WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, now playing in theaters
Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn't necessarily a bad film. The cast is committed, the direction is solid and the screenplay by director Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan is fun, albeit unfocused. Because the movie gives so much credence to plot references to the original Ghostbusters, however, it ends up distracted and losing track of some of the characters, with an especially forgettable second-act being the major source of these problems.
But there's actually a simple and straightforward fix that could help refocus Ghostbusters: Afterlife's attention on the actual plot while elevating two of the nominally "major" characters in the story in an effective way.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife largely focuses on Phoebe Spangler (Grace Mckenna), the granddaughter of Egon, and the rest of her family -- her mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and her older brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). While Callie is estranged from Egon for most of her life and grew up to be a much more down-to-earth person than he ever was, Phoebe shares his deep love for science. She discovers remnants of his technology and pursuits across the course of the film and takes to his legacy. The film's emotional core centers around Phoebe and Callie, and while Callie is somewhat sidelined by the efforts to revive Gozer involving her, she and Phoebe still get a fulfilling amount of growth and eventual closure with the spirit of Egon.
The same can't be said for Trevor, who lacks much of the same depth that Phoebe has. A typical teenage boy, Trevor more or less just exists in the film, not adding much in terms of engaging characteristics. He's just an average guy, caught up in the events of the film and really only there to eventually fix up the Ecto-1 and drive the rest of the cast around. This gives hints of his own technical expertise that could have been balanced out and contrasted against Phoebe's more bizarre fields of interest, but Trevor ultimately gets little to do besides having a crush on Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), who likewise gets little actual personality or character. Even Phoebe's sidekick Podcast (Logan Kim) gets more development, becoming Phoebe's scared but eager partner in dealing with ghosts.
This can partly be blamed on the excessive amount of fan service that fills the film, taking up a shockingly large amount of the run-time and removing room for more character beats. But the other problem is that, while Phoebe and Podcast are involved in the actual narrative for the entire time, Trevor and Lucky's growing flirtations are effectively afterthoughts in their own movie, existing on the sideline until they join the plot halfway through. The better move for the filmmakers to make would have put Trevor and Lucky in the grouping all along, allowing Trevor's attempts to be cool and Lucky's casual attitude to naturally and effectively bounce off of Phoebe's no-nonsense confidence and Podcast's goofy sensibilities. They would have recreated the spirit of Ghostbusters instead of just referencing songs and lines.
The easiest way to do this from a script perspective would have been to make Lucky an older sister for Podcast. Podcast has a habit of exploring the more outlandish and potentially dangerous parts of the town, so having his older sister assigned to keep an eye on him over the summer would have made sense narratively and given Lucky a natural reason to be dragged into the plot. Consequently, Trevor -- interested of Lucky -- could have joined along as well, instead of getting hired at a burger joint and meeting a bunch of other teen characters who are minor creations that get almost no lines or even names. This would have saved time for there to be actual character development for Trevor and Lucky, helping their relationship become more realized and engaging.
Trevor and Lucky could have been involved the entire time instead of feeling like afterthoughts, tightening the focus around the primary four characters instead of creating room for the numerous references that fill up the movie. It could explain why the four are all there and fumbling through this adventure together, as opposed to Lucky eventually joining the group for no real stated reason. It would have forced the filmmakers to zero in on the dynamic of the central cast, with Phoebe in the lead role, and emotionally grounded the narrative, giving the movie a central focus that the finished product doesn't have.
To see Ghostbusters: Afterlife fail to manage its cast, the film is in theaters now.
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