Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire review — Maybe call someone else this time

Directed by Gil Kenan | Written by Kenan and Jason Reitman | 115 min | ▲▲△△△

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a blockbuster franchise extension as calculated as this new Ghostbusters movie, and yet it has moments that provide a genuine twang recalling the 1984 movie that everyone loves, though British critic Mark Kermode might be onto something when he called it “nostalgia porn.”

Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which rebooted the franchise with a cast of younger actors was mostly effective, but this one wastes too much of the freshness of that movie and its likeable cast.

The Grooberson/Spengler clan, who we met last time (Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon as Gary and Callie, along with teens Finn Wolfhard as Trevor and Mckenna Grace as Phoebe), have settled into their New York digs, the beloved old firehall they inherited from the older guys. The OG Ghostbusters are still around — It’s great seeing Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz back and given more to do, as well as Ernie Hudson’s Winston, whose business success is bankrolling the current team of Ghostbusters.

The plot is, well, about something? Honestly, it’s been a couple days since I saw this thing and that part of it is already a bit blurry. It has something to do with a copper ball that’s a prison of an ancient, malevolent CGI god who, when unleashed, can put things into a deep freeze. Also involved is Kumail Nanjiani as the latest in a family of guardians of the ball. Also on the scene, working at the New York Public Library, is Patton Oswalt, playing someone very similar to Patton Oswalt.

If this was all that was going here, it would make a reasonable new entry to this ongoing series. We’ve got a family unit we care about — especially Phoebe who’s once again the movie’s MVP as she was with Afterlife, queer-coded and having sweet, ghostly encounters with a 16-year-old spirit named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). For the first time in one of these movies they consider that a ghost might actually be just a former person, not some kind of otherworldly demonic force or poltergeist. But Kenan and Reitman don’t trust their story and instead cram much more plot and superfluous characters onto the screen than it needs.

From the younger cast we’ve got Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), who were both introduced in the previous film but are shoehorned into this one and then given no arc and make no impression. From the older cast we have the return of the amazing Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz, who was a standout from the original film but, again, doesn’t do anything here. She doesn’t even get a decent or funny line of dialogue — what a waste of talent. They also bring back perennial asshole William Atherton as Walter Peck, another waste because he’s not really any kind of threat.

Finally, and this is most egregious, we’ve got Bill Murray. In his 40+ year career as a movie star I’ve never had cause to say he’s making a movie worse by his presence, but here there’s an argument. Venkman was the centre of the original movie — I get why the filmmakers want him on board — but then why does he look so bored? It’s like he’s annoyed he’s got too far to walk to cash a cheque at the ATM.

Rudd and Coon have a couple of good moments together, the score and the cinematography evokes the source material, and the characters are likable, but even so… this movie sputters and coughs and never quite catches, giving us moments that seem warmly familiar, and a couple of good gags, but end up hollow and mechanical. It’s not nearly frightening enough, either.  If anything it’s a reminder that the crowd-pleasing supernatural alchemy of that original movie is hard to recapture. (FWIW, the original Ghostbusters hasn’t aged that well if you haven’t watched it lately — Venkman is a total creep. )

The original Ghostbusters hasn’t aged especially well, but what it did right it did really right. It’s clear now that Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver were that movie’s most valuable players, and they’re deeply missed. Even more so, is Ghostbusters godfather Ivan Reitman. The nostalgia porn is getting stale.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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