It’s somewhat difficult to celebrate the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife considering the particularly nasty lambasting that Paul Feig’s 2016 film received, both through production and upon its release. Nonetheless, with a more direct connection to the two original films, Afterlife promised to be a further twist in the ever-expanding Ghostbusters universe, reverting back to the more traditional narrative – but surely looking back is no way to move forward?

It’s certainly a shaky start for Afterlife, and not in the sense of supernatural found-footage, as the film begins with one of the dullest blockbuster opening sequences in recent memory. A poorly shot car chase followed by a lacklustre ghoulish encounter does little to entice audiences into the premise of the film. However, the laziness present here rings true throughout this sequel, or threequel if you will, as a whole. Afterlife is firmly set on righting the so-called “wrongs” of Feig’s film and so brazenly believes that it can achieve this by fan service and nostalgia alone, rather than making something new and progressive.

Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman (the director of the original Ghostbusters movies), co-writes and directs this new chapter. This is, unfortunately, the film’s first – and perhaps biggest – mistake. Other than the family connection, Reitman seems an odd choice for this project. His past filmography doesn’t exactly suggest that he’d be the top talent for the job, and the finished product – a film largely devoid of fun, that wastes the vast talents of its cast and grounds its present and future in the far past of its franchise – sadly proves this. Why does it all fall apart though? Is it a fixation to become a part of his father’s cinematic legacy, pressure from the “fan” backlash of the previous film or maybe just plain old unoriginality? Whatever the reason, Reitman’s closeness to this franchise may well be the film’s ultimate downfall. 

After the off-putting opening, the film takes an age to do anything entertaining. Audiences are introduced to interesting new characters, however with the benefit of hindsight, this is nothing more than a cruel tease of what this film could have been. We meet Callie, a single mother played by Carrie Coon. Her two children, Phoebe and Trevor are portrayed brilliantly by young stars McKenna Grace (I, Tonya, Malignant) and Finn Wolfhard (It, Stranger Things) respectively. Within moments of meeting them, they are evicted from their family home and forced to move to the small town of Summerville, where Callie’s recently deceased and estranged father has left them his rundown farmhouse. 

In this new town, Callie meets summer school teacher and seismologist Gary (Paul Rudd), whilst Phoebe makes friends with her fellow student and podcast enthusiast…Podcast (Logan Kim) and Trevor becomes enamoured with local waitress Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). The characters and casting at first feel like a lot of fun, but the longer the film goes on (and boy does it go on), the more frustrating it is to see this talented cast inhabit such a lifeless cinematic space. They could and should have been the next generation of Ghostbusters, but this fresh cast are merely pawns in a pre-established story, never being trusted to fulfil their huge potential.  

So yes, even after the characters are established there’s unfortunately a distinct lack of actual ghost-busting, somewhat of an issue considering the name of the film. There’s one main action set piece, a chase sequence featuring a knock-off Slimer in the shape of the Josh Gad-voiced Muncher and it’s just, fine? Other than this, there’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man moment from the trailer, but shamefully the film puts all its eggs into its grand finale, which consists entirely of nostalgia and fan service.

After squandering all the potential of its new cast, the film eventually succumbs to what it truly wants to be, a rerun of the first Ghostbusters film. In doing so, it misses its biggest opportunity to use its fantastic new characters to earn a contemporary generation of fans, instead choosing to pander to those it already has such a firm grip on. It relies on past characters and storylines that have been run thin, producing them like a cheap parlour trick. The film even gatekeeps the iconic Ray Parker Jr. theme song, not using this until the end credits, once again showing a reluctance to trust the new characters and a distinct aversion to letting go of the past. Putting this song against the aforementioned Muncher chase sequence would have given the film a desperately-needed surge of energy. Without this, or any other means of excitement, the film remains nothing more than an uninspired build-up to a most predictable and forgettable finale.

Whilst this finale does offer some well-intentioned fan service, and will no doubt convince existing fans that this installment is something spectacular, those who are more detached from the franchise won’t be drawn in and newcomers may well feel alienated. Herein lies the film’s biggest sin, it does absolutely nothing for casual or potential new fans. Arguably that isn’t the job of a sequel or a franchise film, but when it’s a sequel to a film that came out nearly thirty years ago, it should offer something fresh and engaging for all audiences. A healthy balance is entirely possible. Films like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieved this, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for Afterlife.

Of course, it’s entirely a matter of perspective, as some will hail this effort as a love letter to the original film and a celebration, even a continuation of classic 80s cinema. However, if that’s the case, why even bother introducing new characters? With the film’s first two acts unable to tell an exciting new story, the promising collection of energetic and interesting characters are unfairly disregarded and the film’s final act becomes devoted entirely to underdeveloped fan service. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is, sadly, dead on arrival.

Rating: ★★

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is out now in UK cinemas

Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Jason Reitman, Gil Kenan, Dan Aykroyd
Cast: Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Logan Kim