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GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE Struggles to Break New Ground

A frozen New York tundra
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

By Dolores Quintana

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE is the latest entry in the beloved and highly polarizing Ghostbusters franchise. The series has five entries, including the 2016 reboot that was not popular with fans. To review this film properly, I felt I needed to watch Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Ghostbusters (2016). So I did. 

I will say first that GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE follows the path of Ghostbusters: Afterlife since it is more of a family drama than a comedy. It has comedy bits, but the film's primary purpose is to explore the dynamic of the Spengler family and the continuing story of Phoebe Spengler. The mold was set with Afterlife because the fans rejected the Ghostbusters reboot, with Afterlife’s focus on previously unknown children and grandchildren of the character Egon Spengler, whose character dies in the film’s opening sequence. Yes, Ghostbusters is still a comedy. 

The secondary purpose of the film is fan service. There’s just no other way to say it. Some of the fan service bits are more successful; generally, the most successful fan service is the most sincere. The series has calcified into a form, much like superhero movies, where specific benchmarks and spectacles must be included, or the fans will not be pleased. Oh no!

These sequels have one thing in their favor: They are sincere, even in some parts meant to make fans happy. The rules are that the movie's characters must be directly related to the original Ghostbuster's central characters. By creating the Spengler family, co-writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman have made an acceptable linkage to the original. 

But, at some point, you’re going to have to hit all the reference points: show the No Ghosts logo and the Ectomobile, show the firehouse, show ghosts from the first movie, like Stay Pufts, Slimer and the Library ghost, and then have the original and surviving Ghostbusters show up to help save the day at the end and pop up during the running time. It helps if the movie is set in Manhattan. 

The ghostbusters are running away from something
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Within that framework, Gil Kenan, co-writer and director of FROZEN EMPIRE, and co-writer and Ghostbusters: Afterlife director Jason Reitman, has crafted a reasonably entertaining movie that strains with the effort to keep fans happy. They occasionally weave more progressive ideas inside the film, but shhh. It has been said that directing a movie by committee does not do the film any favors; essentially, that is the burden now placed on any Ghostbusters sequel. It is the anchor that keeps FROZEN EMPIRE from going anywhere new or truly inspired—art versus nostalgia. 

Besides the creators' hard work to avoid cursing the holy writ, the film's biggest asset is the cast. Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, and in particular, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Celeste O'Connor, Logan Kim, and James Acaster. After the big arc of Afterlife, the focus switches from Carrie Coon to Mckenna Grace, and Coon doesn’t have as much to do, but Grace does a terrific job of being a believable scion of Egon Spengler, who doesn’t fit in with normal humans. She and others in the cast are tremendously appealing, and that includes original Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson, who is dapper and intensely charismatic, and Dan Ackroyd, who has a nice mix of irritable crankiness and kindly uncle into the occult that works for him but is nothing particularly novel. 

The special effects are what you would expect from our time period, that is, nothing that special or awe-inspiring. One of the major disappointments for me is the promise of the trailer that the film might be scarier, with the potential horror aspects and potential for casualties with the spikes of ice coming through the Earth and instantaneous frozen human beings coming to naught. People dodge the spikes, or they come up all around them, and people are frozen solid with seemingly no ill effects or deaths. Bummer. 

The film is very PG-13 scary, which means it’s not really scary, and that also fits within the Ghostbusters universe. It suits kids because the franchise’s trademark off-color sex jokes are (mostly) relegated to the bin. There are no ghost blowjobs in this one, but, of course, someone is required to say, “Busting makes me feel good.” 

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE's charms lie primarily in the cast’s charisma, which, in my opinion, saves it from being truly dire. However, the characters often seem to wait around for something to happen and are more reactive than proactive, which is very frustrating from the halfway point to the finale. GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE is serviceable and competent but tame and uninspiring, except for a few moments of wild joy, which is a bit of a shame. 



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