Critics mixed on Ghostbusters: Afterlife: 'Joyous sequel' or 'dispiriting nostalgia exercise'?
Busting is not making every critic feel good.
The first reviews are in for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, director Jason Reitman's new attempt to reinvigorate the Ghostbusters franchise after 2016's disappointing effort. (Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the original 1984 film.) But critical opinion is divided on whether the film succeeds in that regard. The film stands Monday evening at an 83 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviews calling the film both a charming sequel and an empty rehash.
Variety's Peter Debruge calls Afterlife an "unnecessary but enjoyable movie" and "a rural, 21st-century rematch of what has come before." EW's Christian Holub was even less enthusiastic. "It's hard to escape the overall sensation of, well, a corpse being exhumed," he wrote in a C+ review. "Intentional or not, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a stark reminder of how much of modern American culture consists of excavating the ruins of past glories."
This was echoed by Jesse Hassenger of The A.V. Club, who called Afterlife "a dispiriting nostalgia exercise" and added, "A funny comedy about a group of nerds and slobs has been reshaped into a very different sort of retro-'80s sculpture: a neo-Spielbergian kid adventure, this one with with warm sitcom wisecracks and a bad running joke about bad jokes. Yes, Ivan Reitman's son has turned Ghostbusters into Super 8. Only Super 8 had vastly funnier dialogue."
Some critics, however, praised the film for that very approach. "[Reitman] injects a large helping of heart into the franchise," wrote Nerdist's Marya E. Gates. "More akin to bygone family-focused adventure films like Honey I Shrunk The Kids than the first two films, there's plenty here for viewers of all ages.... Overall, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a hoot. Truly one of the best sequels in recent memory, offering just enough of the familiar to justify its title, while also bringing so much heart and fun and originality along for the ride."
And there was much praise overall for the movie's cast, particularly Mckenna Grace's performance as Phoebe, the intelligent granddaughter of Harold Ramis' Dr. Egon Spengler. "Grace is tasked to carry much of the film on her shoulders and she handles it with aplomb," IndieWire's Courtney Howard wrote. "She turns in an astute, captivating, vibrant performance as the film's beating heart. Her droll delivery and natural ease with repartee work perfectly to enhance the comedic overtones."
Added Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter, "Grace is thoroughly winning as an impatient and dismissive smarty-pants who subtly undergoes a seismic shift."
Christian Holub (Entertainment Weekly)
"There are some jokes here — Paul Rudd brings a little lightness to the proceedings as the kids' science teacher, Mr. Grooberson — but it's hard to escape the overall sensation of, well, a corpse being exhumed. The tone is overall rather dour; [Carrie Coon's] Callie is constantly lashing out at her absent father in what comes off like Reitman (who brought his father to set every day as executive producer) trying to imagine what a broken family would feel like, and not quite getting the tone right. Intentional or not, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a stark reminder of how much of modern American culture consists of excavating the ruins of past glories."
Jesse Hassenger (The A.V. Club)
"In some ways, it's a harmless night out for thefaithful—the equivalent of a quote-along/egg hunt at a local rep house, with some likable new performances thrown in. Yet seeing Reitman inherit this particular mantle is still discomfiting. His hit-and-miss filmography of comedies and dramas includes a couple of incisive ones about the pleasures and perils of nostalgia. Now he's made a franchise-starter about how great his wealthy father's movie is. That movie is also framed as a tribute to someone who often seemed like he could take or leave the prospect of another Ghostbusters sequel, reducing Harold Ramis to an absence from a franchise without paying any attention to his comic sensibility. Afterlife wants desperately to summon the spirit of watching the first movie back in 1984. It winds up ghoulish in the wrong way."
Sheri Linden (The Hollywood Reporter)
"In its climactic sequence, the movie gives in to a more than a bit of self-congratulatory schmaltz — catnip for fans. And though it winks at some of the jabs and critiques that place the original film within the Reagan-era culture of privatization, it also doubles down on the American dream of entrepreneurial destiny. In this Afterlife, nostalgia is a double-edged sword and little has changed: The ghosts are elaborately fantastical MacGuffins that have nothing to do with life and death. But they require vanquishing, and this time there's more of a rooting interest, delightfully so, in the people called to do the job."
Peter Debruge (Variety)
"Between Stranger Things and the upcoming Top Gun sequel, '80s pop culture nostalgia seems to be at an all-time high, but Afterlife tries not to lean too heavily on that sentiment alone. It's designed to work for those who've never seen any of the franchise's earlier incarnations, and though the film adopts an unmistakably Amblin-esque vibe — there's an obvious 'what if the Goonies were Ghostbusters?' sensibility at work here, reinforced by Spielbergian magic-hour shots of kids assembling around a Devils Tower-shaped rock formation — you needn't have grown up on such movies to appreciate how they elevate adolescent rejects to hero status."
Scott Mendelson (Forbes)
"When it focuses on Mckenna Grace's adventure, the film fires on all cylinders. It's just a shame it also had to be a slavishly reverent Ghostbusters 3, to the point where this Force Awakens flirts with becoming Rise of Skywalker.... Afterlife is another example of how 'never let go' nostalgic fandom has created a need to both rehash previously successful franchises and treat those films as modern mythologies of utmost importance. That worked with The Force Awakens because Star Wars was always a modern myth. It's downright silly seeing such gravitas being assigned to Halloween or Ghostbusters (a standard Reagan-era slobs versus snobs comedy about fired scientists who became field-specific blue-collar pest control). Like The Rise of Skywalker, the worst parts of Afterlife exist as a comforting 'don't worry middle aged men, your fandom is still the bestest' head pat."
Courtney Howard (IndieWire)
"What threatens to undermine much of our goodwill takes place in the film's nostalgia-fueled finale, where nothing is sacred and the spectacle culminates in all-too familiar patterns. All the risks taken up until that point to deepen character drive and further thematic profundity on forgiveness, friendship and familial strife are given an entirely expected safe landing. Add to this a run time of two-hours plus, where every minute is felt, and this new journey feels a bit more busted than one would hope."
Marya E. Gates (Nerdist)
"Overall, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a hoot. Truly one of the best sequels in recent memory, offering just enough of the familiar to justify its title, while also bringing so much heart and fun and originality along for the ride. If this serves as a launchpad for a new phase in the franchise, with such a dynamic lead as Phoebe at the helm, I'm willing to follow her anywhere."
Rosie Knight (IGN)
"Director Jason Reitman does his father and fans proud with a funny, sweet, and spooky family movie that proudly takes on the legacy of Ghostbusters, while also introducing something exciting and new. It helps that Mckenna Grace is the kind of talent that only comes around once in a generation: charming, authentic, and the beating heart of this already heartfelt movie. Get ready to fall in love with the Ghostbusters all over again."
Pete Hammond (Deadline)
"Perhaps the real star here is Jason Reitman who, like Phoebe, rediscovers and reinvents his own family cinematic legacy, and in doing so, provides a warm, funny, exciting, nostalgic, emotional, and altogether winning return to the pure joy of that 1984 classic by making something that also seems very new in all the right ways."
Olly Richards (Empire)
"There are holes you could pick: there are a couple of plot points that feel under-explained. The fourth new ghostbuster, Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), isn't very fleshed out. For a film called Ghostbusters it's fairly light on ghosts. But it gives very little reason to want to pick those holes. It's always fun, inventive and full of charm. If you have any concerns that Jason Reitman's film might sully the legacy of his dad's greatest creation, there's nothing to be afraid of."