The Ghostbusters franchise has had a little trouble figuring itself out post-1984’s classic film. After the 1989 sequel, a 2009 video game took elements from the proposed third film and the 2016 semi-reboot, which saw a divided reaction amongst fans. Like the conundrum that 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens faced, you want to introduce new characters into the world and regenerate the things that die-hard fans loved. Considering that, one of the core four components in Harold Ramis in 2014. It’s a balancing act in that if it swings to one side more, it could alienate each part.

One of the first choices that writer/director Jason Reitman is to move Ghostbusters’ setting from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan New York to the mountain and desert abundant in Summerville, Oklahoma. At the film’s beginning, the frantic shadow of Egon Spengler runs to an isolated farmhouse away from a terrifying entity. Unfortunately, this leads to his death, where the point-of-view switches to a small family who is down on their luck. Callie (Carrie Coon), Egon’s estranged daughter with a frosty relationship between the two and her two teens, the science-driven and brainy Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), who has to vacate their apartment and go to the farmhouse Egon left them. Details about his later life are sparse, as the townspeople labeled him “Dirt Farmer” and noted that he was reclusive.

A great choice is that the writing team of Reitman and Gil Kenan emphasizes developing the new characters within Afterlife. Grace’s Phoebe is a conduit of Egon Spengler’s character, down to the astute observations and attempts at dry humor. She also adds a layer of innocence to the character, a kid who wants to be accepted for her quirks and likes. Paired with Podcast (Logan Kim), her constant recording, conspiracy theory-seeking summer school classmate makes from some laughs. Chad Grooberson (Paul Rudd), a seimotologist and summer school teacher, plays off each character well. He serves as an old fan’s viewpoint of knowing the Ghostbusters and being surprised when the kids don’t. Rudd brings his optimism and pairs up well with Coon’s cynicism and quick sarcasm. Wolfhard is given the quintessential teenager trying to find his way in a new town, side story. Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), Trevor’s crush, has little screen time to build chemistry.

Even though that Summerville seems like a quintessential, everybody-knows-your-name town, something is bubbling under the surface. Intermittent earthquakes happen, which hint at something paranormal happening. This all ties into the house’s mystery and secrets that Summerville holds within it. There are a lot of callbacks within Afterlife, from the Echo 1, proton packs, P.K.E. meter, and more. Mostly, it feels good to see new blood discover these tools and carry the torch – much like if a parent takes their child to watch Ghostbusters for the first time. To hear the sirens of a very dirty and aged Echo 1 ring loud will invoke old, emotional feelings inside you.

The problem arises with the antagonist that Afterlife chooses. Nostalgia can be a fabulous tool when given the proper doses, but there’s a fine line when retreating to barren ground. While they have enhanced the scares and CGI for the ghosts themselves, the more significant threat feels tried and conquered. As the Easter eggs show, themselves lies the clash of the trains of thought. How long can you bask and introduce new elements in the past’s lore without it feeling like it’s leaning on it too much?

Afterlife works best when it hones in on the themes of acceptance, repairing old wounds, and family. Callie is a single mother, trying to do her best while not connecting with Phoebe. There’s also resentment towards her father and how he left. Unfortunately, Ramis is no longer here to reprise his role, but the film is very much an homage to his character. His storyline is the gravity to which everything and everyone grounds itself in. For many, it will feel like a compassionate tribute.

There are new kids on the block in the Ghostbusters’ universe amongst a myriad of callbacks that will fill like the old Hi-C Echo Cooler drink. If you are a long-standing fan of the franchise, Afterlife will feel like a stroll down memory lane inside the middle of nowhere – the Saturday morning cartoon or the cereal. In ways, the film fights to entirely escape from the ghost trap of the past to form into a clear future. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a love letter to the built legend of yesteryear.

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures