The youngest of this family, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), has a harder time finding her place. Spectacled and introverted, she is aware that no one even recognizes her dry wit. At least no one alive. As she makes friends at school with another outcast who calls himself Podcast (Logan Kim) and her schlubby science teacher (Paul Rudd), she becomes more interested in the invisible.
Undoubtedly more than any “inherited suite” that we have seen before, the importance of the inheritance weighs heavily on Ghostbusters: the afterlife-even sometimes weighs it down. This is a film of a son literally paying homage to his father’s greatest work, and a film by a studio trying to correct the course after their previous attempt to resuscitate the ghost hunters the brand leaned too much the other way, treating the material as another high-level setup for improv sketches. Well, Life after death does not make this mistake. In addition to the aforementioned heaviness of his images, there are enough old-fashioned nods and nods here to stuff a 600-pound Twinkie. If you’ve watched the trailers, you’re already familiar with Demon Dogs, Walking Marshmallows, and you can expect other familiar monsters to make callbacks.
Fortunately, this mainly works because of how to earn the new elements are. Unlike some of the other legacy sequels that just follow in the rhythms of their predecessors, this is when Reitman focuses on Phoebe’s family dynamic and introduces a noticeably more natural and younger sense of humor befitting the filmmaker of Juno, that his version of the Ghostbusters makes perfect sense.
Wolfhard, who has already covered similar ground in Strange things, flourishes playing the smart one here. He’s still too young to be a Venkman, but he could be on the right track for a life of cynicism. Grace and Kim are even more successful as the youngest Ghostbusters of all time. Grace has been a favorite with Hollywood casting directors for the last few years, and here she really has the space to show why with sharp script and clever characterization from Reitman and Gil Kenan. Never tweeing or precocious, his Phoebe is always artfully curious and has a monotonous tongue-in-cheek worthy of Norm MacDonald. Or Harold Ramis.
Let the humor come from the youngest players – including stage thief Kim as a 10-year-old podcaster – brings a new dimension to the sequences where all the old gadgets come out… not to mention the ghosts. The wackier shtick meanwhile is left to Rudd, of whom Mr. Grooberson is essentially a live-action version of Randy Marsh from South Park.
The cast is so good and the dialogue so clever that Reitman achieves what seems to be his true ambition: to make an Amblin-style adventure film in the ghost hunters universe. It also leaves you wishing that this adventure was truly self-sustaining and not forced to adamantly follow the path you have traveled before. Because as the continuation of the heritage par excellence, the force awakens, Life after death is a movie where you’ve already seen the main plot once, and it was more exciting (and scary) the first time around.