This review may contain spoilers.
Making a sequel to a classic film must be a tremendous burden, especially in the modern era of cynical internet trolls. If you're too different, people complain, if you're too similar, people complain, if you go different directions, people complain. There's a reason that The Force Awakens was so popular with folk who are fans and occasional viewers of Star Wars. It gives in to nostalgia, surprises here and there, gives people moments to smile at recognition, and still tells a new story with new heroes.
Afterlife feels a lot like The Force Awakens (a Star Wars flick I rather like) in that it occasionally feels like a remake, occasionally a reboot, but is very definitely a sequel. (Though whether it's a sequel to Ghostbusters II is debatable.)
Those internet cynics will complain at the “Stranger Things”ification of this sequel. Especially with Finn Wolfhard as one of the leads. But it's worth recognizing that, looking back at the era the original Ghostbusters came out, so many other films had that Spielbergian awe of childhood interacting with a strange world. Afterlife owes as much to Goonies, ET, and Close Encounters as it does to Ghostbusters, and while many will deride that, it's a really beautiful mix of nostalgia and story propulsion.
Mckenna Grace's Phoebe is superb, managing to capture the delivery style and being the spitting image of Harold Ramis' Egon Spengler. And what this film is, most, is a love letter to Ramis. Ramis is one of few celebrities I've ever been lucky enough to meet in person. He was warm, kind, engaging, funny, and magnetic. His death in 2014 was heartbreaking for me. The usage of him here, as body doubles and CGI creations, could be ghoulish and upsetting, but instead it feels like the closure needed to move forward in this franchise.
The movie asks many questions it stubbornly refuses to answer, and occasionally feels as though every bit of breathing room was cut back to create as streamlined a product as possible. But it allows not only its characters to reckon with the memory of Egon Spengler, but Bill Murray, who's managed to seem asleep in movies for the last decade, is able to share a moment with a cgi creation of his estranged friend that makes you feel…it's all okay.
While the film follows the 2nd act blueprint of the original Ghostbusters, it throws in enough curveballs to be its own thing. Throughout the movie I noticed so many little easter-egg type details that most viewers would never see (for instance, the red computer on wheels from the eviction scene in the original film) and they never failed to make me smile.
Is it fan service? Sure as hell is. But movies like this are for the fans. Watching these kids throw on proton packs and bust ghosts puts me right back in the summer of 1987 and 1988 when I was sliming my Real Ghostbusters figures with shampoo on our back deck, throwing a borrowed blue plastic proton pack over my shoulder, trying desperately to gather all the McDonald's Ghostbusters happy meal items together. Today, at 42, Ghostbusters means as much to me as most any other pop culture moment. This film brings me full circle happily, and sitting with my Spengler Neutrona Wand replica beside me, I'm proud to still be a Ghostbuster.