Review of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Have you ever had a family member that was difficult to be around? I had one that I won’t name despite her being dead for nearly a decade. She never had children but didn’t mind telling everyone how to raise theirs. No place was as nice or as well run or as friendly as the city she and her husband lived in. Once she got a computer, I and other family members would receive emails about conspiracy theories and spam we needed to forward so Microsoft could test their email platform and for our help, Bill Gates would pay each of us $5.00! I explained to her several times these were fake and a quick Google search would verify that. Of course, a quick Google search will also show you millions of other conspiracy theories and, to borrow a phrase, fake news. I kept my contact with this relative to a minimum for this and other reasons, and feel bad about that as she died alone, far from any family. For me, keeping a distance from toxic relatives is the best for my mental health. Separating from family is a big part of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” but it’s for the good of the extended family and the world.

Callie (Carrie Coon) is a struggling single mother in a big city. She has two children, Trevor and Phoebe (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace), and very little money. Evicted from their apartment, the family moves to the recently vacated home of Callie’s absent father who recently died. The farm in the middle of nowhere in Summerville, Oklahoma, is run down and littered with junk cars and dilapidated out buildings. Trevor finds a job at a local diner in order to get close to one of the waitstaff, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), while Phoebe is starting a summer school science class. Phoebe makes a friend with a kid nicknamed Podcast (Logan Kim) and is taught, loosely speaking, by Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). Exploring the house, Phoebe finds an underground laboratory belonging to her grandfather. She is also being guided by the spirit of her dead grandfather, Dr. Egon Spengler, a Ghostbuster. Summerville is plagued by earthquakes despite not being near a fault line or volcano. Egon moved to this town for a reason, bringing much of his ghostbusting equipment with him. But his departure fractured the team. Is there a chance a new generation of Ghostbusters can defend Summerville and the rest of the world from a possible phantom apocalypse?

Director and co-writer Jason Reitman was walking a fine line by resurrecting the Ecto-1, proton packs and ghost traps for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” One need only look at the all-female 2016 “Ghostbusters,” directed and co-written by Paul Feig. The hate for that film began a year before it was released, fueled by misogyny and Internet troll angst over someone messing with the sacred cow of 1984’s original. The 2016 film had its issues (I enjoyed it) but didn’t deserve the hate it received. Jason Reitman has the benefit of being the son of 1984’s “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman. He also understands what the crowd for this film wants is a loving, if slavish, tribute to the original characters and story of the first film. Jason Reitman delivers for the fans.

Much like the story of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” rehashes the events of “A New Hope,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” reaches back to the original film for the most of its story. That isn’t a problem for me as it’s not revealed right off the bat. Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan take the time to introduce our new crew of reluctant Ghostbusters as they acclimate to their new surroundings. Expecting to be bored to death, Trevor and Phoebe quickly make friends. The younger Phoebe appears to be on the spectrum as she talks about not expressing her emotions on the outside and is encouraged by her mother to try being more outgoing to make friends. This works with the quirky Podcast who makes a podcast that has only one subscription and, according to the young man, really finds its voice in episode 46. The characters are a collection of misfits and outcasts that eventually makes a team and a family of their own, much like the original crew did almost 40 years earlier.

Some of the critics are slamming the film for being a shameless appeal to our need for comfort and familiarity, mining the goodwill of the original two films. While it’s not the most original movie to be released this year, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is like a warm blanket, wrapping the audience familiar with the originals in all the good feelings of those films while giving us a new set of characters to know and love.

Stealing most of the scenes he’s in, Logan Kim’s Podcast is a delight. He’s written far more smartly than his youth deserves, and I didn’t care. He’s a breath of fresh air in what could have been a dull and morose coming of age story with some ghosts and demons thrown in.

I also enjoyed Mckenna Grace as the smart and awkward Phoebe. Her fearless pursuit of knowledge and willingness to fight for her beliefs is a rare example of a strong, young female role model. Phoebe doesn’t need weapons or martial arts to express her strength. Her mind is her best weapon, and she wields it to protect her family. It’s a sweet and powerful performance.

Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd are both great. Coon plays Callie as bitter towards her absentee father and her lot in life but loving toward her children. She can be biting and sarcastic but quickly warms when her kids are involved. Paul Rudd is very Paul Rudd; sweet, charming, goofy and funny. It’s not going to win him an acting Oscar, but Rudd is very watchable in the film.

The effects are a combination of practical and computer generated, and they all look great. They are designed to look like the original movies, and it adds to the feeling of nostalgia. The music is also reminiscent of the first films, with many of the themes from Elmer Bernstein’s original score and Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” theme song used. Many aspects of the film are designed to remind you of the originals. It might be manipulative, but I found it entertaining.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references. This isn’t a Blumhouse film, so there’s not much scary about the spirits, demons and monsters shown in the film. They are only frightening by implication. The suggestive references are very mild. There is some scattered mild foul language.

There are a few things I found puzzling about “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Phoebe understands the workings of a proton pack despite only discovering it seconds earlier. Gary tinkers with opening a sealed ghost trap despite knowing all about the Ghostbuster’s adventures in New York City in 1984 and knowing there’s probably something evil inside it. Everyone seems far to calm about the weirdness going on in Summerville despite the sudden appearance of ghosts and demons. I could go on, but this falls into the category of me thinking too much about stuff. I know this film isn’t perfect, but I found it entertaining. It makes a strong play for fans of the original films while setting up a possible continuation of the franchise. In that regard, the film has a mid-credits and a post-credits scene. One is pure fan service, while the second suggests there’s more to come. Only time, and the box office, will tell if there’s still life in the spirits of the dead, and if bustin’ still makes you feel good.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” gets four stars out of five.

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Review of “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

(No video this week as I babbled more incoherently than normal.)

Following his actions in Berlin to support Captain America, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords. A team of FBI agents swarms his house if his electronic ankle monitoring bracelet gets too far away from the base station. His use of shrinking technology has also gotten Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) into trouble and on the most wanted list but they have avoided capture. Scott, Pym and Hope reunite despite that violating Scott’s probation. It isn’t a happy reunion as Pym and Hope are angry he used their tech and got them on the wrong side of the law. Following Scott’s brief time in the quantum realm Pym believes he can rescue his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) by constructing a quantum tunnel. To do that he needs specialized parts that he purchases from a shady black-market operator named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). During an exchange of money for a part Burch tells Hope he knows who she really is and wants to sell Pym technology to some criminal buyers he’s already arranged. She refuses and uses her Wasp suit to get the part. The fight for the part is interrupted by a person in a suit that can phase through solid walls. Called Ghost for this ability, the newcomer attempts to steal the part but Hope fights Ghost off with Scott’s help. Ghost then goes to the van where Pym is waiting and steals the miniaturized building that houses his lab. Ghost is a woman named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) whose father used to be an associate of Pym’s at SHIELD. Pym got her father fired and he tried to continue his research on his own. That research was trying to access the quantum realm and an accident killed Ava’s parents and left her comprised of atoms that tear themselves apart causing her constant pain. The trio go to another of Pym’s former partners Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn) for help in tracking the lab using energy emissions. Foster and Pym had a bad falling out and after decades apart they still don’t like each other. Ava needs the quantum tunnel to mend her molecules, so she doesn’t die in a few weeks but her needs and Pym’s efforts to retrieve his wife are at odds and they are both running out of time.

Ant-Man is one of those Marvel heroes that on the surface doesn’t seem like a character that deserves his own movie. He doesn’t have the flashy tech of Iron Man, the godlike abilities of Thor, the tragic backstory and green-tinted mayhem of the Hulk, the power, history and patriotism of Captain America and the magical powers of Dr. Strange. Ant-Man can get small (and infrequently very big) and communicate with bugs. Both are useful abilities at times but not exactly the stuff of blockbuster movies. With 2015’s “Ant-Man” Marvel showed how a little guy can be a big hero. Now “Ant-Man and the Wasp” proves the first film wasn’t a fluke. It also helps that this film serves as the palate cleanser after “Avengers: Infinity War.”

The most noticeable aspect of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is it is far more comedic than most Marvel films. A criticism of “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” was the humor felt forced and at times ill-placed. Moments that didn’t need to be tagged with a joke got one anyway. I didn’t see this as being a problem, but many did. Perhaps the lighter tone of “Ant-Man” means the sequel can get away with more jokes and running gags and there are plenty of both in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” We get a humorous thread involving closeup magic that weaves through the film. The character of FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, gets some fun moments every time he’s on screen. And the thief of the film is Michael Pena as Luis, Scott Lang’s former cellmate and now business partner in a security firm run by ex-cons that’s called X-Con. Pena has the gift of a motormouth and that is put to good use in a scene where Burch and his henchmen give Luis a truth serum to find where the lab is located. It is a very funny scene of Luis recounting how he met Scott and his history with Hope. Seeing his words being acted out by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly is one of the film’s high points.

The light and comedic acting of Paul Rudd is also a joy to watch. Rudd is a naturally calming presence in nearly every film he’s in. In scenes where his character is stressed and in danger Rudd manages to play the role in a way that says, “I got this” even if it turns out he doesn’t. Rudd is credited as a writer on both films and his humor and goofy charm can be seen throughout the script.

All this lightness also means “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is largely inconsequential to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where the events of the movie occur in the timeline isn’t clear until the mid-credits scene which places it as happening just prior to “Avengers: Infinity War.” This brief scene is far more important to the MCU than anything that precedes it. It also offers a clue to how Ant-Man could affect the action in “Avengers 4.” Perhaps the movie gives us a future hero that can be folded into Phase 4 and it shows just how useful enlarged ants can be in a construction project and as security guards; otherwise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is like that little bit of sherbet you get between courses at finer restaurants: It’s a palate cleanser following the events of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

While it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the film it isn’t a severe complaint either. The MCU now totals 20 released films with two more in the immediate future: “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers 4.” Not every movie that’s part of the MCU has necessarily been instrumental in expanding the overarching story that leads to the ultimate clash with Thanos. I would argue “Iron Man 2” and “Thor: The Dark World” were just two of the mostly stand-alone adventures for these characters. Watching these heroes deal with their own issues can be as enjoyable as watching them band together and fight a demon bent on destroying half the life in the universe. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” gives us a brief respite as we prepare for what will likely be yet another emotional roller coaster in “Avengers 4.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. The shrinking and growing technology is used to flip cars and cause motorcycle crashes. Hope Van Dyne’s Wasp costume has blasters that shoot out fire and cause a non-lethal impact. Wasp, Ant-Man and Ghost are proficient fighters in hand-to-hand combat. Ghost can also put her hand inside people and injure or kill them. There is some gunplay, but no one is shown getting shot. Foul language is scattered and mild.

It may not have the same impact as other MCU films but “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a lighthearted romp with a little romance on the side. Make sure you stay in your seat during the credits. The mid-credits scene is the one you want to watch while the post credits is just a joke that you can watch if you’re are a completist. Here’s a little spoiler: You’ve already seen part of it in the trailer. The film is fun and, at its heart, is about families being torn apart and the struggle to put them pack together. Perhaps it’s a little deeper then I gave it credit for.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” gets five stars.

This week there are a couple of new films that could both be considered cartoons…or cartoonish. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation—

Skyscraper—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.