Saturday, April 20, 2024

“GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE”

THE STORY – The Spengler family returns to the iconic New York City firehouse where the original Ghostbusters have taken ghost-busting to the next level. When the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must unite to protect their home and save the world from a second ice age.

THE CAST – Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Celeste O’Connor, Logan Kim, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts & Emily Alyn Lind

THE TEAM – Gil Kenan (Director/Writer) & Jason Reitman (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 125 Minutes


Released in November of 2021, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was one of the few undeniable successes of the purgatorial time of COVID-era theatrical releases. Thanks to a relatively modest budget for a studio blockbuster and nostalgia-fueled ticket sales, it was able to turn a healthy profit at the box office. Meaning, of course, that a sequel was inevitable. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is here to haunt multiplexes despite its predecessor having minimal cultural impact. Where “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” chose to lean into callbacks to the iconic 1984 original rather than actual comedic moments, “Frozen Empire” makes the comparatively brave decision to have actual jokes. They’re just not funny. The film relies on strangely random, observational quips that constantly fall flat. What’s worse – a sequel to a legendary comedy that doesn’t try to be funny or a film that makes attempts at jokes that don’t land? I’d vote for the latter. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is messy, visually unappealing, and worst of all, unfunny, and is further evidence that major studios too often rely on brand recognition to make them money rather than putting together a film worth audiences’ time.

After busting up their farmhouse in Oklahoma, the Spengler family (the descendants of Egon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis in the original film) has moved into the old Ghostbusters firehouse in New York City. Callie (Carrie Coon), the family matriarch, struggles to keep control over her technically adult son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and headstrong younger daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). Meanwhile, the containment unit that the crew uses to store their trapped supernatural entities is on the fritz and needs some urgent repair before disaster occurs. At the same time, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) buys a mysterious orb from the money-hungry Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani). This sphere has clear hidden powers that frighten even the experienced Dr. Stantz. He works with the new Ghostbusters at a research lab devoted to the science of catching ghosts to try and understand the energy trapped within the strange object. But it soon becomes clear that something malevolent is trying to get out of it, and the team must hurry to determine what exactly they may be facing.

If it wasn’t clear from that plot summary, the screenplay is way too busy. It has the unenviable task of having to serve as a sequel to the previous film while also including enough callbacks to the 1984 original to satisfy its huge fanbase. Regardless, the story takes some ridiculous turns, especially concerning Phoebe. Having been forbidden from being a Ghostbuster due to her youth (a reasonable decision from her mother, all things considered), she strikes out on her own one night and makes friends with the ghost of a young girl named Melody, played by Emily Alyn Lind in a truly terrible wig. The two quickly bond and their unlikely friendship leads to Phoebe making some absurdly unwise decisions. She’s propped up by her loved ones as smart beyond her years, and yet the screenplay forces her to make some shortsighted choices that the plot mandates in order to keep moving. It’s cheap and doesn’t read as logical in the world of the film.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife” overly relied on characters, props, and other assorted bits of iconography from the classic “Ghostbusters,” which means that “Frozen Empire” has less to pull from when it comes to pressing audiences’ nostalgia buttons. It’s no longer a surprise when Aykroyd or Bill Murray shows up. Instead, this film relies on locations and tertiary – or less – characters from 40 years ago in a labored effort to engage the viewers’ fondness for the original. The attempts are obvious and limp; even those onscreen don’t seem convinced.

One of the many elements that made the original film a huge success was the fact that it didn’t skimp on being a visually impressive film despite being, first and foremost, a comedy. It used top-of-the-line special effects to bring its ghostly world to life, and 40 years later, it still holds up. It’s, therefore, nearly upsetting to see just how ugly “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is by any standards, let alone in comparison to its predecessor. The film overuses CGI, not just to animate its spirits but also to conjure up flat backgrounds and unrealistic locations. It often looks like the characters are trapped in a poorly rendered metaverse. By the time the big evil villain shows up, it’s no surprise that he looks like a boss from an older video game, which is also due to his bland design. The uninspired cinematography does none of the visual effects any favors. In fact, the final bad guy is poorly captured by the camera, with his huge horns and impressive height often clumsily chopped off by the frame.

The performance quality varies when it comes to the flesh and blood of humans that populate the film. A curiously top-billed Paul Rudd falls back on the charm that made him a movie star in his portrayal of the amiable Gary, the wannabe father figure of Phoebe and Trevor. He’s funny, of course, but it feels half-baked compared to his usual work. Coon is unquestionably the most naturally gifted performer in the film. Still, her role is merely to be the fun-squasher, and even the most accomplished actor can’t make that type of character exciting. Grace and Lind are both clearly talented, but their scenes are blocked and shot in an intimate manner, which forces them both to adopt a monotone, softspoken voice, severely hampering their ability to be compelling. Murray is checked out, but who’s surprised to hear that? You can practically see him envisioning how he’ll spend his paycheck. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their years of experience, Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson (who returns as original Ghostbuster Dr. Winstone Zeddemore) bring a welcome magnetism to the screen. They share one brief scene together, and the astounding leap in energy and stakes they provide almost threatens to destabilize the rest of the movie.

It may seem unfair to constantly draw parallels between this film and its classic prequel, but the film itself invites such comparisons because of how referential and reverential it is to the 1984 original. However, these constant callbacks and belabored attempts at nostalgia appeal only underline how poorly constructed this film is from nearly every angle.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Some performances - particularly Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson - bring a welcome energy to the film.

THE BAD - Ugly CGI, unfunny jokes, and labored attempts at nostalgia appeal make this another disappointing follow-up chasing the success of the 40-year-old original.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 3/10

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Cody Dericks
Cody Dericks
Actor, awards & musical theatre buff. Co-host of the horror film podcast Halloweeners.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Some performances - particularly Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson - bring a welcome energy to the film.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Ugly CGI, unfunny jokes, and labored attempts at nostalgia appeal make this another disappointing follow-up chasing the success of the 40-year-old original.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>3/10<br><br>"GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE"