostbusters, Grooberson showed amazingly poor judgment in actually opening the trap that Phoebe found at Grandpa’s place.
Once the accelerator is fixed, Phoebe and Podcast discover a “metal muncher” in some old structure and fail to capture it (they’re kids). Meeting up with Trevor and the now operational Ecto, they chase it into town and make a mess of things. They only capture it on the open road right before the bridge to the mine, but get pulled over (of course) and end up in jail.
The jail scene is another of the many references to the first film, but while this movie is highly enjoyable, it didn’t capture the zany kind of humor generated by Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis. Paul Rudd’s humor isn’t quite the same, and although he tries to insert it into the movie, his being possessed by the Keymaster is nowhere near the experience we all had with Rick Moranis in 1984. The same is true with Rudd’s and Coon’s Keymaster/Gatekeeper hookup later in the movie.
The baby stay-puff marshmallow people were a nice touch and yes, if somebody had to end up being covered in white goo, it might as well have been Podcast.
In spite of all Igon’s efforts to keep the demons trapped in Ivo Shandor’s (J.K. Simmons) mine (he had to get the cold riveted selenium for the rooftop of Dana’s apartment complex somewhere), Grooberson/demon disrupts it, and once the mating has completed, the stage is set for Gozer to return to the Earth.
There was no reason for Gozer to reappear in the same form as they did in 1984, but I suppose it was another “blast from the past.” Gozer wasn’t really as impressive this time, but then again, Olivia Wilde (uncredited) who played the spirit of Gozer isn’t Slavitza Jovan.
While in jail, Pheobe is given her one phone call, and instead of calling Mom, calls the number she saw on a YouTube video of the old Ghostbuster’s TV commercial. Why that number would still be in service (since it was probably toll free) and why a Ghostbuster would still have it is a mystery. She manages to reach Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), who is a run down old man operating a run down occult store. He is totally disinterested in anything Phoebe has to say until she tells him she’s Igon’s granddaughter. The call ends at that point.
I was puzzled because Phoebe tells Podcast that she doesn’t believe in ghosts. You’d expect that since she’s a kiddie scientist based in the world of facts. But after she uses the ghost detector to follow Igon’s invisible spirit to his lab and begins to fix the accelerator, she seems to very casually accept their existence. That was easy.
Once Gozer is released, in order to free Mom from now being a “dog,” Phoebe distracts Gozer in her temple (the mine) by telling her obscure and bizarre jokes that only appeal to Podcast. Needless to say, Gozer isn’t amused, but then Podcast, using a remote-control-car mounted trap, pulls Mom free and all chaos ensues.
Oh, by the way, we see this little battery-operated toy moving along with Ecto at about sixty miles per hour. In real life, they don’t go that fast and batteries eventually run out of power. This thing was like a super-mini-car.
Mom’s free, but Gary is still a dog. There’s a repeat scenario where they fly down the road and back to the dirt farm, using Zool in the trap as bait for Gozer. The entire dirt farm is an enormous trap Igon designed to capture Gozer and prevent her from destroying the world. This realization hits Callie hard when she discovers that her Dad had been following every step of her life. But he had to save the world because no world, no beloved daughter.
Lucky gets her own suit and accelerator coming to help out when Trevor’s unit fails because mini-marshmallows start messing up the connections (How did they get from Walmart into Ecto?). Phoebe gets Mom to power up the trap but when she hits the pedal, it fails just the way it failed Igon.
All seems lost until the original ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson), now old men, arrive and attempt to cross the streams. You can’t use the same trick twice, and Gozer uncrosses them, knocking the old men back. Ray says he is a god this time, but that doesn’t work either.
Phoebe is the last line of defense, pitting her accelerator against Gozer, but then she’s not alone. The spirit of Igon manifests at her side. The Ghostbusters rally and they all contain Gozer, but the trap is still malfunctioning.
Podcast melts down all the marshmallows, fixes the connections, and Trevor’s unit works again. But instead of firing it at Gozer, he makes an intuitive leap that he shouldn’t have the brains to do, and fires at the power system for the giant trap. It works and Gozer is sucked into thousands of trap units under the dirt (the film never explains how Trevor knew to do that).
There is a very teary reunion between Igon, his daughter and grandchildren, and his former teammates before Egon’s soul is released to the heavens. Yes, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including me.
The film ends but it doesn’t
Cut to New York where Winston returns to the now abandoned firehouse (which earlier in the film, was described as having been turned into a Starbucks). Ecto 1 is pulled in and the suggestion is that the Ghostbusters will continue.
In a later scene, Winston and Janine are talking in his office now that he’s the CEO of a multi-national corporation. He’s been paying the rent of Ray’s little shop, while Venkman has returned to academia and marketing.
He shares with Janine that being a Ghostbuster taught him not to be afraid, and he chased his dreams so he could use his wealth to take care of family and friends. In his heart, he’ll always be a Ghostbuster.
Question: If Igon is Callie’s Dad, who’s her Mom? At the end of the first film, we always assumed that Igon and Janine hooked up, but while she described herself as Igon’s friend, there was no suggestion that she was Callie’s Mom. Who was she and where did she disappear to? Callie had a lot of Daddy issues, but didn’t even mention a Mom.
This movie made me very happy. The visual imagery was fantastic. I can’t describe filmmaking the way a professional critic could, but it was a genuine pleasure to watch for the visuals alone.
While I like Paul Rudd, his humor didn’t quite strike the right tone for the movie, Coon’s depressed Mom got a little too depressing sometimes, Lucky’s friends were just so much background noise, but awkward, nerdy Phoebe and awkward, adolescent Trevor knocked it out of the park.
Oh, in the after credits scene, there was no real reason for Dana (Sigourney Weaver) to have Peter hooked up to his old electro-shock device and to test his psychic abilities with Zener cards, but it was funny to have her zap him. He finally had to admit the cards were marked.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a fitting tribute dedicated to Harold Ramis. Rest in peace, Igon.
Added a TikTok three-minute or less review: