“I just don’t exhibit emotions like everyone else, on the inside, I’m vomiting.”
With Harold Ramis’ death in 2014, it seemed unlikely that a long-planned Ghostbusters follow-up would ever happen, moreso after the 2016 reboot, and yet it eventually arrived in Afterlife, which is dedicated to Ramis. The film hands the reins down to a new generation — literally in the case of Jason Reitman, who steps into his father’s director’s chair — as Egon’s family inherit his farm and learn about his work. Stylistically, Afterlife often feels like an 80s family movie with a glossier sheen (much like Super 8), its soundtrack peppered with welcome callbacks to the original score. Finn Wolfhard may be more recognisable but Mckenna Grace’s performance as Phoebe is the heart of the film, a 12 year old struggling with neurodivergence and every bit Egon’s granddaughter. The action is nonsensical as the children inexplicably know how to trap ghosts with 30-year-old equipment or use a tiny remote control car that outpaces a regular one, but Ghostbusters action was always more about a flashy lightshow than choreography. There is plenty of fan-service with Paul Rudd’s character fanboying over the the original Ghostbusters and a host of cameos, but Afterlife delivers more than just nostalgia. Its formula of running either toward or away from ghosts may become repetitive, but the character relationships have much of the warmth that made the original work. It may not be an unqualified success but, with another sequel in production, Afterlife has proved that the legacy of the Ghostbusters is far from dead.
It’s impossible to discuss the final instalment of Marvel’s 12-year project without spoilers but then this is a movie that no one requires a review to decide whether or not they will see. Its overarching time travel plot holds together surprisingly well, offering an opportunity to revisit characters lost in the previous films despite a fairly tight focus on the original six Avengers (with a few additions). For all the build-up, the overpowered Captain Marvel is largely absent elsewhere in the universe, serving predominantly as a deus ex machina when needed. After Infinity War, I knew that my overall view would depend largely on Doctor Strange’s seemingly inexplicable refusal to use the Time Stone, instead willingly handing it over to Thanos. Although Endgame offers half an answer, it is never adequately explained. Despite my issues with the journey, Endgame provides a satisfying conclusion that ties up the character arcs for a host of original characters, including a weighty, well-earned death near the end. It’s also particularly nice to see Jon Favreau given a few scenes, having helmed the film that started it all.
It is unsurprising that, after the lukewarm reception of Warcraft, Duncan Jones chose to return to smaller scale sci-fi. The relative freedom of Netflix funding was squandered on the tale of a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend in near-future Berlin. Near-silent protagonists taking on criminal elements invariably means style over substance, though both Drive and Baby Driver have shown it can be successful. Although the cyberpunk visuals are impressive, they are little more than a painted backdrop for uninteresting characters in a messy story that veers into uncomfortable territory due to poor handling of its darker subject matter. The setting invites an unflattering comparison with Blade Runner, seeking to evoke its atmosphere without any world building (the best attempts being the nods to Mute existing in the same universe as Jones’ debut Moon).
Judd Apatow spearheaded a comedic oeuvre that was once shocking and is now rather hackneyed. This is 40 finds freshness by accepting that the creators and audience alike have aged. When it focuses on the struggle to accept middle age and the strain it places on a marriage (together with the impact on children) there is something heartfelt to the comedy. When it reverts to ogling Megan Fox it becomes painful. Fortunately there is more of the former than the latter.