'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' review: Old ghosts aren't enough to save this nostalgia play

'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' trailer

In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm, while on a rather bereft tour through the facilities, asks sarcastically, “Eventually you might have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?”

That’s how Ghostbusters: Afterlife feels. For a movie that’s supposed to be about the supernatural, we get few ghosts or even spooky things. Basing it on the 1984 original, which is referenced at least a dozen times (definitely more), other former 1980s and ’90s kids might expect a series of clever hauntings, particularly with the bounty of modern special effects.

Instead, the moviegoer gets endless exposition and explanation, accompanied by a reliance on the source material, which is essentially recycled, renamed and regurgitated for a 2021 audience.

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Starring Mckenna Grace (Handmaid’s Tale) as Phoebe, Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as Trevor and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) as their mother, Callie, the down-on-their-luck family moves to a podunk Oklahoma town after Callie’s father — who turns out to be original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler — dies unexpectedly. He was seen as the town kook, and he had lived in an isolated farmhouse on the outskirts.

He also had wacky ideas about the apocalypse and the end of days, and the return (again) of the Sumerian shape-shifting god of destruction, Gozer.

Wait, wasn’t Gozer in the original Ghostbusters?

Yes. There are many themes and occurrences from the 1984 original that resurface here, right down to exact phrases and body movements. I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll leave it at that. The strangest thing about the 2021 version of Ghostbusters is that the entire story structure seems geared toward kids, yet dedicates almost all the jokes to adults, or folks who were kids when the original came out.

'Ghostbusters: Afterlife'

Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim) in 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife.'

Kimberley French/Sony Pictures Entertainment

The end result is the majority of kids won’t get the inside jokes, and adults won’t be entertained by the proceedings as they’re very teen- and child-focused. It’s a head-scratcher. Basing the story in a small town doesn’t quite work, either. Part of what made Ghostbusters such a hit was that it took place in New York City, one of the most populated cities on the planet, and it really felt like the end of the world. On top of that, it was packed with ghostly experiences. This version takes at least an hour to really get going, and even then there isn’t enough of the supernatural. All of this taking place in rural Oklahoma also significantly lowers the stakes.

But the trailers show a lot of Paul Rudd. Isn’t the story about him, too?

Paul Rudd shows up at the 1/4 mark as a schoolteacher to Phoebe, and the pair nerds out about seismology. You see, rather than a ghostly event taking place, an earthquake rocks the town every single day and nobody knows why. Weirdly, the populace just grows to accept it rather than, you know, fully investigate it.

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Rudd also handily serves as a love interest for the kids’ mother, and if you’ve seen the original you can probably guess what happens to him near the end. Rudd is mainly here for star power and comedy relief, and perhaps the scene with the mini Stay Puft marshmallow men, which we saw a glimpse of in the trailer.

That must be fun, right?

You’d think so, but they kind of fall flat. (Pun intended.) This movie also has a variation of iconic ’80s ghost Slimer, which simply doesn’t have the same emotional resonance. The movie attempts to add further comic relief through Phoebe’s friend, Podcast (Logan Kim — yes, that is his character’s name), but he comes off as incredibly grating with endless irritating remarks and comments.

How about the acting?

Because of its focus on the kids’ points of view, at times it feels like you’re watching a Stranger Things/It hybrid. (Fun fact: Wolfhard was in both.) To her credit, Grace does her best with the material and is actually quite magnetic as Egon’s granddaughter; she’s just not given enough to work with. Wolfhard needs to take a break from sci-fi and supernatural projects, lest he gets typecast, though that may have already happened.

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Multiple cameos from old friends — many of whom look like they rolled out of bed for the gig — aren’t even enough to save the movie.

So what’s the bottom line?

Another attempt at resurrecting a pop-culture phenomenon from the 1980s and ’90s, Ghostbusters: Afterlife joins its remake predecessors like RoboCop, Total Recall and Poltergeist and never hits the mark. The old saying applies here: you can never go home again.

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is now playing in theatres across Canada. Please check your local listings for details.

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