Sunday, 3 April 2022

Ghostbusters Afterlife

A Spengler For Detail

Ghostbusters Afterlife
USA/Canada 2021
Directed by Jason Reitman
Columbia Pictures

Warning: Sorry, this one’s going to have some
big spoilers so I can talk about certain things.

Well, colour me surprised. My relationship with the Ghostbusters franchise over the years has been fairly hit and miss and I wasn’t expecting a great deal from Ghostbusters Afterlife, truth be told. I remember, when I was a teenager I was certainly no stranger to buying music (I was always a soundtrack listener) but I remember somehow, accidentally hearing the main Ray Parker Jr song from the first movie on TV and I rushed out and bought what was for me, the first piece of music I ever paid for which had vocals on it. Yeah, I bought the 12 inch single of the main thing and played it to death on my turntable.

So then, obviously, my parents and I (they liked the song as much as I did), went to the cinema to see the movie and, yeah, we had a relatively good time with it. I’m not saying I loved it but it was entertaining enough and it had a neat song and score. Alas, at the time, the soundtrack album was just a bunch of songs with just a couple of the Elmer Bernstein cues on there but, after a couple of decades, the proper Bernstein score was released on CD.

Anyway, getting back to the legacy of the franchise... we were all hyped up to see Ghostbusters II when it came out and, if I said I thought it was a bit of a letdown, that would be an understatement. The score on the thing didn’t help either. So, yeah, despite constant rumours of a third movie, it never materialised. And then, in 2016, a new all-female reboot was released and, well, I had a problem with it. I had nothing against the fact that the Ghostbusters were all women (that rocked and, to be honest), on a technical level the film looked great and it really worked well as an overall story. However, the dialogue just wasn’t, in any shape or form, funny... and it was obviously trying to be. So that kind of took the wind out of the sails of that one for me but, because it was so well put together, I kept hoping that the studios wold bankroll a sequel and maybe do a much funnier follow up. Alas, it didn’t happen and, instead, we have a new Part 3 to the franchise, Ghostbusters Afterlife, which is a direct sequel to the first two movies but, alas, forgets the reboot totally. So, yeah, like I said... I wasn’t expecting much from this one.

So I’m really pleased to say that I absolutely loved this new, fresh take on the series. Especially since it mainly deals with a bunch of kids... which is not something I usually get hooked into. This one, though, hits all the right notes and manages to do a fair bit, even when the producers are walking a tightrope of what could be considered a very ‘bad taste’ idea... and not only getting away with it but knocking it out of the park. And by that I mean, including Egon Spengler as a major character, despite Harold Ramis, who played Spengler in the original two and who helped write them, having been dead for a few years.

So, okay, the film starts off very strongly with Egon having a big showdown with an evil force in a little town where he’s been living the life of a recluse for the last 20 or so years. It’s set at night and lit in such a way that you never see the actor’s face who is stepping in for Ramis at this point... but it’s done brilliantly. And then, after trapping and hiding the spirit that the big bad supernatural force is after, Spengler is killed.

Cut to... Spengler’s estranged daughter Callie (played brilliantly by Carrie Coon), her son Trevor (nicely played by Stranger Things alumni Finn Wolfhard) and her daughter Phoebe (played by Mckenna Grace who is, frankly, phenomenal in this and pretty much carries the whole movie on her shoulders). Phoebe is the one who has inherited her grandfather’s love and talent for science and so she becomes the Egon of this movie. The three of them have just been evicted but, on the death of Egon, they’ve inherited the dirt farm in the small town and now have to try and live there and fit in. Rounding out the cast is Logan Kim as Phoebe’s new friend Podcast, Celeste O'Connor as Trevor’s new crush Lucky and, last but by no means least, Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd as the local summer school teacher and seismologist Mr. Grooberson.

And it’s a blast as spirits are accidentally unleashed, including a Muncher (this films comic relief ghost, similar to the Slimer in the previous movies) and a welcome return for the Marhsmallow Man, or men this time as miniature versions, like a bunch of mischievous gremlins. Everyone does good in this and it’s a blast. I think there’s possible a little less of Rudd’s character than I would have hoped for and, okay, there’s obviously going to be a point where the original Ghostbusters re-enter the narrative and, yes, it’s great seeing them... Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson are all back. As is Annie Potts playing their old secretary (no Rick Moranis, alas). I would definitely say they are somewhat underused though, coming in for a big deus ex machina moment towards the end of the movie, when everyone else has gotten in way over their heads as they take on the main villain from the original movie, Zuul. This time around it’s Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd who become her giant dog-like gatekeepers.

So, yeah, some of the acting talent is wasted a little but, all in all, it’s a good all rounder and I really had a good time with it.

But the main addition is the one you are not expecting. At some point in the narrative the audience comes to realise that the invisible ghost of Egon Spengler is helping Phoebe to put all the jigsaw pieces of the evil spirit’s dastardly plan together and get herself armed up with a working proton pack and trap etc... and I expected them to leave it there but, no, they took a bit of a risk at the end but, as it turns out, it pays off. I’m not usually a friend to the idea of CGI actors like, say, Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher turning up in Rogue One. It just doesn’t look anything like the real person to me. It always looks fake. Well, the director has gone down this route here with a CGI version of Spengler to help out our heroes in the end showdown but, here’s the thing... because it’s an aged, silent, spectral ghost version of Harold Ramis, well, it looks just great. Not only that, his inclusion in those final scenes is actually quite a moving moment... there were tears in my eyes (which is only going to get worse on subsequent watches where my eyes erupt into fountains, I’m sure) and the whole thing manages to completely step out from the whole ‘bad taste’ issue and function well as both a story beat and emotional punctuation to the move. So, yeah, I loved it.

And not only that but Rob Simonsen’s score (which is thankfully on CD and which I will be ordering in a couple of weeks) totally plunders Elmer Bernstein’s original Ghostbusters score and uses his various themes and, yeah, that really works too. And even when he’s not using Bernstein’s themes, Simonsen uses similar orchestration to kind of glue it all together and it never once feels like a tongue in cheek parody... it just feels right for the spirit of the film. So that’s great.

Which leads me onto my other slight disappointment with the movie. There starts to be a point about three quarters of the way through when you want to hear that Ray Parker Jr song either teased within the score or just out and out played as the new Ghostbusters team go on to prove that they ‘ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts’. Alas, they do play the song but it’s kept back for the end credits of the movie... I feel they should have integrated it into the film a little better, for sure (but then again, the original didn’t do all that much with it either, if memory serves).

And that’s me almost done with Ghostbusters Afterlife. A surprisingly good sequel and an all round entertaining movie. One last thing though... there’s a nice moment when you see a familiar name in the end credits list and think... wait a minute, she never turned up in it. And then the first, mid end credits sequence plays out and, yes, she does indeed turn up in it to reprise her role (if you know the original movie, I’m guessing you know who I’m talking about here). So, yeah, stay for the mid end credits scene and, also, for the final post credits scene, which isn’t quite as successful but seems to be setting up some kind of sequel possibility in it. And there you have it. A good time was had and I’ll be showing this one to my folks now as soon as possible.

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