I took my wife out on a date night to see Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and I was entirely pleased with the movie. It honored the spirit of the original Ghostbusters [Amazon link], and since that is one of my favorite movies from my childhood, I liked this one too. It had a nice balance of scary and funny, and it felt very much like the kind of 80s adventure movie that I grew up watching.
This is the kind of movie that my nine-year-old would probably love, and it would also give him nightmares. Which the original Ghostbusters did to me, as well as The Goonies, another favorite of mine from that era. It is amazing the kind of things we all watched back then. This new Ghostbusters movie, since it focuses mostly on a group of kids as protagonists, is like a blend of the two.
I feel pretty good about how the movie was structured, even though there are a few things that don’t quite make sense. Maybe I just missed it, but it isn’t quite clear to me why Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe gets put in summer school in Nowheresville, OK, other than it was a convenient place for her to meet other key cast members. Maybe Carrie Coon’s single mom Callie just wanted a break, but her on-the-spectrum twelve year old didn’t actually seem very high maintenance, except and insofar as Phoebe was a little too much like Callie’s estranged father.
However, the dialogue here is top-notch. Phoebe’s awkward jokes delivered absolutely deadpan in the midst of utter chaos and absurdity are just so. The movie would have felt very different without lighthearted touches like these.
And like so many of those 80s adventure movies with casts of kids, you have to ask yourself: “where are their parents?” as the kids joyride around small-town Oklahoma in Ecto1 outfitted with a gunner seat. Now, it is almost shocking, but nigh on forty years ago, when latchkey kids were super common in America, this was just how life was.
There is a funny bit with Paul Rudd’s Gary Grooberson showing all the kids in summer school completely inappropriate 80s horror movies like Cujo and Child’s Play on VHS tapes. I took that as the scriptwriters confirmation that, yes, they very much did want to make this movie an homage to that time.
Even the gunner seat is a throwback to the kind of images evoked by the still very raw experience of the Vietnam War in the 80s. Fortunate Son or All Along the Watchtower didn’t start playing when Mckenna Grace shot a proton pack from the gunner seat, but you better believe it will be playing in your head.
And yet, like the original, this movie is ultimately fun and hopeful. It insists that, you too can turn back the tides of darkness with pluck and some unlicensed nuclear accelerators. There is a reason movies like the original Ghostbusters are so loved, and this movie hits the same notes. Plus, you get to see tiny little Stay Puff marshmallow men romp in Wal-mart.