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ghostbusters frozen empire.png

Review: 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire' Is a Cold Day In Hail

By Jason Adams | Film | March 22, 2024 |

By Jason Adams | Film | March 22, 2024 |

ghostbusters frozen empire.png

Three and a half years after Jason Reitman’s legacy sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife offended all of my sensibilities as a lifelong fan of all things Ghostbusters, here’s the new one titled Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, this time directed by Gil Kenan who wrote that last one (which apparently had a script, who knew). And while it’s possible something died inside of me within the past three and a half years—hell it’s possible an entire legion of things curled up and died inside of me in that particularly vile span of time—I have to say that Frozen Empire is slightly (immeasurable emphasis on “slightly”) better than that former heap of junk. What a ringing and hearty recommendation! Pack up your group, get a grip, come equipped—grab the proton packs off your backs and let’s split … to the solidly mediocre new movie!

Picking up a couple years after the middling and maudlin events of Afterlife, the Spengler family—meaning Carrie Coon as mom Callie, Finn Wolfhard as son Trevor, McKenna Grace as daughter Phoebe, and Paul Rudd as Phoebe’s science teacher turned Callie’s boyfriend Gary Grooberson (and thank Gozer this movie axes the endless Grooberson jokes, making it already miles ahead of the last one)—have now picked up and moved themselves from Middle-of-Nowhere to Tribeca, Manhattan, New York City, New York. Even more precisely to a little three-story firehouse on North Moore Street that should look familiar to anyone who’s seen the original two films.

Now owned by Winston Zeddemore (the great Ernie Hudson), a former Buster who went off and got extremely rich in between the original films and the new ones—a necessary deus ex machina to explain how anyone involved with the shoddy operation known as the Ghostbusters could afford to own property in Tribeca in 2024—the Spenglers (plus Gary) have now made the firehouse their home slash bustin’ hub. And moving the festivities back to the Big Apple does a stupid lot to juice up the goings-on—like Spider-Man, the Ghostbusters just belong to New York. And it doesn’t seem right seeing Ecto-1 speeding down any canyons except for the stone and metal ones of Broadway.

And (aside from a spooky opening kicker set 100 years ago that teases the film’s ice-fingered Big Bad) that’s where Frozen Empire kicks off—with our intrepid spirit-wrangling gang speeding down a city street firing their proton packs off rather willy-nilly at a slippery block-long specter they dub the “Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon.” It’s a fun chase, one that embraces the goofily destructive tendencies of the franchise, using the urban landscape (and how it’s changed since the ’80s movies) to its best gettin-stomped-n-smashed advantage. This is Ghostbusters getting out of its own way and just being fun nonsense! Oh, that we could stay here!

Alas it’s apparently not enough for Frozen Empire to simply follow our new Ghostbusters on an adventure—we must make many, many, many stops off at Fan Service Central first second and fifth, continually clobbering any forward momentum this thing has right in the crotch. The first in this endless line comes immediately following the street chase, where the Spengler clan’s path of unwieldy spectral destruction has led them straight to the NYC Mayor’s office. And we pause. For effect. As the chair. Swivels. Around. And we see William Atherton, who played the villainous dink Walter Peck from the E.P.A. in the original 1985 film.

Peck’s the mayor now, you see … but don’t worry if you don’t see, because the movie will sit there and wait for a few seconds for you to hopefully realize it. Or google it on your phone. I think this is also where the “cheers” and “applause” are supposed to go, although my audience sat stock silent. It’s not that it’s improbable that the ridiculed jerk-face Peck, who was last seen buried under a tidal wave of marshmallow mush, would fail upwards into the highest echelons of NYC political success—hell that’s perhaps the most darkly believable occurrence in all of Frozen Empire. It’s just kind of … why are we supposed to care?

There’s a lot of that feeling going around Frozen Empire. And not just oozing off of Bill Murray’s bored, paycheck-cashing performance, either! As one example—an inordinate amount of time is spent yukking it up with the legions of miniature Stay Puft Marshmallow Men; this franchise’s cynical response to the Minions, I suppose. Once upon a time, the ghosts the Busters were busting were legitimately nightmare-inducing—not to mention thrillingly adult-seeming. From the poltergeist blowing Dan Akyroyd to the demon arms thrusting up between Sigoruney Weaver’s inner thighs, the 1985 Ghostbusters was one of those adult movies that taught ’80s kids a lot of fucked up stuff. Much to our delight! But now you can practically see the for-purchase tags hanging off the so-called monster’s feet.

Neutered and commodified, any sense of disturbing strangeness sanded down to nothing. Which brings us like cold clockwork to Frozen Empire’s villain, a personality-less CG something-or-other that basically wanders around, very slowly, until it’s needed to blow shit up at the climax. Introduced stuck in the ancient version of a ghost-trap—a bronze ball covered in strange glyphs that somehow simultaneously brings to mind the puzzle box from the Hellraiser movies and an oversized cat toy—most of the film is spent trying to figure out who’s inside of there, whispering not-so-sweet archaic nothings.

Which does lead to a pair of entertaining turns from famous Ghostbusters fans. First up there’s Film VIP Kumail Nanjiani as Nadeem, a huckster who sells the mysterious bronze ball to the Ghostbusters for a pittance, only to slowly find himself and his family history wrapped up in the saga of its past. And then there’s Patton Oswalt, who shows up as a scholar of forgotten languages who shuffles around deep inside the forgotten stacks of the New York City Library waiting for just such an opportunity as this, where he can quickly relate the history of the ball and get us from Point C to Point X in about two minutes of screentime. Nanjiani & Oswald are so clearly goosed to be here, acting in a Ghostbusters movie can you believe it, that their joy can’t help but rub off; especially when every other character seems so dour in comparison. (Nanjiani also pulled off this same neat trick in Eternals. It’s almost like he should be a huge movie star already or something. Huh.)

Not that one can blame most of the actors here for this movie being a paycheck pitstop, given the script. Finn Wolfhard’s arc across this movie is literally, “Will he get to drive the car?” Meanwhile, Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd are … there. Coon, a truly talented actress of the highest caliber, has her most memorable character moment come as she’s lying on a couch playing a game on her phone, and I’m not entirely convinced this wasn’t just footage they caught in between the actual shooting.

Daughter Phoebe is the only character with a real arc, and it is, to put it mildly, an odd one. Deemed too young to go busting after the dangerous film-opening hijinks with the “Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon,” Phoebe is left on her own to wander the streets of Manhattan night after night—so basically the story of any kid growing up in NYC. On one of her night wanderings Phoebe has a meet-cute with a pretty ghost girl named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), and their G-rated flirtations (kept vague and nameless enough to not get the movie banned in any countries) open up a bunch of interesting existential questions about the afterlife that this franchise has never previously given much, if any, thought to.

And which it continues to not give a lot of thought to. Every troubling pathway of thought that Phoebe and Melody’s non-specific “romance” opens up about the very heart of the Ghostbusters franchise—meaning the idea and substance of the “ghosts” themselves—gets cut off before it can lead to any too uncomfortable a place. Better to blow in a CG snowstorm and a maelstrom of icicles before the half-realized spectacle of Faith versus Science (or Queerness for that matter) can rear their thorny heads.

But the menace in Frozen Empire, despite Oswalt’s go-for-broke explanation, remains characterless—the big bad, whose name I refuse to look up because the film never made me remember it (and this is coming from a person who can name “Vigo the Carpathian” 35 years later), doesn’t have a single line of discernable dialogue. And it stays so loosely tied to anything going on in the film that no genuine stakes ever present themselves. They can tell us this ancient ice monster from another dimension is here to freeze the souls of all of mankind all they want, but when they keep showing extras on the street standing around still holding their coffee cups mid-“apocalypse,” all as our main characters keep making light-hearted goofs with one another, it’s real hard to work up much sweat.