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Ghostbusters: Afterlife is ready to heal you.

Ready to Believe You

Ecto-1
Ecto-1

If anybody has any doubts about the healing power of movies and their ability to right wrongs, don’t look to manipulative heart-tuggers like Love, Actually or Terms of Endearment. Take a look at Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

No kidding.

There is something special going on here. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a near-perfect tribute to ‘80s movies and their storytelling sensibilities. Typical ingredients — all offered in ample doses here — include a generous sense of humor, a big heart for the heroes and an atmosphere of fun about both the movie’s story and the moviegoing experience overall. In Afterlife, there’s also an agreeable amount of nostalgia, thanks in part to this movie’s youthful leads watching (on YouTube) the famous commercial the original Ghostbusters used to promote their business. “We’re ready to believe you.”

The Marvel Cinematic Universe should take some notes as its expanding universe crossing between theatrical and “over the top” series has gone a little heavy-handed of late.

It’s back to basics with this one.

The 2016 reboot with its all-female g-bustin’ leads was just that, a reboot that disconnected itself from the ‘80s storyline while also paying homage to its progenitors. Consider it the first salvo in an attempted Ghostbusters multiverse that — at one point — was going to include another theatrical stream, one starring Channing Tatum.

As everybody should know by now, you should never cross the streams.

All in the Family

Afterlife is on a track similar to Halloween, which has had more than its share of sequels and reboots only to be revisited in 2018 with a new movie that tied back directly to the events of the 1978 original while completely ignoring the action that fell in between.

Afterlife picks up the threads left behind in 1989, including the challenges of maintaining a ghostbusting venture as a going concern in the marketplace. The story is contemporary, 30 years after Spengler, Venkman, Stantz and Zeddemore made ectoplasmic history. It’s unfair to all the goodness this movie has to offer to say much more.

This will be said, however: Afterlife is deeply affectionate toward those original Ghostbusters who saved New York City a couple times over and that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering it’s directed by Jason Reitman (Juno), son of Ivan, director of the original two comedies. And, as Jason has attested, Ivan was right by his side at all times while filming.

Don’t Be Yourself

There are a lot of great surprises here. What can be said with the least amount of spoilage?

The action moves from New York City to Summerville, Oklahoma. Egon Spengler’s daughter is borderline destitute with two children of her own. She finds herself evicted just as her father passes away and all she’s left with for an inheritance is a ramshackle farmstead out in what even the boonies would refer to as the boonies. It’s a murder house by all appearances and it’s gonna have to settle as home for her family for the foreseeable future.

Having been estranged from her father for years, Callie (Carrie Coon, The Post) is hardly heartbroken by his passing. Nobody is. He ran out on the original tribe of Ghostbusters and — by all accounts — turned into a madman, moving to the middle of nowhere as he tried to save the world from hellfire and brimstone. In Summerville, nobody got to know Egon and nobody will miss him.

It’s quite an aggressive stance taken against the man, a little disturbing. And it’s a reflection of the ill will that brewed among the original stars as opportunities to reboot together were passed over, with the rumor mill playing up the bad blood between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis (who passed away in 2014). That unfortunate environment ultimately led to Paul Fieg’s 2016 movie with the surviving leads making cameos as — sadly enough — completely unrelated characters.

But that closed door has led to a new door opened a few paces down the hallway.

In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a refreshing joie de vivre takes hold as Reitman (and Reitman) brings a nifty spin to the original Ghostbusters storyline that centers around Callie’s daughter, Phoebe (a very frumpy-looking Mckenna Grace, I, Tonya), who’s got science flowing through her veins. She takes awkward to new heights, but maybe Summerville’s the perfect place for her personal reboot. As for her brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things), he’s a semi-hormonal teenage boy desperate to fit into a town with so very limited social opportunities.

Revelation 6:12

Stay Puft
Stay Puft

In this modern age of perpetual Paranormal Activity sequels, a plethora of ghost hunting “reality” series on TV and an abundance of world events to satirize, it’s a wonder Ghostbusters has been such a dormant series with this being only the fourth movie in 37 years. But that limited exposure and the behind-the-scenes feuding that caused it feeds into the beauty of Afterlife’s storyline.

This one brings the original vibe into the new millennium and plays off modern storytelling that includes not one but two remarkably awesome (note the italicized emphasis) — remarkably awesome — post credits bits. One comes early and deserves its own applause. The second is at the very, very end and is exceptional. It’s not just an MCU-style tease, it ties a bow around the story so far and… well… Stay in your seat and wait for it. So. Worth. The. Wait.

As Afterlife unfolds, Egon’s strange behavior and legacy is reassessed and that opens the floodgates to an enormous amount of heart that hasn’t been seen on the big screen since E.T. (1982).

While it’s a little disappointing Phoebe’s first foray into ghostbusting involves the return of Gozer, the gatekeeper and the key master, there is a clever connection with the 1984 adventure that makes it palatable enough. And, while the first two Ghostbusters adventures featured a big reveal — the now legendary giant Stay Puft marshmallow man and the Statue of Liberty brought to life — this one takes the climactic showdown in a different, heartfelt direction.

Part of the charm of those original Ghostbusters movies is their blend of big screen action and special effects with the irreverent humor of Saturday Night Live alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Afterlife resurrects that sensibility as well, particularly with a welcome and well-placed jab at woke culture — at Gozer’s expense. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) serves as a sort of comedic bridge to the past episodes as Gary Grooberson, a science teacher with a decent level of knowledge of all things Ghostbusters. And, of course, nobody does Paul Rudd humor better than Paul Rudd; Grooberson’s brand of teaching is to occupy the kids with ’80s horror movies while he tries to figure out why Summerville — a dusty town with no fault lines — is experiencing a string of severe earth tremors.

While it’s often said life is a journey, not a destination, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is both. The ending is earned, but the getting there is terrific fun as well. There is — as seen in the trailers — a Walmart invasion by mini morsels of Stay Puft marshmallows that playfully recalls Gremlins (also from 1984). There’s even a passing joke about Blue Velvet (1986). It’s also no secret the beloved Ectomobile, a sketchy vehicle even back in the ’80s and certainly only the worse for wear during the ensuing decades, makes a welcome return — along with plenty of other gadgets and props, some front and center to the action and some making playful cameo appearances.